It's hard not to like the Hyundai Veloster. This is an earnest attempt to make an exciting compact sportscar by a car marque that will never be accused of leaving petrol-heads weak-kneed.
For starters, it is ridiculously good looking for a car in its category and price range. All right, so the designers may have gone a wee bit overboard when it came to the doors; but the idea of a single rear door on the passenger side is both quirky and practical.
The high waistline, chiselled sides, a dual-scooped hood and wide stance all emphasise the car's unconventional yet muscular looks. The unique rear glass hatch and centred dual exhaust tips also make an immediate impression.
My test car got a fair bit of attention in parking lots - especially from those that approached the car taking in the side view who would end up walking around it; a few raised eyebrows followed the sighting of the Hyundai badge.
In an attempt to make their cars instantly recognisable, Korean carmakers have created corporate grills, but Hyundai's effort is not as imaginative as Kia's Tiger Nose grill. I'm not sure if Kia's chief design officer Peter Schreyer has a say in what goes on at Hyundai's design labs, but if he doesn't, the Veloster could have done with a Shreyer once-over. Right now, if I'm going to quibble, I would say the car tries just a little too hard to be good looking. But having seen images of their 2013 Veloster Turbo model at the Detroit Auto Show this year, I'm inclined to think that future generations of the Veloster will address this problem.
The cabin is a well-appointed one - chrome trim, an eight-speaker stereo, "leatherette" seats, door inserts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, aluminium pedals. Despite the low cabin, the glass hatch and the panoramic sunroof gave the cabin an airy feel. The car seats four adults in relative comfort and there's enough space in the boot as well. Can't complain about the interiors really - the Veloster ticks all the boxes.
The real test of a compact sportscar's street cred is how it drives and this is where the Veloster faces its toughest test. Though more expensive, the VW Scirocco is a lot of fun to drive and is a real driver's car. The Veloster runs a 1.6 four-pot engine that ekes out 138hp and is mated to a six-speed dual clutch transmission. Disappointing really, because this car should really have had a peppier engine. Not that the engine's a disaster, but the car could do with a little more bite.
In Manual mode, the car's more responsive but in Automatic mode, you really wish it had more juice. There's none of that grunt that you want to hear from driving a car that looks this aggressive. I would have liked a stiffer suspension on the car and a more weighted steering. Again, I'll be interested to see how the Veloster Turbo does with its 201hp engine and 195lb-ft of torque.
The Veloster's got it right on most counts - it is affordable, stylish and fuel efficient. I can see fanboys salivating at the prospect of the coming turbocharged engine. But as a stylish runabout, the 2012 Veloster still has enough to keep you interested.