Tuesday 28 March 2017

Hyundai's power of three

A car review on Christmas Eve is unusual but then this is not your conventional motor. Not only that. I think, for all its faults, the new Hyundai Veloster Coupe bears a message we might all heed right now. It too carries a heavy burden facing into the New Year. You see, it has to follow in the footsteps of a classic bestseller, the old Hyundai Coupe, so beloved of numerous friends and acquaintances of mine.

My, oh my, how people love (present tense) that Coupe. It is/was smart, looked brilliant and drove so well, yet cost relatively little compared with so many big-name rivals. It was a revolution in its day.

But, as we have all found out to our cost over the past few years, there is a cycle to everything and now a new-generation 'coupe' takes over. I think it has a huge job on its hands in these times, but then haven't we all?

Recognising that they needed to do something 'outside the box' to give the new incarnation its own imprint, the designers came up with one outstanding distinguishing feature. They gave this Veloster one, not two, rear doors so it would be a lot easier to get smaller bodies (oh! alright, the children) into the rear from the kerbside. It doesn't interfere with the aesthetics because the handle is incorporated into the coupe design and hidden at the top corner of the door. Really clever.

For that bit of innovation it deserves to succeed, though I know full well that will not be the main determining factor in persuading sufficient numbers to part with nearly €25,000. My goodness, it was a relief, on the few occasions we needed to take a third passenger on board, to have that door. Otherwise I -- it is always me -- would have had to drag this lugubrious old body out of a low-slung motor, slide, push and cuss the front seat to allow someone into the back.

Complicating my assessment of this new arrival a little -- not a lot -- was the fact it was left-hand drive (don't worry, they have right-hand drives ready for the New Year). One does see life on the road a bit differently when sitting where the front-seat passenger normally resides.

But several elements were clear. Hyundai has produced a lovely cabin with plenty of the goodies we now come to expect all-year round. The level of standard equipment on this -- from air con to cruise control -- is quite impressive.

I liked the way they just positioned buttons and bits more or less where you expect them to be without having to look. I felt at home in this within a couple of minutes. The central console touch-screen control system took me a little while to work out but it is quite simple and a really smart piece of work.

As you can gather from the pictures, it is a striking car to look at. I was not immediately drawn to it, I must say, even allowing for the twin central exhausts -- it grew on me. In striking red, it drew a lot of looks, always a sign the designers achieved at least partial success. Maybe I was initially still emotionally linked, if that isn't stretching things too far, to the old Coupe. Gradually the Veloster's sharpness, with its clever angles and 'crouched' look, convinced me it has taken several evolutionary steps ahead of the classic.

However, I'm not mad about the 'split' rear screen effect. I don't like it on the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, so there is no surprise in my not liking it here. Be that as it may, it provided no blockage to my rear-view visibility.

And after all that they put in ... a 1.6-litre petrol engine. I know, I know, you'd expect a barnstorming 2-litre rocket. Or a thundering 2-litre diesel to go with these looks. No, no, that has not been the way of the coupe from Hyundai. Its true merit has always been 'expensive Italian sports car' looks blended with an everyday, workmanlike engine under the bonnet. They are working on a turbo, though.

Perhaps workmanlike is a bit unfair to the 140bhp this manages to exert, though you would not be applauding its merits if you were to judge them purely on tipping around town. No, this was easily at its best when we headed it for the midlands to be with real friends for a bitter-sweet birthday remembrance of a true friend. Like a runner getting into stride, it suddenly became a lively drive.

Aiding and abetting it was the excellent surface on the motorway. I am loath to heavily criticise the ride quality over ordinary roads because this was left-hand drive. But it felt too sharp and quite choppy over the dips, divets and rougher surfaces. Indeed, that was the one area I would have expected it to truly shine, as it was one of the criticisms of the old one. It loses out to the likes of the VW Scirocco most acutely in that area.

I keep coming back to the way they adapt the new look with the practicalities. The two rear seats in this are useable for smaller passengers. That in itself is quite an achievement because these cars are usually just two seats.

It just goes to show what can be done by thinking a little bit ahead rather than, as many of us have done, feeling restricted by what has gone before.

On that -- hopefully positive -- note I wish you a Happy Christmas and a positive New Year.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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