I'm not sure if it was the name or the color. Actually, it was both. Combine "Veloster" with "Vitamin C," a bronzed, cooked-lobster, burnt-orange shade of automotive paint and what do you get? The Velobster, of course.
And how do you take such a car seriously? Even without the seemingly obvious nickname, Hyundai's new compact hatchback appears to be something of an asymmetric automotive joke: One door on the driver's side and two on the curb side; interior door handles that look like they came off a pommel horse (but it is an Olympic year); and then there's that name -- Veloster. Is it VELOster? VeLOSTer? Vel-o-STER?
Speaking of the Olympics, isn't "velo" a bicycling word, as in velodrome? Surely Hyundai wasn't abbreviating "velocity" in naming a vehicle that, in normally aspirated guise (a turbo is coming), provides only 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque and, even when equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, has trouble maintaining its pace around the fairly steep uphill right-hand turn I use to gauge grunt.
If you want to drive this car enthusiastically, you really need to keep your right foot down and the revs up.
On the other hand, the 2012 Hyundai Veloster is rated at 28 miles per gallon in the city and at 40 on the highway (we averaged 38.9 overall!) and is available at a base of $17,300. That price includes Hyundai's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty; electronic stability control; air conditioning; satellite radio; i-device and MP3 audio jacks; Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system with a seven-inch touch screen; Bluetooth hands-free cell phone connection; tilt and telescoping steering column with steering wheel-mounted switchgear for audio and other systems; power windows and locks and heated mirrors; and, the Monroney sticker notes, a full tank of fuel.
The car we've been driving was packed with add-ons -- $4,000 worth of options -- including 18-inch alloy wheels with very nice body-colored spokes; chrome-colored grille surround; fog lamps; panoramic sunroof; Dimension premium audio system; "leatherette" seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; alloy pedals; navigation system; rear-view camera and proximity-warning sensors; automatic headlamps; push-button start; and 115-volt power outlet.
Add it all together and that $17,300 vehicle costs $21,300.
The Veloster has front, front seat side and side-curtain airbags and has yet to be rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Hyundai says the Veloster "poses some intriguing questions:"
Why can't a sporty coupe get 40 miles per gallon?
Why can't a car have the same connectivity as portable electronic devices?
Why does coupe design dictate only two doors?
Why can't an affordable coupe offer premium features?
Why can't Hyundai have two coupes – a playful front-wheel drive model targeting the likes of Mini Cooper and Scion tC to complement the sport-focused, rear-wheel drive Genesis Coupe?
In regard to that last question, you may recall that I was underwhelmed by the Genesis Coupe. Hyundai builds wonderful, praiseworthy sedans, and even crossovers such as the Santa Fe, but in my eyes -- or perhaps I should say to the seat of my pants -- it has stumbled with it coupes -- the Tiburon, Genesis, and now the Veloster.
Hyundai says the Veloster's design -- inside and out -- was inspired by a high-performance motorcycle, including the sport bike fuel tank-shape of the center stack and the shape of the air vents -- as interpreted within Hyundai's "Fluidic Sculpture" design language.
While the asymmetry of three-door architecture may not be new -- having been introduced by General Motors' Saturn division a couple of decades ago -- Hyundai notes that its third door arrangement is new in that the third door is front-hinged and does not require the front passenger's side door to be open before the rear door can be accessed.
Hyundai sees the Veloster competing in a set that includes the Honda CR-Z, the Mini -- sedan and Clubman -- and the Scion tC, and notes that it exceeds all of them in interior space. That later fact comes as a surprise -- the Veloster doesn't seem all that spacious inside -- but Hyundai offers charts of vehicle dimensions to back up its claims.
Regardless of the space available, the Veloster's interior is very nicely done, both in terms of design aesthetics and material textures, though we found that putting a typical half-liter water bottle in either of the cup holders in the center console interfered with smooth operation of the gear shift lever. Fortunately, our coffee mug was shorter, and there are bottle-holding cubbies built into the front-door panels.
Though designed with a motorcycle in mind, it seems the Veloster was inspired by running and cycling in at least one aspect -- the names of its color palette, which includes Triathlon Gray, Ironman Silver, Marathon Blue, Electrolyte Green, 26.2 Yellow and Boston Red.
We take it that Boston Red refers to that city's famous marathon, not to its baseball team and Yankees-hating fans.