First impressions can be horribly wrong. I thought the 2012 Hyundai Veloster was the silliest subcompact hatchback I had ever seen or driven. It looked like a hot sports car but drove like something considerably less. The driver’s side, with one long entry door, gave the impression of a coupe. The passenger side had a coupe-like appearance, too.
But take a closer look. There is a hidden rear side door on the passenger side, a stealth door that easily accommodates two full-size adult bodies — assuming they find the exterior handle, sneakily installed in the door’s top-left corner.
And then there was the name, “Veloster,” which sounded like something composed by a grade-schooler not at all interested in poetry. But deeper research yielded information that it was thought up by a Hyundai marketing team, a name aimed at youthful consumers skilled in Twitter literacy, a combination of “velocity” and “roadster.”
What about velocity? With a 1.6-liter gasoline-direct-injection four-cylinder engine (138 horsepower, 123 foot-pounds of torque), the Veloster has relatively little — certainly less than its slick pocket-rocket styling would imply.
Is it a roadster? You might think so if you’ve never driven a roadster. But no, it’s not that, either.
Simply put, the front-wheel-drive Veloster is what it is — a hatchback, perhaps one of the hottest, best-looking, most practical, common-sense hatchbacks ever built. It is the motorized equivalent of a beautiful woman, or a handsome man, who gets where she or he is going on looks until everyone realizes that she or he actually has brains.
It’s a pity. First impressions often are last impressions, especially when people are being asked to part with money — at a base price of $17,300 in this case. Most “be-backs,” in automotive retail parlance, tend not to come back.
Getting to know and truly value the Veloster requires getting beneath its hot looks and Twitter-type name. It is epiphany as gradualism, which can be frustrating because it takes time.
Consider those two passenger-side doors. I offered three friends a ride. The first one jumped into the front passenger seat, as is her wont. The other two, not amused by the first passenger’s obvious sense of entitlement, ordered her to get out “so that we can at least push the front seat forward and get into the back.”
To which the front passenger replied, without budging an inch: “You don’t have to do that. Use the rear door.”
There followed a flurry of increasingly ill-tempered questions from the would-be rear passengers: “What back door?” “Where’s the [expletive] handle?” “How the [hot expletive] do I use this thing?”
With civil explanations — from me, because the front passenger had stopped talking — the rear door was opened, and the irate rear-seat guests got in and calmed down. One of them said a few miles into our drive: “Hey, this is cool. There’s good room back here. It’s really nice.”
To which the front-seat rider pointedly said nothing.
To which the other rear-seat passenger uttered an icy “Yeah.”
For which I was happy.
No one talked much until, shortly before I dropped the rear-seat couple at their destination, one of them queried: “I thought this thing was a sports car? Why does it drive like an economy car?”
“Because it is an economy car,” I said. “It has a tiny four-cylinder engine. But it’s zippy for what it is.”
There was a grunt in response. The rear-seat couple disembarked a few blocks later. The front-seat passenger maintained her icy silence, opening her mouth only to dismiss the former back-seat couple with a single nasty word when she left the car a mile or so later.
I now understand the Veloster. Sex sells, even when you are trying to sell a hatchback. The Veloster is sexy. It’s also very practical in terms of rear-seat passenger ingress and egress, and in terms of cargo capacity.
What confuses me is the collective notion of people — three friends one minute, one enemy vs. two friends the next, bound by a kind of icy detente in their remaining moments together.