2021 Hyundai Veloster N DCT review: Rowdy, raucous and really damn good

I can’t stop thinking about this car.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The Hyundai Veloster N is one of my favorite cars on sale today. It’s exactly the kind of sporty car I love — not the most well-rounded in its class, but easily the most fun and memorable. For 2021 the Veloster N gets a new transmission option in the form of an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. The Veloster’s quirky three-door body style and previously manual-only setup made it a super niche product. But friends, I’m happy to report that not only does the new DCT not ruin the Veloster N’s fun, I actually think it’s the transmission to get.

LikeSupremely fun to drive with the new automaticMore standard features and techSome of the best exhaust noise on the market

Don’t LikeNot quite the bargain it used to beDisappointing lack of heated seatsStill no adaptive cruise control

For 2021 the N’s previously optional $2,100 Performance Package is now standard, meaning every Veloster N gets 275 horsepower (up from 250 on the old base car), an electronic limited-slip differential, larger brake discs, 19-inch wheels with Pirelli P-Zero summer tires, and an incredibly loud, crackly exhaust. This is all great news.

2021 Hyundai Veloster N is still the most fun hot hatch
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The Veloster N’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four also makes 260 pound-feet of torque, with peak twist arriving between 1,450 and 4,700 rpm. With the DCT Hyundai says the Veloster N will zip to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, a couple tenths quicker than with the manual, and it feels even quicker than that. There’s noticeable turbo lag at low speeds in some situations, but that just means you get to hear the turbo spool up and make fun wooshing noises.

Those P-Zeroes and the e-LSD give the Veloster N an insane amount of grip, and it’s an absolute hoot on a good canyon road. The steering is quick and has a ton of feel for a modern electric system, and the whole chassis setup instills confidence. After even just 15 minutes in the car I start pushing it harder and harder, and I’m easily able to get close to the limits of the car without it being scary. On the flip side, there’s not a ton of traction if you aren’t gentle with the throttle off the line, resulting in some hilarious wheel spin akin to a little terrier trying to take off on a hardwood floor. The N’s ride can also be very harsh even with the suspension in Comfort mode, but it mellows out on the highway. 

The DCT is the transmission you want

Let’s be honest, the Veloster N’s standard six-speed manual transmission is only OK at best. It’s certainly not the worst manual out there, but I wish the clutch pedal felt better, that the shifter’s throw was shorter and that it just felt tighter overall. Up against the near perfection of the Honda Civic Type R’s manual (or a Mazda Miata’s), the Veloster N just can’t compete. Thankfully, the $1,500 DCT is perfectly suited to this hot hatch.

The Veloster N’s new eight-speed DCT is fantastic.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Hyundai says the eight-speed DCT is a brand new unit developed in-house by the N performance team, but I have a feeing it likely shares components with the transmission in the updated Santa Fe. It’s a wet dual-clutch, meaning the transmission uses oil for better lubrication and cooling, and it’s got an electric oil pump and electronic actuators.

Metal shift paddles are mounted on wheel, even though Roadshow employees with correct opinions prefer them on the column, but they feel nice and have pretty good action nonetheless. You can also shift with the shifter itself, pulling for upshifts and pushing for downshifts — the way it should be.

Downshifts could be a tad sharper, but otherwise the new DCT is quick to react to driver inputs. It’s not nearly as jerky at low speeds as Hyundai/Kia’s previous DCTs, even in the sportier drive modes. The tuning in automatic mode is near-perfect, too. On the highway or around town shifts are imperceptible, but when you start driving aggressively it’s eager to up- or downshift as the situation requires, always putting itself in the right gear. The transmission is so good, in fact, that even on canyon roads I find myself just leaving it in automatic mode most of the time, only shifting myself when I want to make some extra noise.

Adding the DCT brings a few extra features to the Veloster N, too. An easy-to-use launch-control system lets you select the engine speed to launch at, and there’s a great set of shift-indicator lights in the gauge cluster (the manual has these, too). N Power Shift activates when more than 90% throttle is applied, allow for maximum torque delivery to the wheels during upshifts. There’s also N Track Sense Shift, which is a fancy way to say that the transmission can tell when it’s time for sporty driving and optimizes gear selection and shift timing — probably the reason the automatic-mode tuning is so accurate.

Those big exhaust tips make all the good noises.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

Activated by a button on the steering wheel is the strangely named N Grin Shift function, another DCT-exclusive feature. It’s kind of like Porsche’s Sport Response button: Push it, and for 20 seconds peak torque increases from 260 lb-ft to 278 lb-ft, the engine revs increase and the transmission gets more responsive. It’s perfect for passing on the highway or getting an extra boost of speed on a straightaway between corners.

The DCT also maximizes the intensity of the extremely good noise provided by the N’s dual exhaust. Put the exhaust in Sport Plus mode (you should always do this) and downshifts result in a cacophony of loud pops, bangs, crackles and sputters, while upshifts produce amazing barks. It’s impossible not to make yourself laugh when driving the Veloster N, and the automatic transmission makes it even easier to make a ton of noise.

The Veloster N with the DCT gets worse gas mileage than its manual counterpart by 2 miles per gallon in the city, 1 mpg on the highway and 3 mpg in the combined cycle, according to the EPA. (Usually manual cars are less efficient.) On a couple of highway cruises in the Normal drive mode I saw averages of around 32 mpg, 5 mpg better than the EPA’s highway rating. But overall, due to the combination of mostly city driving in Los Angeles and my desire to make as much noise as possible, I averaged a few mpg below the Veloster N’s 20-mpg city rating. Like, I was getting about 14 mpg. Oops. 

Better seats, with a major caveat

The Veloster N’s exterior design remains unchanged — aside from a new white paint color replacing the old white — and that’s fine by me. I love how this weird little hatch looks. It’s not as in-your-face crazy as the Civic Type R, but it’s a lot more interesting and exciting than a Volkswagen Golf GTI or a Subaru WRX. Sure, the three-door body style isn’t for everyone, but it bridges the practicality gap between a coupe and a frumpier four-door. (I wish the driver’s side rear window rolled down, though, as only the passenger-side one on the third door does.)

The new bucket seats are great, but they still aren’t heated.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The biggest change inside the Veloster N is a new pair of front seats. They’re thinner and 4.4 pounds lighter than the old seats, and they both look and feel better, too. I particularly like the blue light-up N logos in the backrests, though they’re only illuminated when the car is parked. And don’t worry, there are still blue seatbelts and accents throughout.

As before, an 8-inch touchscreen is standard, but the Veloster N now also gets navigation and HD radio. The infotainment system is redesigned to better align with other new Hyundai models; it looks slicker than before and works well, but I wish there was a dedicated physical home button to get back to the main screens easily when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The standard 8-speaker Infinity sound system is pretty great, too.

Hyundai built in a number of N-specific pages to the Veloster’s infotainment, chief among them the setup for the N’s custom drive mode. Using a spider chart that will look familiar to anyone who has read a Car and Driver magazine in the past three decades, you can adjust the engine, transmission, suspension, steering, stability control, limited-slip diff and, most importantly, the exhaust sound. I typically keep the car in what we like to call auto journalist mode: Put everything in the sportiest setting except for the suspension, which you keep as soft as possible. Different screens also show a g-force meter, a lap timer, turbo boost and torque output, oil temperature and more.

No matter the transmission the Veloster N also gets a bunch of new active safety features as standard for 2021. You now get automated emergency braking, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver attention monitor. Adaptive cruise control is sadly still absent.

A new infotainment system spruces up the interior.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

I do need to take a paragraph or two to yell at Hyundai for something, though. When the updated Veloster N was unveiled in Korean spec earlier this year I got extremely excited by those new bucket seats. They looked great and were covered in suede, but most importantly they were heated. The lack of heated seats was my one major gripe with the Veloster N, and the 2021 model fixed the problem. Even better, the updated N also got a heated steering wheel.

So you can imagine my extreme disappointment when I got into this US-spec car and noticed that not only are the seats upholstered in (admittedly nice) cloth and leatherette, they aren’t heated. There’s no heated steering wheel. And it’s not like these features are optional, in the US they just aren’t available. It’s truly devastating. What the hell, Hyundai?

Less of a bargain, still the most fun

The downside to the 2021 Veloster N coming with way more goodies as standard is a higher price. It’s still a performance bargain, just not as major as before. The 2021 model starts at $33,245 including a $995 destination charge, up from $28,575 last year. With the Performance Package, though, the 2020 model was $30,675, meaning the price increase for ’21 is really only $2,570. Adding the new DCT pushes the price to $34,745.

While the new updates and DCT put the Veloster N past the base price of a Volkswagen GTI — $30,315 for the base S model with the DSG automatic — it’s still cheaper than the manual-only Honda Civic Type R, which starts at $38,450.

This three-door body isn’t for everyone.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

If It were my money, I’d pick the Veloster N every day of the week. It’s not as comfortable or practical as a GTI, and the Type R is sharper and more focused when it comes to track driving. But the Veloster N is the most fun. It’s the hot hatch I think about the most often and remember driving the most fondly. It makes me smile whether I’m driving to the grocery store or chasing a supercar through the canyons. I can’t stop talking to friends about how much I miss this car.

On a less personal note, the DCT will certainly help broaden the Veloster N’s appeal to a whole new set of customers in addition to making it more livable day-to-day. The three-door body is a hard sell against more traditional and practical competitors, and being manual-only makes it even harder still. Being offered with an automatic means that way more people will get to experience and enjoy the N, and that’s a very good thing.

There’s even more good N-related news. An Elantra N is on the very near horizon and should pack the exact same powertrain as the Veloster N, wrapped in a much more palatable sedan package. Expect the Elantra to offer both the manual and the DCT, and it could be priced a little cheaper than the Veloster. My colleague Steven Ewing just got to drive a prototype of the Elantra N, and it seems to be just as fun as the Veloster. Good.


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