I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Honda CRX, a funky little car that was lightweight and had a perfect balance of horsepower and fuel economy. It epitomized Honda in the 1980s.
Gazing at the 2013 Hyundai Veloster, it's hard not to be reminded of the old CRX.
They share the same short, hunchback shape, but the Veloster is aggressively sculpted within an inch of its life. It's the opposite of the CRX in terms of visual volume. Whereas the CRX looks sleek and classically modern, one gets the sense that the Veloster is more the equivalent of this week's hot fashion item at clothing retailer H&M.
Still, you have to admire how Hyundai went Honda one better with the Veloster by stuffing a small, but usable, rear seat under the car's arching roof. Then they added an extra door on the passenger's side to ensure easier access.
Just as the CRX used parts from the subcompact Civic sedan, the Veloster uses bits and pieces from the subcompact Elantra sedan. So it's obvious that Hyundai knows the formula for producing a hot little tidbit. But they didn't quite master it.
That's because of the Veloster's base engine; it's the same one that's used in the Elantra. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine generates 138 horsepower, along with EPA estimates of 29 mpg city, 38 mpg highway. That's the real excitement here. The base Veloster is all show, no go.
Thankfully, Hyundai has addressed this with the introduction of the new Veloster Turbo, sporting a turbocharged version of the base car's 1.6-liter power plant. It's matched to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The dual clutch gearbox offered with the base engine is -- sadly -- not offered on the Turbo.
Hyundai also stiffened the suspension, refined the steering and fitted a freer-flowing exhaust. It's wrapped in a package with 18-inch summer tires and an aggressive body kit. The result is a Veloster that finally delivers on its looks.
The engine is powerful and willing, inviting you to use more of its juice. It's fun and raucous, although it's left some refinement behind as a result. The steering is quicker, which is more of what you'd expect out of this speedy little squirt. The extremely firm suspension is now even firmer, bordering on unyielding. Given the Veloster Turbo's audience, that's not surprising, just painful. But is it a weakness or is it character? You could argue either way, for this is a car that's not just young, but young at heart.
So it has a Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice recognition and address book downloads from your mobile phone. And it has a 196-watt AM/FM/Sirius XM satellite radio/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers and iPod/auxiliary input jacks. But it goes even further. The radio is wired to connect to Pandora using your iPhone. The Internet radio service can be viewed on the Veloster's display screen, along with Pandora's familiar thumbs up or thumbs down. It uses vocal commands to control Gracenote on your iPod, so that you can say "The Boss" and a Bruce Springsteen track comes on.
The car also sports a USB port, RCA jack and 115-volt power outlet to support gaming consoles. There's also optional touch-screen navigation and rear back-up camera with warning sensors.
The test car supplied by Hyundai was lavishly equipped. Options included the Ultimate Package, which includes a panoramic sunroof, backup sensors, automatic headlights, navigation system, rearview camera and a 110-volt outlet. It also had carpeted floor mats and Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires.
The bottom line was an eye-popping $27,250.
That's not inexpensive. But the new Veloster Turbo goes a long way towards addressing the sluggishness of the base model. It's the Veloster to have if you want one that's as fast as it looks.