It’s bordering on the obvious, if you think about it. The driver wants a racy coupé; the passengers want to be able to get in without contorting their bodies like pretzels. The ideal solution might be to have a sporty-looking four-seater with one door on the driver's side and two on the passenger's side. Brilliant.
One car, not sporting but steeped in retro-flavoured resonance, has already tried this. That car is the Mini Clubman. But - doh! - the right-hand drive versions of this British-built car, inspired by one of the most-loved cars in Britain's motoring history, have the rear-access door on the right! There have been various excuses for this design insult, but Hyundai's new Veloster - due for SA release in the first half of 2012 - shows they are groundless.
This clever coupé is made with different body shells to suit right and left-hand drive markets. The integration of the extra door into the coupé styling is deftly done, with the handle concealed within the window aperture, and the centre pillar's more forward position rendered non-obvious by its dull black finish.
LIGHT AND AIRY
Besides, there are plenty of other visual distractions: the body is adorned with swoops, scoops and wheel-arch bulges, and the roof is glass most of the way towards the driver's-side centre pillar. This greatly improves the view aft, as the rear window in the short tailgate would be shallow on its own.
It also makes the rear light and airy for what is not a voluminous space. Adults over, say, 1.7m would be short of headroom, but legroom is surprisingly generous. Though climbing in to discover this still calls for some athleticism: the door aperture is quite small, thanks to the racy roofline, and if you're destined for the far seat you have to slide over a central storage tray with cup holders.
Those in front have a futuristic-looking dashboard ahead of them, well finished with aluminium-look details and expensive-looking padding as a backdrop. The centre console has shades of Darth Vader's mask, containing a thoroughly modern display screen for stereo, phone connection and the other things expected in a hip new car.
STIR THE STICK TO KEEP IT STOKED UP
The engine is not very exciting, though, even if this 103kW 1.6-litre four is all-new and rated at a fairly frugal 148g/km CO2 (or 137g/km in the Blue Drive version with stop-start). It feels uninterested at low engine speeds once you are past the accelerator's promising initial response, so much use of the gearbox's six speeds is needed to keep it stoked up. It livens up as the engine speed rises, but the Veloster is not really the speedy sportster its name suggests. A turbocharged version with 155kW is due to arrive mid-year, which should remedy the deficiency.
A late-prototype Veloster I drove a few months ago had precise, keen and nicely weighted steering but felt (and sounded) lumpy over bumps. There was a lot of road roar, too. The engineers have since softened the suspension's mountings, which has greatly improved the ride and quietened the roar but at some cost in precision and driver amusement: it's not as “chuckable” as it was.
For its intended market, that's probably the right decision but I know the Veloster can be more fun. I'm hoping some of this spirit will resurface in the turbocharged version. If Hyundai gets it right, the Veloster Turbo could be a great little car. Even now, the regular version is an intriguing idea which looks good, is fun to use and should make those Clubman creators ashamed. What's more, no comparable compact coupé is cheaper. - The Independent on Sunday
BY THE NUMBERS
ENGINE: 1591cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 103kW.
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed gearbox (double-clutch auto optional), front-wheel drive.
PERFORMANCE: 200km/h, 0-100 in 9.7sec, 6.5 litres per 100km official average, CO2 148g/km.