Americans frequently grumble about the cool European models that the strange logic of the car industry's volume planning denies them. It's rare to find the boot switching feet - while some of us might like a pickup the size of a postcode, or the chance to buy a Camaro or Corvette with its steering wheel on the proper side, the truth is there aren't many U.S.-only cars that we really care about.
But here's one that does feel like a loss: the Hyundai Veloster N. The second generation of the quirky coupe with two doors on one side and one on the other is being restricted to the U.S. and Korea, meaning that we won't be getting a chance to sample the N version. By a similar logic, the U.S. won't be getting the closely related i30N. Which is a shame because, having driven it in the 'States, I can report it's an unpretentious performance weapon.
Dollar: pound price comparisons rarely work due to the surcharge effectively added to almost everything in Europe. So don't be too jealous that the regular Veloster N starts at just $27,785 - a bargainacious £21,650 at current exchange rates, and a solid six grand less than British buyers are charged for the equivalent i30. More important is the price difference between the Veloster and its obvious competitors, with the standard 250hp version undercutting the very basic base 230hp Volkswagen Golf GTI by $700 in the 'States. Even the brawnier Veloster N Performance, which gets a 275hp version of the same 2.0-litre turbo engine, a limited slip differential and bigger brakes is still slips under $30,000. Like the i30N, both Veloster Ns come with switchable active dampers as standard.
I drove the full-on Performance version on some challenging Michigan backroads. The scenery was different from my last time in an i30N, on a wet Welsh mountain road, but the dynamic experience was close enough to leave no doubts about the closeness of the two cars' mechanical relationship, plus a similarly back-to-basics mission.
Unpretentious is a good word for the Veloster N. Raw, but in a good way. In a world where mainstream performance cars increasingly seem to try and delivering their oomph with as little apparent effort as possible it's a surprise to find something quite so unfiltered. Indeed, it takes a while to realise just how good the basics are.
Like the i30N there are numerous switchable dynamic modes and the ability to individually tweak settings for the engine, steering, chassis, stability control and even the limited-slip differential. You could probably spend days chasing a perfect set-up, but I quickly narrowed down my preferred options to Sport mode - one step up from Normal and fine for everyday stuff - and the full-fang N which much turns the Veloster into one of those furniture-chewing purple Minions.
The N's engine never tries to hide its forced induction. There's low-down turbo lag, and even with plenty of revs already dialled up there's still a sense of power swelling for a couple of beats in response to a big change in throttle position. The motor seems to enjoy being revved hard and sounds good being worked to the 6750rpm where the limiter calls time. There's a modest amount of digital augmentation to the soundtrack in the cabin, but there's no doubting the genuineness of the cracking and popping that can be produced by easing the throttle in N mode.
There's also torque steer, although this also adds more to the experience than it subtracts. Accelerate hard over rougher surfaces and the steering wheel reports on a heated debate between the front wheels as they battle to deliver traction, but the Veloster never feels too wide while this is going on. The sticky differential helps to fight understeer and - like the i30N - there's an adjustability and willingness for the Veloster to alter its cornering stance in response to throttle stimuli. It will oversteer - I checked - but it is happier being pushed close to its limits rather than taken over them. It's the sort of car you get out of after tackling a challenging bit of road with sweaty palms and a cheesy grin.
Driven less hard, the Hyundai feels more compromised. Chassis control is iron-fisted at speed, although in N mode the dampers feel too hard for anything other than the smoothest roads. But even fully softened the Veloster feels very firm, especially when asked to deal with low-speed bumps. Cruising refinement isn't up to much either, with road noise adding to engine drone at constant revs. The gearshift is light and accurate, but doesn't have much feel; I also got to drive the Veloster R-Spec which sits one rung down the ladder from the N, and it had a both a meatier gearshift and a better-feeling metal lever. The Veloster's brake pedal was a bit rubbery too, although the car seemed to stop well enough.
While I loved the N-ness I still struggle with the concept of the Veloster in general. Other than giving an answer to future automotive trivia quizzes the three-door layout doesn't really add much: room in the back is limited and even from its single-doored side the Veloster looks more like a three-door hatch than a proper coupe. The sabre-toothed rear wing is also a fair way over the top, and rear visibility is every bit as poor as you'd expect from looking at the glassline.
The cabin didn't encourage me to write home, either. It's grey and functional, everything is presented cleanly and construction feels solid, but it lacks specialness given the aspiration to be taken seriously as a coupe. It also feels very similar to the interior of the base Veloster, despite the N costing nearly 50 percent more. But these are grumbles; what matter is what's underneath, and that's pretty special.
Hyundai might be right not to sell both i30N and Veloster N in the same territories. While clearly different in design, they drive similarly enough to run the risk of cannibalising each other's sales. With the practical five-door hatch we've been given the best all-rounder. But while the Veloster could only play in a smaller part of the market, it could have a niche pretty much to itself. It's probably the closest thing in production to the recently retired Volkswagen Scirocco. It's also proof that Hyundai can still do something genuinely different to anything else; not something you could say about any part of the brand's European portfolio.
SPECIFICATION - HYUNDAI VELOSTER N PERFORMANCE
Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cyl, turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 275@ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 260@1,450rpm
Top speed: 155mph