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2012 Hyundai Veloster

Hyundai chose to give us the first drive of its all-new 2012 Veloster in Portland, Oregon, a city that's seemingly flooded with the young, educated, creative types that many other cities are trying so hard to attract.

It's absolutely brimming with (often underemployed) 20- and 30-something hipsters. And it seemed appropriate, as that's largely the same crowd Hyundai is trying to attract with the Veloster. While some automakers position sporty cars a little higher up the economic ladder, that's not the case here.

According to Hyundai VP of corporate and product planning Mike O'Brien, the Veloster functions as a sort of "reverse halo" for the lineup—emphasizing accessibility and 'non-traditional' factors.

Hyundai doesn't try hide its demographic intent with the Veloster in design, either. From the outside, its roofline calls itself out as an abbreviated sport coupe. Meanwhile, from the side we saw an unmistakable likeness to the Kia Soul, which also has blacked-out A-pillars and a roofline that peaks at the top of the windshield. And when seen from the back—or up above—the Veloster looks like a sexy grand-tourer—further enforced by the chunky wheelwells and just-perfect proportions.

A 2.5-door coupe, a 4-door hatchback?

But then you might notice that there's a small back door, only on the passenger side—giving it some gawky credibility in the way of oversized glasses. And that blacked out lower airdam can be seen as the type of sinister grin you might carve into a jack o' lantern—especially when you're looking at a Veloster that's the burnt orange—or maybe it's just an ironic moustache. And in the palette are American Apparel-like colors like Electrolyte Green, 26.2 Yellow, Vitamin C, and Boston Red.

The Veloster, as Portlanders will often say, with pride, it "lets its freak flag fly," a little bit.

But just before you say, "Sorry, man, that sounds a little too...out there," consider this: While the Veloster flaunts it a little bit on the outside, there's nothing ironic or faddish about the interior; what you get is an interior that truly blends some of the racy feel of a sports car with the versatility of a hatchback. There's also a lot of performance influence, outside and in, from sportbikes—including V-shaped center stack that was contoured to look like a motorcycle fuel tank, a center console inspired by sportbike saddles, and vents modeled after exhaust tips.

Likewise, all those sportbike-related cues underscore a point that starts to emerge after you've had some time behind the wheel: The Veloster is far more than just an uber-hip body thrown over an economy-car chassis. Hyundai has given this little three-door some serious chops.

Some goodness for driving enthusiasts

First off, the Veloster can handle really well, putting it a league above the Elantra sedan, with which it shares substantial pieces of body structure and chassis. Hyundai has thankfully given it more goodness for driving enthusiasts; the Korean automaker green-lighted a U.S. engineering team to shelve the Elantra suspension and instead design and test a new, performance-oriented rear-suspension setup for the Veloster; they went with a V-torsion beam configuration, which includes an integrated (and http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.giflarge) 23-mm stabilizer bar, plus monotube shocks—in all, a huge improvement over the Elantra's twist-beam-axle rear.

What this means is that you can really throw the sub-2,600-pound Veloster around tight corners, yet it stays composed and doesn't exhibit the secondary motions you'd get over less-than-perfect surfaces with the twist-beam. Like a number of today's more sophisticated small-car suspensions, like the Ford Focus and Mazda3, it feels remarkably responsive and balanced for a front-driver; simply hunkers down evenly, shifting its weight back with no snap but an even, predictable attitude—without any more road harshness, which is really a triumph in the design. It's no sports car, but it's genuinely a sporty drive.

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