My convoluted return journey from Tokyo took me to Beijing and then to Los Angeles, where I arrived late at night and had booked an early morning flight for the last leg to Colorado. Since my sister-in-law lives sort of near LAX I decided to take advantage of her couch for a few hours of rest and found that the cheapest all-in rental from a semi-major company would cost me less than Uber-ing there and back, to be precise, $27 and I’ve frankly been too lazy to ever even install the Uber app, let alone spend my money on them. So I reserved that smallest and cheapest available car and would be picking it up around 10pm with a return time of prior to 5am the next morning.
In this case it was Dollar Rent A Car, which is usually kind of hit or miss service-wise and used to feature a lot of Chrysler products back when I used to use them a lot. Well, this time, after the shuttle drove us quite far from the airport to the actual rental location, the man at the desk was very efficient and had me walking out the door to pick any compact I would like in their corral within five minutes.
I was surprised (and delighted) to see a choice of at least 40 cars with several Hyundais, a few Fords, a bunch of Nissans and a few Kias represented and while I was at first sort of angling for a Kia Soul, the way everything was arranged meant that the easiest car to actually get out of the corral (imagine five lanes of cars eight deep bumper to bumper) and actually be able to sort of see any prior damage in the dim light was the little red Hyundai you see pictured here.
At first I was surprised to see the car as one of the choices. After getting home and browsing on the web, I realized that this particular car as equipped stickers for $19,500 and is in fact the base model. More on that later. I walked around the back and pressed a button that is part of the rear wiper assembly with a handy integrated handle and dropped my bags in the trunk.
The trunk, while being endowed with an unfortunate very high liftover edge, was spacious and fairly deep (sadly my picture did not turn out at all, so I had to find the one above on the web). I could have dropped the rear seats down but there was no need, my oversize duffel and stuffed backpack just plopped right in with space to spare.
Stepping around to the driver’s side, I was reminded that this was a little coupe, I can’t recall the last time I rented a car that wasn’t a four or five door vehicle. Certainly not in the compact class anyway. In any case, I opened the door, found the switchblade style key on the dashboard and turned the engine on. The lights turned on automatically, my phone was connected to the CarPlay system within seconds, and I was off after adjusting the mirrors and seats.
My first impression was that the seats were extremely comfortable. Very well bolstered, they held me as do VW GTI seats, in other words you feel like they were poured around you. I’m not the skinniest guy out there and some seats are a bit too snug for me, but this felt great. Covered in a grippy fabric, it was easy to find the adjustment levers and lower the seat as desired and then adjust for the correct distance and rake with plenty of thigh support.
While the Veloster was redesigned for the 2019 model year and I have no first-hand experience with the prior model, I found the interior of this one in general to be attractive, well designed and while perhaps built to a budget with lots of hard plastics, very functional with everything within easy reach. The 7″ touch screen is standard, there is a convenient USB and AUX port right below in the cubby, and the HVAC system is completely intuitive.
While the electric mirror switch isn’t lit, my exploratory finger found it on the first try exactly where I expected it to be, just ahead of the window switches. Everything else is lit in an attractive manner and easy to figure out – well, except for the center display directly in front of me, it had been left in Español mode and I was way too tired to try to figure out how to change it back to Inglés. No problemo.
Pulling out of the lot toward the freeway, I immediately noticed that the steering was quite direct and quick with virtually no slop around center. And the go-pedal actually made the car go very well. No, it’s no Hellcat, but it’s certainly plenty quick for the target market and I can only wish the budget new cars of my teen days had been this powerful.
The engine is a DOHC 16V 2.0l 4cylinder with direct injection and produces 147hp at 6300rpm and 132lb-ft of torque at 4500rpm. Coupled in this case to an optional 6-speed automatic (not a CVT) transmission, it shifted in a manner that I can only recall as imperceptible. It probably actually wasn’t completely imperceptible but I have no memory of it being any issue so for me it worked great. A 6-speed manual is standard and saves a buyer $1,000.
There was plenty of power to merge onto the relatively empty freeway heading north on the 405 and I was soon humming along at 80+mph with no effort at all. Braking was also powerful enough and reassuring; that being said I was driving on the freeway and city streets, not up in the canyons. What cornering I did do seemed well-controlled and the ride was firm but not punishing.
Playing with the steering wheel at speed affirmed how quick the steering really was, and otherwise it also contained controls for the stereo and center displays as well as Bluetooth. Yes, at this base level it’s just a urethane steering wheel, but of a comfortable diameter and thickness.
This car had a little over 12,000 “L.A. Rental Car Miles” on it (conversion factor to normal miles is what? 10:1?) and no rattles or buzzes or other issues. No weird stains or smells either which is always appreciated.
The Veloster of course is one of those rare odd vehicles with only one door on the driver’s side but two on the passenger side. As a result the driver’s door is longer and heavier than the passenger’s but it’s easier to get someone in the back on the passenger side. It’s only a 4-seater with a rear center console so if the fourth passenger doesn’t want to scooch over that then they need to get in old-skool style by folding the driver’s seat and limbo-ing around the seatbelt.
Visibility was in fact a little scarcer over the left shoulder than over the right, just due to proximity of the pillars and where they are located but the driver’s mirror includes a little convex set-in one in the upper corner that helps with the blind spot. Electronic Blind Spot Assist is available but you need to be one trim level up.
However, even at this base level, Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Avoidance Assist are standard which is nice, especially as I can see a lot of these being first cars for somewhat well-off teenagers. Love them or hate them (the assist devices, not the teens), there is no question that they would be a boon for less experienced drivers and frankly I’m of the mindset that they are a net positive for anyone.
They can be turned off so not a big deal if you really are the best driver ever. Hyundai’s system is minimally intrusive but does actually work as designed, I’ve tested it in a different model. Different manufacturers have different calibrations and different technology, like everything else in a vehicle the experience is not identical on different brands and models.
My car was delivered painted Racing Red with the (only option) black interior. The 17″ wheels were finished in a dark gray that worked well against the bright red paint and I have to say there is nothing about this base model that screams that the owner cheaped out, I originally (and mistakenly) thought this must be at least a mid-level trim, especially since it sported a “2.0” badge in back.
The car has as standard virtually everything you’d really want including (and some are obvious/everywhere these days): A/C, power windows/locks, cruise control, split folding rear seats, Bluetooth, speed sensitive volume control, illuminated vanity mirrors, heated power mirrors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (fantastic as I just plugged my phone in and used Google Navigation to get me to my SIL’s house and back), intermittent wipers, rear wiper and a ton more. Yes much of this stuff is in most mid-level cars but even the base trim Honda Accord for example doesn’t have a split folding rear seat and I believe at least BMW charges a monthly fee for Apple CarPlay.
The main (and only really objective) complaint I could possibly make besides the high liftover height in the rear is that there is more noise than I’d prefer. Between wind and tire noise, it would possibly get tiring on a longer drive; it was noticable during my limited time with the car and is the first time in a long time that I was able to obviously notice a difference in wind noise when traveling without anyone next to me and when I was passing another vehicle. And remember I was on a 12-hour plane ride prior to this.
Now, it was not like you couldn’t hear the radio or would need to shout to the passengers but it wasn’t as silent as many other new cars are. Then again the price and equipment make up for a lot and our contributor Importamation has discussed using sound deadening materials at length in various posts of his. If this were my car I would look into that as the car has enough power that the minor additional weight trade-off would not be a hindrance.
My journey that evening was only ten miles, and the return the next morning was twelve including a stop for breakfast, so this was hardly an exhaustive test of the car. However I can say that I was immediately comfortable in the car, figured out the essentials within seconds, and was excited to get back into it after the best few hours of couch-sleep that I’ve had in years.
I never saw the car in the daytime, but it looked good after dark, and was a willing partner. Priced at $18,500 (and I assume less with some haggling) with the manual ($1,000 more for the automatic) and a 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, this is a heck of lot of car for the money. Oh, it’s also available in every color that any of the other trims is available in including a bright orange. Overall, it’s one of the best cheap dates I’ve had and I’d happily do it again anytime.