2019 Hyundai Veloster N First Drive Review

The N in the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N’s name supposedly represents Hyundai’s R&D base back in Namyang. For the excuse to visit Germany I’m glad N also stands for Nürburgring, the track on which it was honed and symbolic of the car enthusiast culture it wants a piece of.

Because here in the Eifel mountains it feels like a permanent party for gearheads. The parking lot where you access the Nordschleife for the legendary “tourist laps” is buzzing with cars from every corner of Europe. The air around the track is thick with barbecue smoke, hot brakes and adrenaline, high-performance engines echoing across the rolling landscape long after the track has shut down for the day. It’s a heady atmosphere, and exactly the spirit Hyundai wants to capture for an American audience in the Veloster N.

The man tasked with doing that is Albert Biermann, recruited from an equivalent job at BMW M for his instinctive understanding of what enthusiast drivers want. Proof of that is evident in the number of M2s and M3s you see pounding the Nordschleife tourist sessions. Hyundai is clearly hoping he can channel that expertise into its own products. He makes the right noises about the brand’s home being in Korea, but on a sunny evening in the German countryside with a pilsner in hand, it’s clear this is his comfort zone and N most definitely stands for Nürburgring.

Next day we’re out on the track itself, the exit from the pit lane so abrupt I’ve barely selected second gear before filtering out onto the Nordschleife. I’ve bagged first place in the train of cars behind an instructor in an i30 N, the Elantra GT relative that launched the performance brand to the European market last year to critical acclaim. And I’m determined to make him work for his lunch.

Via the touchscreen I pre-programmed a more nuanced N Custom mode, but for this opening lap I go full N, the car tensing the instant my thumb connects with the checkered flag symbol. Throttle mapping, steering weight, adaptive dampers, exhaust sound, rev matching, stability control and the active differential all get dedicated calibrations, a wicked crackle from the tailpipes announcing we’re ready for business.

With a little more head space there’s a chance to take in the surroundings, the signature Performance Blue trim elements lifting an otherwise functional cabin that gets the job done but can’t match European rivals for tactile quality. It’s ergonomically sound, and the interface with the standard 8.0-inch touchscreen is clear and intuitive, underlining the point that the Veloster N can hack it for the everyday as well as playtime. The asymmetric design with the single, curb-side rear door remains quirky but there’s just about enough space back there for a six-foot passenger behind a driver of similar size — and the Veloster is more practical and usable on this score than, say, a Toyota 86.

Will enthusiasts respond? Biermann pulls on his cigarette and permits himself a grin. “Before when I came to the Nürburgring the parking lot would be full of hot hatches from Volkswagen, Renault and the others. And now I am seeing enthusiasts with Hyundais instead — this is where we need to be.” That, in a nutshell, is what N stands for. And what the Veloster delivers on, straight out of the box.