2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec first drive review and impressions

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec in Austin_4

If you were to take a poll of automotive journalists about which cars they own, a majority of them will say the Mazda Miata. But the other car you’ll hear mentioned in garages is the Ford Fiesta ST. It’s a fantastic car.

It’s also dead.

In an effort to improve margins and make cars the general public want to buy, Ford is killing the Fiesta (and others). That means there’s an opening for a truly small, inexpensive car. I’m here to tell you that car is the new Hyundai Veloster R-Spec.

Keeping trims simple, the Veloster R-Spec only comes one way. It’s also the least-expensive Veloster with the turbocharged engine. Priced at $22,900 before the $885 delivery charge, the price puts the car right where the Fiesta ST sat in the lineup.

For your cash, you get a 1.6L turbo engine making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission only. Other Velosters will have an option for an automatic, but the R-Spec passes on the dual clutch.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec in Austin_13

A B&M short throw shifter makes the throws feel short but accurate. Nothing will ever be as good as Honda’s S2000 shifter with a countersunk shift knob, but the Veloster is on par with the best front-wheel drive Honda boxes out there, including the one in the Type R. This is a car you want to shift because it feels so good.

All manual turbo Velosters also get Michelin Pilot Sport 4 summer tires. These tires are grippier than you’d ever expect on a car of this type, and deliver confidence when you attack the corners.

While we’re focusing on the R-Spec manual, it should be noted the only way to get those tires are to get a manual Veloster turbo. If you get an automatic with the 1.6L turbo, you’ll have a set of all-season rubber that isn’t as good.

The only thing missing, performance-wise, from the Veloster that the Fiesta ST had was a front limited-slip differential (Update: No it doesn’t – Ed.). Velosters do have torque vectoring control, which uses the brakes to keep the front end in line when cornering, and combined with the super-sticky tires my drive partner and I didn’t cook the inside wheel at all.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec in Austin_6

Inside is a premium cloth interior with yellow accents. The accents are exclusive to the R-Spec, as Hyundai wanted to create a different interior presentation for each Veloster version. It looks sporty without being overdone.

An 8-inch infotainment screen is on hand to handle all the traditional media sources. This version doesn’t have built-in navigation, but it supports Apple Car Play and Android Auto so it doesn’t matter. A backup camera — Federally required — is also standard.

LED headlights and taillights add to the exterior styling, and the exhaust is tuned uniquely for the R-Spec. Another note: There is engine noise enhancement from the infotainment system. Turn it off. It sounds great without it.

Since I’m making comparisons to the Fiesta ST, the Fiesta ST has an option for automatic temperature control. The Veloster doesn’t in R-Spec (but in other trims it does).

The only thing on the features list I longed for during the drive was blind spot monitoring. The higher-spec turbo models have it, but the R-Spec does without it. The shape of the rear pillars in the car really create a noticeable blind spot. There are smaller blind spot mirrors, but I’d still like the sensors.

Interior fit and finish is standard Hyundai, which is to say it’s pretty good. The materials you touch all feel nice, and everything seems well put together. It’s not a Mercedes-Benz S Class, but considering the price they could’ve been far skimpier with the interior.

2019 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec in Austin_15

Driving the R-Spec is quite a joy. As I mentioned before, the shifter is precise and the throws are short. If you’re getting a manual Veloster, it’s THE reason to get the R-Spec and pass on the more expensive versions.

The pedals aren’t fitted ideally for heel-toe shifting, but my co-driver and friend Benjamin Hunting of the Unnamed Automotive Podcast didn’t seem to mind much.

The handling is well sorted and a marked improvement over the previous generation of the car. In fact, forget just about everything you know about the previous generation of the car. This one surprises and delights in a way the old car never did.

I didn’t get a chance to attack an autocross like I’ve done in the Fiesta ST, so I can’t speak to that environment or on-racetrack performance, but for a fun daily driver the Veloster R-Spec makes a lot of sense.

It’s been awhile since I’ve driven a small car like this that I’ve really enjoyed like I enjoyed the R-Spec. I genuinely feel like this car will win over enthusiasts who want inexpensive fun. I also think it’ll win over the Fiesta ST buyers who feel slighted because they can’t buy a new version of that car.

It’s a car I buy, and I look forward to spending more time in it.

The manufacturer provided travel, food, and lodging for the purpose of this first drive review. Our opinions are our own. View our disclosure policy for more information.
Chad Kirchner
the authorChad Kirchner
In addition to Chad Kirchner's work here, he's a freelance automotive journalist for outlets around the world.