Performance cars are plentiful, as long as you have the means to afford them. So what does someone do who really enjoys driving but has a bank account that doesn’t match those horsepower wishes? Thankfully, for just over $20,000, there are still a few vehicles that can deliver excitement on the highway. The Hyundai Veloster R-Spec and the Hyundai Sonata Sport are two that can keep the smiles going. One of these is an affordable, practical sedan; the other is a little less practical, definitely affordable, and most definitely not a sedan.
The Hyundai Sonata Sport is a variation of Hyundai’s popular midsize four door. The Sonata is a top seller for the Korean manufacturer, and is built at an advanced manufacturing plant in Montgomery, Alabama. It’ s available in a variety of flavors, including a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and ECO model. Our test Sonata Sport has three trim levels: SE, Sport, and Limited. While the 2017 is available now, the only change from 2016 (major changes in 2016) is the available adaptive headlamps on the upper-end Limited trim.
What makes the Sonata Sport sportier than the SE and Limited models? It’s a matter of features and appearance instead of mechanical differences. For example, the Sonata Sport comes with a sport front grille and bumper fascia, rocker panels with chrome molding, rear spoiler, and chrome-tipped dual exhaust. It also features a standard 2.4-liter DOHC inline four that makes 185 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. That’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Other items include 17-inch wheels and tires, a MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bars, and four-wheel disc brakes. The Sport trim’s Premium Package versus the SE and Limited features nicely contoured sport seats and other add-ons for $1,900. We also had the Tech Package on our test model for another $2,450. These options and a few more brought the total slightly up above $28,000, but the Sonata Sport entry model actually comes nicely equipped for $23,400, so if you want to save some cash, you won’t feel as if you’re missing out.
There are plenty of reasons to like this sedan. It looks like a much more expensive car on both the outside and inside. We know it’s built with quality because we’ve toured the plant in Alabama and have seen the production line first hand. The Sonata’s profile is pleasingly aerodynamic and clean. Take off the badge and you might guess it’s a German luxury vehicle. Inside it’s just as well turned out. Ergonomics are good, controls are easy to reach and use, and the connectivity system functions as it should: it makes sense and is useful for radio, nav, and voice commands. The Sport model also features a carbon-fiber-look interior to differentiate from the non-sport trims.
Time spent behind the wheel is more than worth the price. The ride is smooth, steering is predictable, power is adequate, and it corners with little drama. The Sonata has always be a great go-to sedan when you want something not too flashy but not dull, good power but not a mileage killer, and affordable yet offers everything you need. Throw in Hyundai’s impressive warranty, and you will be lacking for nothing during your everyday drive.
For those who don’t need as much room, want something more exotic, and crave a bump in excitement, the Veloster is a great alternative. It looks nothing like the Sonata, nor does it look like anything else on the road. It’s a compact three-door coupe-ish ride that is surprisingly fun and even more surprisingly comfortable. We fully expected to feel blasé toward this vehicle, but since it showed up in R-Spec trim, we’ve been driving it as much as possible.
Because of its sporty nature, you might assume it’s going to be expensive. If you bet on that, you’d lose. The Veloster R-Spec with the six-speed manual transmission is based at a ridiculously low $21,600. Our test model had no options, and with destination, topped at $22,425. The R-Spec had a lot of great standard features, like A/C, Bluetooth, split/fold rear seats, 450-watt Dimension premium audio system with external amp and subwoofer, fog lamps, LED taillights, rear wiper, seven-inch multimedia touchscreen, rearview camera, remote keyless entry, and more.
What makes the R-Spec more performance oriented than the regular Veloster are standard features like torque vectoring control (uses braking to bias the power to the wheel that has the most contact), B&M Racing sport shifter on the manual transmission, ground effects body kit and body-color rear spoiler, R-Spec badge and floormats, and red-colored seatbelts. The R-Spec also gets 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/40R18 rubber.
If it’s juice you’re after, the Veloster R-Spec delivers, with 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. That’s nearly 70 more horsepower and 75 more lb-ft of torque over the stock model. What the more-powerful 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine, lower-profile tires, sport shifter and other performance goodies means is this R-Spec is a flat out blast to drive. The shifting is precise, the cornering is flat, and the approximately 2,900-pound car is lithe and agile. We had a lot more fun than we expected to have in this baby boy racer. At this price, you’d be struggling to find a better all-around grin producer.
For those who are cash poor but adrenaline addicted, you can step up another rung to the Rally Edition Veloster, which features sportier spring, damper, and stabilizer bar tuning versus the R-Spec, carbon-fiber-look aero accents, Rally Edition badging and floormats, and Exclusive Matte Blue exterior paint color. You can also opt for a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All this for $23,950 makes us we wonder how Hyundai can price it so low.
As we watch the performance marques continue to increase price when increasing horsepower, we are happy to report that Hyundai is taking performance seriously, without driving enthusiasts out of the marketplace.