2021 Hyundai Veloster N builds hot hatch credibility with 8-speed dual-clutch transmission

I’ve had the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N for a few days and really haven’t put it or its new 8-speed dual-clutch transmission to the test. With a spring snow coming in the next couple of days, it’s now or never.

Even as I’m on the freeway heading toward a twisty road, the fun is beginning thanks Hyundai’s N button. Similar to a Race, Track, or Sport+ mode in other cars, the N button on the right side of the Veloster N’s steering wheel sets every vehicle system on high alert. The throttle is at its sharpest, the transmission holds gears lower and longer, the adjustable dampers get stiffer than Matt Gaetz at a high school pep rally, the traction control takes a break, and the stability control loosens up.

The fun right now is thanks to the new transmission. When I hit N mode, the 8-speed dual-clutch transmission drops a couple gears, the revs rise, and the throttle response becomes immediate. It’s fun to goose the go pedal in my own imaginary highway grand prix, but the stiff dampers are threatening to frappe my kidneys and the 275-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 is droning out a booming sound that could be used to break uncooperative witnesses.

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

In the name of comfort I switch back to Normal mode and hunt down roads that aren’t arrow straight. The drive involves some freeway and country highway, and the transmission stays in the background, shifting smoothly and at relatively low rpm.

The area around Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin, is part of the Kettle Moraine that runs from the south central portion of the state up to the Door County peninsula. The area that was created by two glaciers coming together creates hills and valleys in a state that was mostly flattened by the glaciers, and that means the roads have some twists and turns.

As fun as it was to play with the powertrain calibrations on the freeway, it’s more fun in the twisties. With a few miles of country road ahead of me, I punch the N button again, feel the car champ at the bit, and head off.

Up and down through the gears and this road, the transmission doesn’t slam from gear to gear. It just shifts quickly and keeps the engine in its power band. While I don’t feel the transmission falling behind, I can shift my own gears with the large, metallic shift paddles when I choose. 

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

Short of a racetrack, this is the Veloster N’s natural habitat. The quick steering becomes immediately apparent. The Veloster N has a go-kart-like feel. It slashes into corners with a response matched by few cars today. When I dive into a corner, the P235/35R10 Pirelli P Zero tires provide stubborn grip and the suspension fights back, keeping the low-set hot hatch flat and holding onto that energy in the suspension to shoot the car back in the opposite direction when I flick the wheel. With handling like this, the Veloster N now carries the mantle as today’s most engaging hot hatch.

The Veloster N makes some compromises to attain that title. The ride quality, which is nearly unbearable in N mode, isn’t the only thing that either feels unfinished or sport oriented to the detriment of day-to-day driving. The interior plastics show the kind of cost cutting that comes with a sub-$35,000 performance car. The engine noise drones on like a politician on C-Span. Even with that odd third door, the back seat is tight. And the Pirellis aren’t made for the damn snow that’s coming in the next couple of days.

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

2021 Hyundai Veloster N

However, the dual-clutch transmission is a good addition to the Veloster N. While I still prefer the engaging 6-speed manual that was available from the start, I’d put up quicker lap times with the dual-clutch automatic if I were driving the Veloster N on California’s Thunderhill Raceway like I did at the car’s initial launch.

The new transmission does what it’s supposed to do: provide ready power when needed and slink off into the background during normal driving. And when the freeway drive becomes monotonous, it lets you hit the N button to make power readily available and create your own imaginary racing games.

Hyundai provided a week in a 2021 Veloster N and thousands of years ago glaciers dumped silt across Wisconsin for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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