2012 Hyundai Veloster

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2012 Hyundai Veloster; photos by Nelson Sta. Mina. Click image to enlarge

We’re used to surprises from Hyundai, and this new boldly styled coupe with the funny back door on its starboard side caught many of us off guard by taking Best New Sports/Performance Car under $50K at this year’s AJAC TestFest. The fact that is was the slowest of the bunch says a lot for the Veloster’s other attributes, not least of which being its $18,999 starting price. Many of us here at Autos.ca are remiss to label the Veloster as a performance car — we’re waiting for the upcoming 201-hp Veloster Turbo.

Nonetheless, it seems Hyundai/Kia can do no wrong these days. The Veloster also won AJAC’s Best New Design over the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque and Jaguar XKR-S. Ouch.

No question, this hatchback pins the needle on the gawk-o-meter.

The Veloster’s signature feature is a passenger side–only rear door that allows easier access to the back seat. Unlike similar deals in the Mazda RX-8 and Mini Clubman, the Veloster’s door-lette hinges from the front, and as such, doesn’t require the front passenger door to be opened first. You have to duck to get in, but once in the comfy rear seats you’ll find sufficient legroom, although headrom is scarce.

Like the exterior, the cabin is an aggressively sculpted affair with a centre console that comes at you like some kind of weird space helmet, or as Hyundai suggests, the console of a sports bike.

Thankfully, the interior is mostly executed in high quality materials. The seats are excellent, the multi-function steering wheel is nicely contoured, and in the manual cars the pedals are well placed and the clutch and stubby shifter work in satisfying harmony.

Combine this with excellent fuel economy from the Accent’s 138-hp 1.6-litre direct-injection four, available six-speed twin-clutch transmission, a nicely balanced chassis, and of course Hyundai’s unassailable value and warranty that have the competition weeping openly, and you’ve got a winner.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth Preview

Fiat 500 Abarth. Click image to enlarge

Fiat’s charmingly modern take on its iconic Cinquecento gets all nasty on us with the introduction of the 500 Abarth. Turbocharging the 1.4-litre MultiAir four brings an addition 59 ponies to the party, topping out at 160 hp. Torque jumps from to 98 to 170 lb-ft. The five-speed manual transmission and brakes get beefed up, and the suspension benefits from thicker anti-roll bars and twin-tube Koni dampers. Dual exhaust, side skirts, hatch spoiler, redesigned front and rear fascias and optional 17-inch alloys kick up the visuals. Fiat and Italian tuner Abarth have a long history—their racing pedigree goes back over 50 years. Stay tuned for a full Test Drive this summer.

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