LOS ANGELES -- I really want to love the Hyundai Veloster.
It looks cool, with a roofline sweep that evokes thoughts of a chunkier Porsche 928 or 944. Its design lures interested folks to lurk around it in parking lots. It has that innovative, stealthy second door on the passenger's side. The interior quality is excellent for a car of its price -- $22,500, including $4,000 in option packages. The hatch area is roomy for a car of its size.
Sadly, for all its go-go styling, it's a pig. It's slow. The 1.6-liter engine sounds overstressed and thrashy when asked to accelerate. The throttle tip-in is boggy, then jerky. The six-speed automatic transmission's shifts are harsh and oddly timed. For a "sporty" car, it feels slower than the Elantra sedan upon which it is based. For its 32 mpg combined fuel economy rating, I got 27.
What's more, its suspension is oddly unresponsive and yet stiff. The one time I needed the ABS in a panic stop, while driving in a straight line, the rear of the car swung sideways into the next lane of traffic. The Veloster has huge blind spots that the side-view mirrors seem incapable of uncovering. And when trolling through a parking lot at walking speed, I took a speed bump at a slight right angle and got soundly struck by the A-pillar.
Not to mention that rear-seat passengers will get their heads parboiled sitting under the hatchback glass. And they'll get whacked by the hatch when it is closed down on them.
Don't take my word for the last one, Hyundai even has a warning sticker posted saying as much. It's printed in English, Korean, Chinese, Arabic and Russian, with a pictograph showing some poor guy's head getting bonked.
But these shortcomings don't seem to matter to consumers, who are gobbling up the Veloster at a rapid rate.
Hyundai sold 2,538 Velosters in November in the United States, outpacing the segment of other quirky small cars such as the Mini Countryman, Fiat 500, Nissan Cube, Scion xB -- even the recently redesigned, more-macho VW Beetle.
So from that perspective, it's a hit.
The Veloster has velocity, critics be damned.