Germany’s famous Nürburgring racing circuit is a brutal challenge for even the world’s most competent sports cars, yet Hyundai insists that our very first stint behind the wheel of its all-new 2019 Veloster N takes place on this aptly-nicknamed Green Hell. It’s a bold move, almost unprecedented, but it demonstrates the pride the Korean engineers -- led by ex-BMW M boss Albert Biermann -- have in their latest subcompact offering. After pulling the seat belt tight, we nudge the manual transmission into 1st gear and point the nose of the Hyundai onto the track.

The 2nd-generation 2019 Veloster, carried forward with its unique asymmetrical two-plus-one door hatchback configuration, arrived earlier this year. Base models are fitted with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine (147 horsepower) that is fuel efficient and more than adequate for keeping up with traffic. Up until now, those seeking something a bit sportier have been encouraged to step-up to the more powerful Veloster Turbo models, which boast a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder (201 horsepower).

Fresh on the scene is the Veloster N, an all-new model targeted directly at driving enthusiasts. In other words, it’s a shot over the bow of accomplished competitors such as the Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, and Honda Civic Type R. Utilizing a similar recipe to its rivals, the N model is a Veloster fitted with a more powerful engine, upgraded suspension, bigger brakes, and a slew of cosmetic enhancements to raise its performance level and differentiate it from its standard siblings.

The instruments of war

Hyundai chose a larger 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which is rated up to 275 horsepower, for the N. It is mated to a standard 6-speed, short-throw, manual gearbox -- there is no automatic offering. Complementing the engine are several other go-fast goodies such as an available electronically-controlled N Corner-Carving Limited-slip Differential and an electronically-controlled suspension. The brakes are upgraded, too, with 13-inch rotors in the front and 11.8-inch rotors in the rear (an optional brake upgrade bumps the rotor diameters up to 13.6 inches and 12.4 inches, respectively). The mechanical package is impressive.

Visually, the Veloster N is identified by its unique front fascia with additional brake ducting, wide rocker sills, and two large exhaust pipes set on each side of its race-inspired rear fascia. Standard wheels are 18-inch alloys, with 19-inch wheels on the options list. The interior is festooned with an extensive list of N-specific upgrades, including unique seats, steering wheel, and instrument cluster displays. Everything, including the piping on the upholstery, carries reminders of Hyundai’s N performance hue -- blue!

While the N contains optimized equipment for its high-performance mission, one of its greatest attributes is the digital drive-mode selector, which is conveniently located on the steering wheel. Each of the five settings (Normal, Eco, Sport, N, N Custom) electronically alters the suspension, throttle response, engine sound, ESC, and steering weight to optimize the vehicle to its environment -- and, as we’ll come to see, the differences are drastic.

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It came to dance

Throttle to the floor with the drive-mode selector set to its highest-performance "N" setting, the Veloster shoots down the first turn out of the pits -- there’s a reassuring punch to the backside as the engine spins merrily around the tachometer towards its 6,750-rpm redline. Shifting into the next gear is an audible treat as the exhaust crackles and pops to complement the deep exhaust note. The turbocharged 2.0-liter is plenty strong, with impressive torque, but the N doesn’t feel as dizzying fast as the Civic or Focus -- our derriere-dyno says to expect a 0-60 mph sprint in the high 5-second range.

The Nürburgring's turns come up fast, but the N dives into each while cornering surprisingly flat -- body roll is insignificant. Lateral grip is also very good, thanks to high-performance 19-inch Pirelli P Zero tires on our test vehicle (standard 18-inch wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber). We note, nearly immediately, that the dampers feel very firm in the N mode -- an observation confirmed on the famed banked carousel (paved in concrete in 1932, its bumpy surface has the Hyundai’s tires literally bouncing off the ground). Next time, we’d tackle the track in Sport mode for a bit more suspension compliance.

The Veloster’s steering is accurate and predictable in the N drive mode, which adds notable heft and weight to the effort. The steering ratio is spot-on, too -- we wouldn’t change a thing. In terms of front-wheel-drive chassis dynamics, there’s a negligible amount of understeer, which scrubs the front tires when pushed too hard, but it’s not an annoyance as the nose turns-in predictably and with determination. The electronic LSD does a heroic job ensuring the front stays planted, even when we drift wide off the apex (steer in the proper direction, mash the throttle, and hold on).

The fast straights on the Nürburgring, followed by tight corners, are demanding on brakes. However, the N’s upgraded rotors and calipers dismiss the abuse effortlessly. Pedal feel inspires confidence, and we experience zero fade despite finding ourselves leaning heavily on the brakes as we continuously row the transmission lever.

Speaking of gears, Hyundai reworked the Veloster’s slick 6-speed gearbox to be more accurate and communicative. In the N variant, it’s got a nice notchy feel with very positive engagement (and rev-matching on downshifts). Combine that with an illuminated segmented redline alert, which is visible at the top of the instrument cluster, and missing shifts will be a rarity.

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Back in the real world

Overall, we are left very impressed with the Veloster N on the challenging racing circuit. We lapped at a quick 9-minute pace, and never once did we feel that we were overdriving the chassis. Yet flying around the Nürburgring with tires squealing is sadly something few Veloster N owners will experience. Thankfully, we also had an opportunity to experience the newest Hyundai on the public roads and Autobahn surrounding the track.

The N drive mode setting is a bit too much on the street for our tastes, primarily because the suspension’s dampers border on punishing. The Normal mode feels great in terms of suspension travel, but the steering is too light. However, switch to Sport mode and everything feels perfect -- nicely weighted steering and firm (sporty) shocks -- it’s our choice for daily driving. We should mention that we took the N on the unrestricted Autobahn and noted a blistering top speed of 164 mph (U.S.-bound vehicles will likely be limited to 155 mph).

Based on our early drive in Germany, everything about the Veloster N appears to earn high marks as its engineering team has painstakingly dotted all of the i's and crossed each of the t's. That’s welcome news to the Korean automaker, but there’s still a missing piece in the puzzle -- Hyundai has yet to announce a price.

Based purely on hints, our intuition says that the N is a “tweener” that will be value priced between the Honda Civic Si and Type R, the Volkswagen GTI and R, and the Focus ST and RS -- assume a base MSRP of about $30,000. If the Korean automaker hits that target, it’s an extraordinary bargain, especially considering that its performance outshines everything at that price level (shoppers will need to climb up to the $34,000 Honda Civic Type R to find a rival that can outrun it).

Although our total time with the all-new 2019 Hyundai Veloster N was less than an hour, we are absolutely impressed -- confident Hyundai has delivered a very competent, sporty compact hatchback that is capable enough to dethrone several of the segment’s established players. And, if Hyundai can bring the N in thousands of dollars less than its rivals, the value proposition is strong.

Following a price announcement later this year, expect the all-new 2019 Hyundai Veloster N to arrive in showrooms beginning in the first quarter of 2019.

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