The lure of the brand casts a strange shadow across the car industry. At the high end, the badge is everything, and products need to conform to the litany of expectations that have been carefully cultivated throughout the parent company's life. On the other hand, the market is wide open for a bold usurper to slip in and shake up the established order - providing the product is good enough.
Hyundai has built its British reputation on the provision of value and no-nonsense design. The Korean multinational began as a spin-off from its parent company (specialising in construction), assembling a global team of mass production specialists and churning out millions of low-cost, built-to-a-budget saloons for markets around the world that were looking for a cheap alternative to Japanese cars. So far, so good, but Hyundai's relentless economic minimalism couldn't last for ever, especially as Western markets began their push upmarket. Like its sister brand, Kia, Hyundai has used design to bring its brand up to date, adding a dash of premium feel while still undercutting most of its rivals.
The Veloster is the Korean answer to the European fashion for sporting compact coupes. There are a couple of caveats. For one, it's not especially sporting, at least not in 1.6 GDi trim as tested here, but there is a certain style in the way this small four-seater has been put together. The other is the design. Low and purposeful, with racy details like the centrally mounted twin exhaust pipes, deeply scalloped rear light enclosures and two-part glazed boot, the Veloster began life as the Veloster Coupe Concept from 2007 - an early stab at moving into a more design-savvy market place. The concept was well received, green-lighting the Veloster project. It'll be a matter of personal taste as to whether you consider this a concept car made flesh or a rather over-styled hatchback.
The production car's key idiosyncrasy is its use of only one rear door, on the passenger side, allowing easy access to the rear but without 'spoiling' the lines when viewed from the driver's size. This suggests Veloster drivers might be practicing a certain amount of self-deception when it comes to viewing their family car as a sporty coupe, not a practical family machine.
Inside, the company lives up to its reputation for doling out plenty of standard equipment, and the (optional) sat nav is of decent quality. The dash design still has awkward hints of 1990s-era audio equipment, with its swooping curves and flashes of plasticized 'chrome' but it's far from the worst offender in its class. The Veloster even got the odd admiring glance and comment as it makes its way around town, in the way that freshly minted car designs are wont to do, but it's likely to remain relatively scarce, so there's no chance of familiarity breeding contempt.
Ultimately, the Veloster is a sporty-looking car for those who don't really need the performance and are more than happy not to pay for it. It's a competent, pleasing design that helps Hyundai even further along the tricky road from budget to premium brand. If badge snobbery is not your bag, the Veloster offers neat, efficient and low-cost transport with an unpretentious attitude.