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Original Article Link: 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo vs. 2013 Scion FR-S Comparison Test
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1st Place: 2013 Scion FR-S
Dynamics and handling are strong with this one.
2nd Place: 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
More practical, less fun.
2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo vs. 2013 Scion FR-S Comparison Test
Which $25K Sports Car Is the Real Deal?
By Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor | Published Jul 30, 2012
Purists stand firm on the notion that few sports-car truths are more self-evident than the superiority of rear-wheel drive, full stop. This is a dogma that was fully embraced by the creators of the 2013 Scion FR-S to the extent that the car's very model name acronymically trumpets this fact.
And then the front-wheel-drive 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo goes and out-slaloms it. Yep, 68.0 mph to the Scion's 66.8 mph.
But let's take a step back. A more obvious competitor for the Scion FR-S is Hyundai's rear-drive Genesis Coupe. But what's this? The Veloster Turbo we tested costs $25,320 and generates 201 horsepower, stats that read as though lifted from the FR-S window sticker (our FR-S tester stickered at $24,930 and produces 200 hp). Get past the obvious dissimilarities in door count and drive wheels and we have a surprisingly level playing field. So let's see how they stack up in the real world.
Pace Makes the Difference
The Veloster Turbo is relatively lightweight at 2,910 pounds and the suspension is dialed up to a stiffness that's busy but not quite uncomfortable. Unraveling a winding road at what we call momentum pace — a quickish clip that's not so rapid that you have to brake for corners — the Veloster Turbo's responses suggest that promising things await those willing to draw more deeply from its well.
Unfortunately, the Veloster's well is shallow, and its chassis wilts when confronted with a more determined charge through the same canyon. Turn into a bend like you mean it and there's an elastic imprecision between your hands and the road as though there's too much sidewall flex in the Veloster's 215/40 Kumho Solus KH25 tires, or its suspension bushings are too soft. And the steering, though quick immediately off-center, slackens off as you wind on lock and is overboosted. Attempt to power out of a corner on the throttle and the Veloster Turbo does a one-tire fire, as there's no limited-slip differential. And it needs one.
The harder you drive it, the more the Veloster Turbo frustrates. Its modest ultimate grip of 0.83g is not the issue. It's the way it composes itself on imperfect roads. Even around town the rear suspension's sensitivity to bumps is obvious and when it encounters a pavement seam midcorner, the ass end will step out several inches. The chassis also wallows as though underdamped when told to brake hard on lumpy bitumen. No wonder the logbook entries ranged from "it feels unfinished" to "This chassis is a mess."
The difference in their ability to sprint between corners just wasn't that vast.
Slide into the little FR-S coupe after wheeling the Veloster and you immediately notice that the Scion's seat is lower slung and more supportive, its structure is noticeably stiffer and the control interfaces move with more mechanical heft. It turns in with far more precision. The FR-S's brakes are firm and the pedal placement makes heel-and-toeing a cinch. While the Veloster's shifter is quick, it feels toylike in comparison to the Scion's more substantial-feeling gearchange. The FR-S's lever is a bit notchy and sometimes balks at downshifts into the 4th gear gate, but on balance it is a pleasure to row.
The Scion's steering is leagues sharper than the Veloster's, and better weighted besides. It tracks more honestly and isn't flustered at all by pockmarked pavement. On the smooth surface of our skid pad it produced a 0.90g orbit, considerably grippier than the Veloster. Braking the FR-S from 60 consumed 118 feet, edging the Veloster yet indicative of rubber that is on the meek end of its summer tire classification.
Yet it is tactility that defines the FR-S. This is a car that is completely at ease when the limits of its 215/45 Michelin Primacy HP tires are being explored, remaining sharp and communicative. It telegraphs clearly how to get the most out of it — ham-handed overdriving will drag the nose wide, yet prudent trail braking and throttle manipulations allow the balance of grip at both ends of the car to be managed. Extracting this balance in the FR-S is just loads of fun. And unlike the Veloster, this is a chassis that can clearly exploit more tire.
The Goods Under the Hood
That's not to say that all is bad in Velosterland. Its 1.6-liter turbocharged engine churns up a flexible torque curve and transitions into boost so seamlessly that you might not guess it's turbocharged. You step on it, and the creamy-smooth mill delivers satisfying hustle all the way through the midrange, tapering off as the 6,750-rpm rev limiter looms. At cruise, the engine note drops to a whisper. Despite channeling 195 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels, torque steer is essentially nonexistent.
In our testing it hit 60 mph in 7.7 seconds (7.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 89.1 mph, though its in-gear acceleration is lustier than these numbers suggest. Indeed, the Turbo has the power delivery that the base Veloster should have had in the first place, especially as its EPA fuel economy (26 city/38 highway mpg) still pips that of the Scion (22 city/30 highway mpg). It'll come to a halt from 60 to zero in 126 feet — not bad, but then its tires quickly succumb to hard driving-induced heat.
Our test car was equipped only with the $2,500 Ultimate package which includes useful bits like automatic headlights, a nav system with rearview camera and back-up alerts. It is unfortunate that a headroom-eating, chassis-flimsifying panoramic sunroof is larded into the package's mix as well, but there's no denying that this Veloster Turbo offers a more formidable features list than the relatively spartan FR-S.
The Dangers of Spec Sheets, Part Two
Just as the Veloster's slalom result prompts a "yeah, but," so, too, does the FR-S drag strip performance. The FR-S ran to 60 in 6.6 seconds (6.3 with 1 foot of rollout) — more than a second quicker than the Veloster — and did the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 93.1 mph. It would be easy to attribute this performance chasm to the 176-pound lighter curb weight of the FR-S and call it a day. But in running both of the cars in our test over hill and dale, the difference in their ability to sprint between corners just wasn't that vast.
Torque is the reason. The Veloster has it and, well, the FR-S has a big dip in middle of its torque curve. As such, achieving the FR-S's acceleration numbers above takes a 5,000-rpm, dropped-clutch, tire-spinning launch. This damn-the-torpedoes launch hazes the tires until just before the 1-2 upshift, which keeps the normally aspirated 2.0-liter flat-4 on boil and bypasses its torque hole entirely. Any other type of launch and the FR-S's 0-60 and quarter-mile times suffer dramatically. Conversely, the Veloster has the torque but not the traction — it's effectively got one tire at the wrong end of the car to handle the launch, and this hampers its ability to perform a holeshot, hampering its numbers.
More thrust in the midrange would only enhance the inherent handling attributes of the FR-S's rear-drive layout. As it is, its 151 lb-ft in the 2.0-liter mill is just not enough poke for when you want to, say, intentionally upset the chassis and induce a sustained powerslide on dry pavement. It is a smooth power plant, however, and is totally at home when the tach needle is flirting with the 7,400-rpm rev limiter. It doesn't sound very good — beyond a bit of intake honk at wide-open throttle, this flat-4 is a fairly agricultural noisemaker. Granted, the Veloster whooshes like a yard appliance at full whack, but at least it falls silent while cruising.
All of this is a long way of explaining that despite the numbers, the Hyundai doesn't really cede any straight-line giddy-up to the FR-S when playing cat-and-mouse on our canyon road. The Veloster's midrange-rich brand of shove is more useful in day-to-day driving, too.
Sporty Vs. Sports
We came away from the Veloster Turbo disappointed. It's not a convincing sporting proposition, rather a package that trades heavily on its funky styling and unusual asymmetry. We want to believe that the Veloster Turbo would brighten up substantially with better tires and a limited-slip differential, but more likely the low-rent beam-axle rear suspension is at the root of the Veloster's dynamic shortcomings, and not even the most exotic concoction of carbon, silica and gears will help it.
The Scion FR-S is quickly becoming the default choice when cost and fun are the priorities. By nailing the fundamentals of the package, the Scion has shown that engaging dynamics need not be out of reach of the common man, and in doing so has put other automakers on watch.
The rear-drive dogma is rooted in truth. The Scion FR-S wins our comparison test.
The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.