Retro cars hit our shores when the VW New Beetle was introduced in the late 1990’s. It was never considered a car for driving enthusiasts, and was never meant to be—even the Turbo S model. But why should it have? When the original Beetle was finally popularized in the U.S., anyone looking for speed was far from their wits end as MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, and other companies covered their post-war wants of that European feel that got Chevrolet started with the Corvette. So what of the New Beetles and other retro brethren like the Mini Cooper? Most have fallen from the ranks—Chevy HHR, PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird among them.
Yet the Mini thrives not just as a single car, but an entire company. When Mini came to America in 2003, it offered the cool style of the VW Beetle but in a more compact, less bubbly, and better-driving way. This isn’t about drivers, however. Instead, it’s about the form-over function design that is both praised and loathed for the little car. The window switches and speedometer, for example, are hurdles for an owner to overcome. Even now, Mini is known for being an ergonomic headache. Yet people still buy into them for the driving pleasure and cute aesthetic they possess. However, they’ve become such a common quirky car, can one really call them different anymore?
Enter the Fiat 500 and Hyundai Veloster: two cars of ‘round about the same price as each other ($20,000 well equipped), near 40-mpg highway fuel economy rating, close performance stats (if you care), with just four seats each. They have a very “look at me” sense of entitlement on the road. The Veloster takes a different route from the Fiat’s diminutive footprint and cartoon eyes, with a long and low look that can be anything from sports car to tadpole to firin’-ma-lazer internet meme—it’s supposed to polarize rather than be cute.
They differ enough where cross-shopping isn’t likely. The Fiat is much smaller inside for both passengers and cargo, and will be more of a chore when merging on the freeway. It fits well as a city runabout. Meanwhile the car with an “H” up front has a hidden third door on the right side, a larger cabin, and more power (138hp to the Fiat’s 101).
Where they become better competitors, just add turbo. Each car is equally impressive for the magical oomph of their engines (the Hyundai scoots up to 201hp while the scorpion-badge festooned Fiat Abarth—said “Uh-Bart,” though I doubt anyone will correct you with “Ah-barth”– manages a still competent 160 for its light weight). Each car gets a different look from their less-powerful kin, with large dual exhausts and meaner details aplenty.
Different exhaust, reflectors, LED tail-lights, and body-color rear spoil differentiate the Turbo from basic Veloster.
Abarth one-ups the Hyundai for a little more fun as the engine makes a delightfully growly note, and more underskin details that a gearhead would easily discern, but for the casual driver the Hyundai might still be the best choice. The ride hardly changes in the V-Turbo, and you get upgraded lighting front and rear for better visibility not just for the drivers sake, but others around them (albeit the 500’s all come with cats-eye style Xenon lights standard, while basic Velosters have less techy projectors). Another reason the Hyundai may seem a better buy, the fuel economy hardly drops with the turbocharger added to the engine (35mpg while the 500 Abarth dips to 34mpg– or two down versus six). However, there is an “Abarth Lite” that has come out recently; the Fiat 500 Turbo.
With 135hp (down from the Abarth 160hp), the Fiat 500 Turbo pulls something more like the Veloster Turbo. It keeps the suspension from the slower model (it has the 500 Sport trims suspension, which is still improved over the 500 Pop and Lounge trims), and also keeps the less-grippy seats of the Sport as well.
While I can applaud the many varieties of 500, I can’t help but see that no matter what they throw at the Veloster, it’s a questionable vehicle to cross-shop not just because of the different sizes, but the combination of price, efficiency, and performance.
Remember, the Veloster in either the regular or Turbo trims are just-about as quick as the corresponding 500 Sport and Abarth, but wins out in highway MPG (and will be more likely to achieve them). Consider the prices, and the Veloster starts at $17,500—a tie with the 500 Sport, but comes with more room and power. Give them booster-snails (turbo), and the gap is widened from $22k, to $24,000. Advantage: Hyundai, though the Abarth has the perks of more extensive performance tuning and a limited-production badge of exclusivity.
But hold on… I mentioned that 500 Turbo that sits between the Sport and Abarth? Okay, it gives a modest price of $19,500. But for the drop in hp (135 vs. 160), gaining zero improvement in mpg over the Abarth isn’t what I’d call a celebratory shimmy. Then consider it’s still lacking the fun-pieces the Abarth would otherwise given to the suspension, brakes, and exhaust… oh yes, one has to give up having the burbly-pop of the scorpion trimmed Abarth. Regardless, I commend the functional front end of the 500 Turbo and Abarth. The front air dams and vents in the front bumper direct air in—and out—of twin-intercoolers. Again, for those who may be in “the know,” an intercooler is basically a radiator for the turbo.
What this comparison comes down to is that these are each alright cars, though not the apex predators in their respective classes. There isn’t a winner here, so much as choosing which one would better suit ones needs. Velosters will be bigger and easier to get into the back, get better mileage, be cheaper, and have a better warranty (recently a recall has been put out fro shattering glass roofs). The Fiats will all make a better sound, feel better to drive, and be a little better for parking with a more lively interior sitting-place than the more structural Hyundai.
Veloster Turbo interior
For the sake of added visual cues between the Fiat’s, here are some shots and labeled differences.
-All Hyundai and Fiat photos are readily available in their model galleries.
-Fiat 500 Abarth front-end cutaway from http://automotivesreview.blogspot.com/2012/09/fiat-500-abarth-2012.html
For some additional content/car porn via Winding Road Magazine, this is why the difference between the Abarth and Veloster Turbo sounds are such a difference.
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