Thursday, July 18, 2013

2013 Veloster Turbo Review at 4900 Miles / 7900 km

I'll try to keep this review short since I was so extravagant in my last post with telling you all my life story and everything, as Holden Caulfield might say, instead of reviewing the damn car.

Long story short, I'm extremely pleased with my purchase decision. The handling is great, the 6-speed manual is great, the leather seats and controls feel great, the hatchback and the third side door are both convenient, the radio sounds great, and so in terms of enjoyment, it's exactly the mix of performance and practicality that I wanted.

The downsides of the Veloster are that the rear visibility is pretty bad, and you don't get the rear view backup camera unless you spring for the luxury package which included a bunch of things I definitely didn't want, like the all-glass sunroof (I'd rather have the extra structural integrity and simplicity of a regular top than an all-glass one) and a nav system that's not as good as on my phone(s). So it's definitely not a luxury car in the sense of a BMW or Audi, but in terms of raw performance, I'm quite satisfied with the turbo version that I bought.

What's interesting to me is that I'm starting to see more and more Velosters on the road, in a variety of colors, but so far I've not seen a single other turbo version. What's funny is the parking lot at Google where I park is filled with Teslas, Nissan Leafs, BMWs, Audis, and so on, but I've got the only Veloster, much less Turbo.

I did see one Veloster while I was visiting my family in LA, that someone had customized with three round exhaust tips where the two trapezoidal ones should have been. I thought that looked pretty damn janky (see my previous post on bad tuner car style choices), but thought it was worth mentioning. Three exhaust tips on a four cylinder car? That totally makes sense.

Another minor downside is that I managed to scuff three of the four 18" alloy wheels on curbs while I was getting used to the dimensions of the car. So be forewarned that the wheels stick out farther than you might think. On the plus side, I haven't scratched any of the paint yet, and the tiny windshield crack that I unfortunately got from a pebble kicked up by a truck shortly after buying it, was repaired for free by Geico and is scarcely visible (and hasn't grown). Fortunately the crack is on the passenger side or else I might be more annoyed.

The A/V system is nice, and one of the main factors in my purchase decision. The Turbo version comes with the premium story that has an 8" subwoofer and does a fairly nice job with all sorts of music. I really appreciate the Pandora integration, since I'm a Pandora addict (see my previous blog post on that topic) and it works great with my Android phones. On the downside, I'm not able to use any of the advanced music controls for A2DP music streaming (I should be able to do more than play/pause, and should be able to get the song info, but none of that is working on the Hyundai side).

The Hyundai BlueLink feature is kind of interesting, and is worth the subscription price (or at least the mid-tier subscription price without all the Bing-powered nav stuff) for the web and phone integration. I can unlock/lock the doors, turn the lights on/off, find the car on a map if I'm lost in a big parking lot, stuff like that. The voice recognition interface in the car itself is pretty terrible, though, so I never use it. BlueLink is only available in the U.S.

I wanted to wait until after the first oil change just to give a proper impression of the car after it's been broken in. I had the oil changed at the Hyundai dealer at 3000 miles, as they recommend for the turbo Veloster, and filled it with synthetic oil. The dealer had Kendall synthetic oil which seemed like a respectable old-timey brand (it's owned by Phillips 66, another old-timey oil company brand). I think it was an extra $30 for that, or $45 to get Mobil 1 synthetic. I asked the mechanic what the difference was, and he said, well, it costs more because it's "Mobil 1" and he made air-quotes with his fingers, so I figured the Kendall would be just fine. And it's been running really smoothly since the oil change, even in 102+ degree weather driving from LA to Mountain View nonstop. The A/C is perfectly capable of handling those temps with no problems.

I should also mention that the electric-assist power steering is excellent, and even better than the Prius. It didn't seem to have a lot of road feel when I first got it, but now that the suspension's been properly broken in, I'm really impressed with the handling, and how nicely it centers itself when you're driving straight. Very impressive handling, somewhat like I'd imagine a front-wheel drive BMW of its size would behave. Except that it retails for $23000 and takes regular 87 octane gasoline.

So that's my quick-and-dirty car review. I'll try to post more computer stories when I have time. I have a lot of stuff I'd like to cover in this blog related to everything from Amiga to VAX, and from NetBSD to FreeBSD to OpenVMS, not to mention my collection of Commodore and Apple II 8-bit stuff, but I'm not sure what I should talk about first. So if there's anything in particular you'd like me to write about, or make some YouTube videos about, please let me know in the comments.

I Just Enabled Google+ Comments

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I'll put a proper review of my Veloster later tonight. In the meantime, I'm sorry to say that I converted the blog to Google+ comments, but forgot to check the moderation queue, so those 36 comments in moderation got lost. I'm sure at least 35 of them were spam, but anyway, if you actually posted a real comment that got stuck in moderation, my apologies for losing it. Please make a Google+ account so you can comment moderation-free.

Monday, January 14, 2013

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo Review

My taste in cars has stayed fairly unchanged since my college days (late 90's) and can best be described in four words: "pre-tuned tuner car." Here's what I bought a few months ago for my commute.

not the actual license plate
Hyundai Style!
I grew up in southern California, in the suburbs of L.A., where I got my Computer Science degree from Cal Poly Pomona, a local state university known as a "commuter school." I got a great education at Cal Poly (good professors and very small class sizes, typically 20-30 students) at what was an incredible bargain for my parents (I believe the tuition for CA residents was something like $650/quarter at the time).

Going to Cal Poly enabled me to live at home for the first two years, then I rented an apartment in Pasadena with a few other CS students for the last two. In between, I took a 6-month internship at Be, Inc., which was a wonderful experience in many ways: living on my own for the first time, living in Silicon Valley, getting paid to work on a real commercial product, and meeting other engineers. Best of all, through a chain of events, my Be experience eventually led to my current job at Google.

Because I lived off-campus, I spent many hours driving around the parking lots looking for an empty space before class. Because of this, I became a bit of a connoisseur of the many varieties of Honda Civic and similar small cars that other students had customized to various degrees. I was especially amused by the mods people often did to make their car look more powerful than it actually was, such as ridiculous-looking aftermarket spoilers and my personal favorite, massive diameter exhaust tips welded onto the factory muffler. If you're not familiar with this phenomenon, here's a forum post with a description and some photos of a few of the more egregious examples.

At the time I was driving a Saturn, so it's not like I had anything to brag about myself, but one thing I quickly realized was that if you want a high performance car and you're on a limited budget, it's probably worth saving your money to buy the "performance" model of whatever car you're interested in, rather than getting the cheap version and then spending even more money trying to soup it up to some approximation of the good version.

After I graduated and started making enough money to buy a nice car, I bought a used 1998 BMW 328i which was a great car, and my first with a manual transmission. I had to sell it later, but after I got some more money, I bought a 1999 BMW 328is, which was essentially the coupe version of the same car (the 328is was the last model to transition to the E46 platform, so both of mine were E36).

In 2005, I got hired as a software engineer at a small company called Danger, Inc., which designed the hardware and software for the hiptop smartphone (aka the T-Mobile Sidekick). I found out about Danger from my former manager at Be, whom I contacted in 2005 to ask about interesting jobs in Silicon Valley. He told me about Danger, which sounded really cool, and armed with some previous work experience writing apps for Symbian Series 60, I sailed through the interview and got the job.

By late 2006, I had saved up some money so I decided to trade in the BMW for a more economical car. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and a stick shift isn't the most convenient for things like parallel parking on a steep hill. The bigger problem was that the BMW had enough miles on it that maintenance was becoming very expensive, and of course the mileage wasn't great. So I traded it in for a new 2007 Toyota Prius.

The Prius is a great car, and I still have it, but it's not particularly exciting to drive. In a few ways I did find it to be an improvement over the BMW. The biggest difference is that BMW, Porsche, and other sports car companies like to make a big deal out of their cars having rear-wheel drive, because it supposedly offers better handling due to a more balanced weight ratio between the front and rear wheels. In practice, I find front-wheel drive to be slightly easier and more intuitive for both regular and emergency maneuvering, and it also saves weight and cost, with the potential for better fuel economy.

Some other things I like about the Prius are motor-driven power steering, which provides just the right amount of steering assistance for the current speed, and two features that are required for Toyota's hybrid system but are becoming more popular on regular gas engine cars as well: electronic throttle control (the gas pedal is "fly-by-wire" and the ECU controls the real throttle) and push-button start.

So I decided I wanted to buy a second car that would be more fun to drive and would offer the benefits of the Prius along with the performance that I had to give up when I traded in the BMW. I also wanted to get another manual transmission, because I find it really fun to drive, and it also forces me to pay full attention to my driving. I also wanted something that would get reasonable gas mileage and preferably would take regular unleaded rather than premium gasoline.

A few months ago, on a trip to LA, the new Hyundai Veloster caught my eye. It has a style that I found to be quite attractive. I read a bunch of reviews and it became clear that if I was going to get one, it would have to be the Turbo version, because the regular version is not very exciting, performance-wise (it uses the same 1.6L 4-cylinder engine as the Hyundai Accent subcompact). The turbocharged version offers 201 HP (150 kW) and similarly impressive torque.

In addition to my time at Cal Poly, I learned most of what I know about tuner cars from the many hours I spent playing Need For Speed: Underground on my laptop. The one thing you can do in that game, or in any other racing game with tuning options (like Gran Turismo 5) to provide the biggest performance boost to any car is to add a turbocharger (or replace it with a bigger one).

American car buyers are slowly waking up to this fact, because until recently, most of the high-end automakers only sold big-displacement 6- and 8-cylinder engines for their sports cars, not 4-cylinder turbos. This is changing, though, and even BMW has just announced they will be bringing a 4-cylinder turbo to the U.S. as the 320i. The news articles are emphasizing the lower price compared to the 328i, but unfortunately the mileage is not going to be better than the 328i, so the lower price is apparently the only selling point for the smaller engine.

What about hybrids? It turns out there is one type of hybrid engine that is compatible with a manual transmission, which is the type that Honda pioneered with the Insight. The closest model they have to what I was looking for is the CR-Z, which would be nice if it had more power, but unfortunately the electric motor component is so wimpy (14 HP / 10 kW) that the combined gas + electric power is about the same as the regular Hyundai Veloster, which is no match for the Veloster Turbo. Perhaps a future CR-Z will offer something competitive with the turbo hatchbacks.

One thing I did before buying my car was to race it for many hours in Forza Motorsport 4, which I bought for my Xbox 360 specifically because Hyundai released a free downloadable Veloster Turbo add-on for it. Fortunately I also discovered that Forza 4 is a far more enjoyable game overall than Gran Turismo 5. If you're interested in a particular car that's available in Forza, I highly recommend racing it in the game to see if you like the engine performance, gear ratios, and basic handling.

In fact, there are a lot of great cars on the market with very similar features to the one I bought, from a variety of automakers. Just keep in mind my earlier observation about buying the "good" model to begin with instead of getting the cheap model and trying to tune it up.

The other thing I learned from playing many hours of Forza 4 and other games is that almost all the racing modifications you can make to a particular car are going to cost you something in return: noise, ride comfort, ground clearance, mileage, ability to pass California's notoriously stringent emissions checks, etc.

Therefore, your best bet is to find the style of "tuner car" that you like and then keep it stock, because it has already been pre-tuned by the manufacturer to balance all of these conflicting goals to give you good performance along with a quiet, smooth, fuel-efficient ride. I love racing my upgraded Veloster Turbo in Forza 4 but I'm also quite happy that the stock turbocharger doesn't make noises like a tea kettle or like the air brakes on a bus when I change gears. It also has enough ground clearance and a stiff enough suspension that I have not bottomed out once on a speed bump or driveway ramp, something I could not say about the BMW or even the Prius!

I got a little carried away writing the intro, so I'm writing part 2 to cover my thoughts on the car itself and some of the features that I liked. Stay tuned...