We first saw the Hyundai Veloster at the 2011 Johannesburg International Motor Show and it made quite an impression. And it continued to impress with its striking looks at the recent local launch. But does the Veloster possess enough substance to match that funky styling?

Looks, as well all know, are subjective and one can debate the Veloster's styling at length. But while it is pure love-it-or-loathe-it stuff, it certainly stands out from the crowd – especially in brighter shades.

With the Veloster Hyundai hopes to bring a mixture of fun, innovation and attractive, sporty styling to the Korean carmaker’s otherwise fairly conservative range, and to a large degree it seems to have achieved just that. It’s about time Hyundai allowed its design team to stretch their creative legs and the result is a standout, look-at-me, four-door design. Yep, four-door. The Veloster’s 2+1 passenger door configuration, which has been adapted for South Africa’s right-hand-drive market, is novel and with its concealed rear-door handle does give the car a coupé-like appearance, but it’s not without its faults. If you’re anything taller than my humble 1,64 m then you will find both ingress and egress very tight. While the Veloster’s rising beltline and sloping roof are striking visual cues, they do compromise interior packaging. Six-footers will find their heads squashed against the roof lining and the narrow glazing back there does make it feel very claustrophobic, even though legroom is generous and the boot measures in at 440 dm3.

Although the cabin doesn’t feel quite as materially well constructed or sophisticated as those of its competitors, it is funky and fresh in its execution. According to Hyundai the centre hangdown is inspired by a motorbike fuel tank with the air vents representing the exhausts. while this analogy may be taken with a pinch of salt, it is neatly executed and such features as those tubular grab-handles on the front doors are an eye-catching touch. It all fits in with Hyundai’s attempt to attract the younger audience at which the Veloster is aimed. Even its audio system is aimed at tech-savvy youngsters; it includes radio/CD/MP3 with four speakers, two tweeters, centre speaker and sub woofer as well as Aux, USB, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity. It also features a 7-inch LCD touch screen that allows you to change display themes, colours and even set wallpapers. There’s little to fault the in terms of the Veloster’s standard specification, which includes such features as a multifunction steering wheel, automatic climate control, leather trim, rear camera and electric windows and mirrors are all standard. Safety features include six airbags, ABS, EBD, ESP, vehicle stability management and Isofix mounts.

So, it’s well equipped and looks suitably sporty, but does the go match the show? Unfortunately, for now the answer is no. Under the Veloster’s bonnet sits Hyundai’s 1,6-litre four-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine developing 103 kW at 6 300 r/min and 167 N.m of torque at 4 850 r/min. Although it's a free-revving unit, it's modest outputs means that it needs to be worked hard to get the best out of it. I drove the automatic model featuring Hyundai’s EcoShift dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Despite being smooth in its operation, this in-house developed transmission proved a little disappointing. The engine’s lack of punch is accentuated by the transmission’s hesitancy between gearshifts. On uphills you often find that lifting your foot off the throttle sees the  engine swiftly falling out of its power band, necessitating a manual downshift or two. It is missing paddle shifters, but then again, this car's performance is not especially sporty, even if it’s looks suggest as much.

It’s a shame, as the Veloster is not a dynamically flawed car. The steering is light but direct, body-roll isn’t excessive and there’s enough front-end grip on offer. But while I enjoyed piloting the Veloster on the winding roads of our Western Cape launch route, and as devoid of excessive road or engine noise it was, the driving experience just wasn’t as engaging as I had hoped it would be. It seems to be a case of looking at the Veloster’s striking appearance and thinking, “Woohoo! Here’s a bit of fun” but when you start driving you soon realise that it’s not as spirited as it’s looks. Perhaps the 137 kW/265 N.m Turbo model, which will arrive here later in the year, will change that.

Will it be a success? It’s difficult to say. The Veloster is attention grabbing, well specced, and could well appeal to those that hate to follow the crowd (towards such rivals as the Audi A1 or Mini Clubman), but it may be a bit out of their price range, unless parents are picking up the bill.

Pricing:

1,6 GDI Executive (manual) R259 900

1,6 GDI Executive (auto) R276 900

Prices include a five-year/150 000km warranty and roadside assist as well as a five-year/90 000 km service plan. Service intervals are every 15 000 km.

Look out for a full road test in an upcoming issue of CAR magazine

Specifications*

Model: Hyundai Veloster 1,6 GDI auto

Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder

Power: 103 kW at 6 300 r/min

Torque: 167 N.m @ 4 850 r/min

Fuel consumption: 8,4 L/100 km

CO2142 g/km

Price: R276 900

Service plan: 5 years/90 000 km

*All manufacturer’s figures