In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, too many import specials and hot hatches on this side of the pond were just mild, watered-down versions of the cars Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world received. We were denied legendary nameplates like the Impreza STi 22B, and the first seven Lancer Evos.
We did get the brilliant Acura Integra Type R but, sadly, the Civic Type R (CTR) remained forbidden fruit until just recently.
When it finally debuted in 10th-gen form for 2017, it’s over-zealous styling drew much criticism but its world-class performance quickly cemented itself as the fastest front-wheel drive production car in the world, garnering records at Silverstone, Spa, Estoril, and more.
VW’s excellent Golf R, sedate by comparison, offered a more mature take on the formula but failed to generate the same sort of excitement.
In 2019 Hyundai introduced the world to its hopped-up Veloster N. Based on the humble bones of the Accent, the Veloster has always been something of a forgotten entry in the hatchback segment. Adding the letter “N”, denoting Hyundai’s performance division, has changed that. From a most unexpected place, a natural competitor to the CTR has emerged.
It was only fitting, then, for us to compare the highly regarded Honda CTR and the upstart Hyundai Veloster N to find out who reigns supreme. This one’s closer than you might think.
Styling and Design
Compared to the obnoxious Bōsōzoku inspired styling of the CTR, the Veloster N looks much cleaner, even though it’s a bit of an odd-duck itself with its unconventional, but surprisingly useful 3-door layout. The N sports a unique grille with larger openings for dedicated brake cooling ducts, nifty 19-inch wheels, and N-exclusive rocker panels. There’s also a couple of beer can sized exhaust outlets that replace the centre-mounted pipes of the garden-variety Veloster, and a large rear spoiler with a cool triangular brake light that resembles the rain light on a race car. The boy-racer attitude is still there, just toned down.
I’m not sure if some of the initial shock of the CTR’s design has worn off but it’s grown on me a bit. The gigantic origami rear spoiler is still a bit much but the wide and aggressive front end and bright Boost Blue paint (new for 2020) appears more supercar than economy car and Honda has done a good job of addressing customer feedback. Gone are the “cheese-graters” from the front fascia, now smooth and broken up by small body-coloured whiskers. The front grille opening has also been enlarged for additional cooling.
On the inside, drivers get a new shift knob and a two-tone micro-suede wrap for the steering wheel.
If you want to get noticed, the CTR is your car but the Veloster N is much easier on the eyes.
Performance, Ride, and Handling
This is what matters most here. The “hot” in hot hatch. And both of these cars are positively volcanic.
I’ve waxed poetic before on the CTR being one of the best cars I’ve ever driven, regardless of price. There’s a tactility to the controls that is unmatched this side of a Porsche 911. The steering, braking, and handling are cohesive and fluid. A new shift knob for 2020, still hewn from solid aluminum resembles those from 90s Type Rs and has been weighted and given shorter throws for even better shift feel. Also upgraded are the brake pads and rotors for reduced pedal travel and fade, and the suspension has been revised for enhanced comfort in all three of its drive modes.
With zero torque steer, thanks to its super-trick front suspension and limited-slip diff, the front-wheel drive CTR effectively puts all of its 306 hp to the ground and will rocket out of corners like a spooked stallion. It’s the muscle car in this comparison, managing a factory claimed 0-100 km/h time in about 5 seconds. That’s over a second faster than the Veloster can muster with its 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque from its 2-litre turbo 4-cylinder.
The Civic also uses a 2-litre turbocharged four and while it’s not the high-revving VTEC screamer from days gone by, it’s a powerhouse and it loves to rev to redline with seemingly little power drop-off like typical turbo motors. Steering is razor-sharp and super confident; it turns in like a fly and is rock-solid at speed.
In contrast, the Veloster N benefits from having former BMW M boss Albert Biermann’s hands all over it. Honed on the Nurburgring, the Veloster manages to be even more fun than the Civic, offering excellent road feedback, and voracious turn in. While there’s noticeable torque steer here, there’s no issue putting power down thanks to the standard limited-slip diff.
Complaints about the Honda’s sound (or lack thereof) do not apply to the Hyundai with its raucous exhaust note that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Tricks like keeping the turbos spooling in between gears for satisfying whip-crack pops and a set of sweet shift lights above the gauges add to the theatrics. It’s manual-only for now, and the transmission while not as good as the one in the CTR is not far off in shift action and clutch feel.
Hyundai’s N Grin Control drive mode selector (yes, that’s what they call it) really does bring the grins. N mode is a riot, taking the Veloster from mild to snorting wild in the blink of an eye. Thankfully there’s a custom N setting as the ride quality is just about unbearable on all but the smoothest of roads. Set it to “Comfort” or “Sport” and things get much better.
This is likely the toughest category to judge. The CTR is more capable and more refined. The Veloster N will induce involuntary giggling and is ultimately more fun.
One of the best things about the hot hatchback category is the hatchback bit. Meaning these are the types of cars that can be taken to a track for some fun while carrying a stroller and a Costco-sized load of groceries at the same time.
But when it comes to carrying people and cargo the CTR is the clear winner. Thanks to its 4-door hatch layout, you get room for 5 and a massive 727 litres of space under the hatch. The Veloster, based on a smaller sub-compact platform makes do with just 565 litres, although that’s still quite spacious. Where it falls short is in passenger volume especially in the back where you’d be hard-pressed to comfortably accommodate two full-grown adults. Best save those seats for kids, then.
Both cars get similar fuel efficiency, and during my driving I got a respectable 8.5L/100 km in the Civic, and 9.0 in the Veloster. The difference can be attributed to more city driving with the Hyundai.
Features, Equipment, Safety
The CTR and Veloster N are one-trim cars, meaning what you see is what you get. There are no options other than paint choice. Both are 6-speed manual only (as they should be) but the Veloster N has a DCT option coming for 2021.
The Civic has a slew of driver aids with Honda Sensing being standard, and it includes adaptive cruise control, a lane-keeping and lane departure system, collision mitigation, and more. Its touchscreen infotainment system is also equipped with navigation, where the Hyundai relies on Apple Carplay or Android Auto, and there’s a more powerful stereo with 12-speakers, versus an 8-speaker setup in the Veloster.
The Honda’s cabin feels more substantial with more soft-touch surfaces and higher quality materials, better seats, and more standard equipment.
The Veloster N’s sub-compact economy roots show up in the copious amounts of hard plastic on nearly every surface. Everything is still tightly screwed together but the Civic is a step above in nearly all respects.
If you want real performance and aren’t looking to break the bank, you’re not going to do much better than these two.
The $43,690 CTR is substantially more expensive than the $35,049 Veloster N but considering that the Civic is a larger, more premium automobile with more power and more grip, that difference is understandable.
For the most excitement and the most thrills per dollar, the Veloster N is your ticket. It’s enormous value and might just be the most fun you can have at this price point. It puts the “hot” in hot hatch, and that’s why we adore it.
The CTR offers even more performance and is a better everyday car but there’s less theatrics outside of its ostentatious body panels. It’s the more refined experience and a better daily driver. While it would be my personal pick, the Veloster N is easily one of the most surprising cars I’ve driven in a long time and you can’t go wrong with either one.