This is an easy comparison to explain, so let’s get the big stuff out of the way. The Honda Civic Type R is the best-driving front-drive performance car on sale in America. Period. The Hyundai Veloster N is the second-best-driving front-drive screamer you can buy. End of story.
The issue is that, as tested, the Honda stickers for $7,255 more than the Hyundai. That’s assuming, of course, you can find a Honda dealer that won’t try to tack on an additional $8,000 to $15,000 “Market Adjustment” fee. Which you can’t. At least not here in Southern California. There’s no question that a better car is worth more money. But worth $7,000 to $22,000 more? That’s what we aim to find out.
A couple of months back, we did a five-car comparison test that involved the Hyundai Veloster N coming in third behind a $76,155 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 and this here first-place Honda Civic Type R. This is not the first time MotorTrend has seen these results. As it turns out, Top Gear America host Jethro Bovington and I made a Head 2 Head video about this very question last year. I strongly recommend you subscribe to the MotorTrend app to watch, as that episode was so fun to make. Not only did I get to drive a firetruck, but there was also an actual fire involved! Don’t want to watch “Officer Bovington” chase me and the two best-handling front-drivers around in a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor? Fine, I’ll just tell you what happened.
We start the show on the track with Randy Pobst laying down hot laps for both cars. Surprise, surprise—the scrappy, less powerful Hyundai is a little more than a second behind the more potent, more refined Honda. The biggest advantage the Veloster had going for it was its low-end torque, meaning Randy could blast it out of a corner more quickly than he could with the Honda. Yes, at 295 lb-ft, the Honda makes more torque than the Hyundai’s 260 lb-ft, but the Type R’s not making its full-twisting force until 2,500 rpm, whereas the Veloster N makes its peak torque at just 1,450 rpm.
The Civic Type R makes more power—306 hp at 6,500 rpm compared to 275 hp at 6,000 rpm—but it also weighs a bit more than the Hyundai—3,104 pounds vs. 3,052 pounds. Does that make a difference? Not really, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The Type R brakes better (60-0 mph in 99 feet vs. 111 feet for the N), revs out better (more power higher up in the rev range, as well as a more refined engine), and turns better, especially when you’re on the accelerator. The Veloster N suffers from a bit of torque steer, whereas that ill behavior is all but absent from the Type R. Still, despite all the deficits, the Hyundai was just 1.2 seconds slower than the Honda in the hands of a two-time 24 Hours of Daytona champion. How much value do you assign to a lap time that’s just over one second better?
Honda Civic Type R vs. Hyundai Veloster N: Money for Nothing?
On the road, again … man, is this Hyundai good. Gritty, punchy, willing, and able, the Veloster N dares you to keep pushing harder. However, the Honda is simply a better driver’s car. When Jethro and I drove the two cars a year ago, the battle was a bit more pitched, but then Honda went ahead and updated its best product for 2020, and the changes make a difference. Briefly, the damping software is 10 times as quick as before, the bushings are new front and rear, and the front axle gets stiffer ball joints. Oh, and the grille opening is larger, allowing the radiator to drop temperatures down by 18 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent overheating. As a result, the Honda’s already fantastic handling is now even better. Remember, this is a car that placed fourth two years ago at our 2018 Best Driver’s Car, behind the Lamborghini Huracán Performante, Porsche 911 GT2 RS, and McLaren 720S, and ahead of things such as the Aston Martin Vantage and BMW M5. Didn’t need to be improved, gets improved anyway. It’s as if Honda cares about enthusiasts!
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Still, the little three-door Hyundai is a special thing. Scrappy, a great underdog, and seriously fun on a canyon road. Most impressive is the built-in tunability. There’s an N Mode that turns every adjustable performance parameter up to 10—if not one Nigel Tufnell past. Great for throttle response and tailpipe effects, tragicomical for ride quality. Full N is simply way too stiff. Good news! Like performance cars that cost at least twice as much money, Hyundai offers owners N Control settings, allowing them to tailor the Veloster N exactly how they want it. My hot setup is soft suspension, Sport steering (as opposed to Normal or Sport+), rev-matching off, and hardcore everything else. To reiterate, $30,000 cars don’t offer this level of sophistication. Ever. Even a year after its debut, the Veloster N leaves me impressed. Broken record time: the Honda drives better, but by how many dollars better?
Honda Civic Type R vs. Hyundai Veloster N: Beat It
If you skipped past my earlier entreaty to watch the video, then you didn’t see the final third where we stage a police chase. Basically, we set up a gymkhana where I got to thrash the cars in a highly, intentionally juvenile manner. Drive ’em like you stole ’em was the operating thesis. On the track and on the road, one could make the argument that the scrappy Veloster N’s price makes it a more attractive buy than the Honda. On the obstacle course, this theory fell apart. The Hyundai’s performance, poise, and predictability degraded in a way that the Honda simply didn’t. A little inside baseball for you—making a video requires multiple takes. The Type R felt as precise after the 10th take as it did on the first. The Veloster N felt like it wanted to lie down and take a nap. And the tires were twice-baked.
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I’ll never forget something Justin Bell told me a decade ago. We were lapping cars around Laguna Seca. He was behind the wheel of a 997 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and I was sitting next to him. “Other cars might be faster after one lap,” he said, “but no car will be quicker than this Porsche after 20 laps.” That’s got to be one of the core attributes of a great driver’s car, right? The machine’s willingness to allow you to beat on it, again and again, session after session, week after week, and the car only asks, “Is that all you got?” This is a quality the Honda Civic Type R possesses and the Hyundai Veloster N simply doesn’t have yet. There’s your price difference right there. Worth it? I’ll argue yes.
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