Pitting the South Korean upstart against an American veteran

The new Hyundai Veloster N just dropped at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show, serving up U.S. audiences a thick slice of the South Korean brand’s performance know-how on a three-door hatchback plate. It’s a tempting piece of kit, no doubt about it, but the Blue Oval won’t take it lying down, offering up the tried-and-true Focus ST as a strong counterpoint. Which is superior? We take a quick look at the numbers and specs to figure it out.

Continue reading for the full comparison.

History And Background

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST
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Stateside consumers got the Focus SVT in 2002, which made 170 horsepower from its 2.0-liter Duratec 'four

The Ford Focus has been kicking around since the late ’90s, first hitting the scene as a replacement for the legendary Ford Escort in 1998. In 2004, the second-generation arrived in Europe, bringing with it the first Focus ST model in 2005. Thanks to its Volvo-sourced turbo 2.5-liter five-cylinder, the original Focus ST produced upwards of 225 horsepower, hit 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, and achieved a top speed of 152 mph. Meanwhile, stateside consumers got the Focus SVT in 2002, which made 170 horsepower from its 2.0-liter Duratec ’four. In 2012, the ST finally made a splashdown in the U.S. market, offering up 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque.

2012 Hyundai Veloster High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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By comparison, the Hyundai Veloster N is pretty much the new kid on the hot hatch block. The base model Veloster first arrived back in 2011 as a replacement for the sporty Tiburon coupe. A variety of performance-oriented concept versions were to follow, as well as the forced induction Veloster Turbo. However, 2018 is the first time we’ve ever seen the N iteration.

When you break it down, Ford has a ton more experience when it comes to the hot hatch game, and that's gotta count for something.

While you could classify the Hyundai’s arrival as “better late than never,” it looks like the Focus ST has the advantage here. When you break it down, Ford has a ton more experience when it comes to the hot hatch game, and that’s gotta count for something.

WIN – Ford Focus ST

Exterior And Styling

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST
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While not quite as aggressive as the superhero Focus RS, the Focus ST still gets some pretty solid styling cues

While not quite as aggressive as the superhero Focus RS, the Focus ST still gets some pretty solid styling cues. Up front, the central intake utilizes a black mesh insert tagged with a red “ST” badge in the lower driver’s side corner, plus it comes complemented by a trio of lower intakes and additional black trim in the window line. The headlights are slim, stretching back into the front fenders to add a little extra visual width, and come standard with LED lighting elements. In the lower corners of the bumper, you’ll find squared-off fog lights, while the profile’s corners house nicely designed 18-inch wheels. A trailing roof spoiler is mounted to the top of the hatch, while the taillights wrap around into the rear haunches. A central exhaust pipe spits good noises.

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST Exterior
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The Hyundai Veloster N is definitely the more visually boisterous option of the two, and in the hot hatch segment, that's exactly what you want.

The Hyundai Veloster N is also quite the looker, sporting a unique and very cool three-door layout. Overall, we’d argue it’s more aggressive in its appearance, with a large hexagonal front intake set with a glossy black insert. The side intakes in the bumper get cool dividing wings. The headlights are also quite aggressive-looking and come with a series of lower daytime running lights that run along the lower half of the projectors. Red accent lines were added to the front underspoiler, side skirts, and rear diffuser, and look great alongside the equally bright red brake calipers. The Veloster also gets a much more noticeable rear spoiler, a piece that rises above the roofline and clearly declares the model’s sporting intentions. There’s also an aggressive angle of rake for the window line in the profile, and a pair of fat exhaust tips in back to complete the look. Finally, buyers get a rather limited selection of exterior colors to choose from, but the roster does include the N-exclusive light powder blue, which is nice.

All told, there’s no mistaking the N for anything more pedestrian than a hot hatchback that’s ready to light the fires and burn the tires. It’s definitely the more visually boisterous option of the two, and in the hot hatch segment, that’s exactly what you want. Not that the ST isn’t a solid piece of attractive design – it’s just that the Veloster is the one you want if attention is what you’re after. To our eyes, it plays the part of hot hatch more accurately thanks to its bigger and badder features, and that’s why we’re giving it a win in this category.

WIN – Hyundai Veloster N

Interior And Technology

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST
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Step into the cabin of the Focus ST, and you'll find a broad array of buttons, gauges, and screens in place to greet you

Step into the cabin of the Focus ST, and you’ll find a broad array of buttons, gauges, and screens in place to greet you. The dash layout is composed of several vertical design elements, while the top of the dash sports a trio of readouts for the boost pressure, oil temperature, and oil pressure. There’s a flat-bottom steering wheel with multiple buttons placed at thumb’s length, as well as aluminum pedals and an aluminum shift knob. Loose limbs are held in place by Recaro sports seats, while ST-branded kick plates add a dash of visual flair. The colors are simple, with black and gray dominant throughout, but Ford also offers a selection of optional colors and leather upholstery if desired. The infotainment front is run by Ford’s Sync system, offering app support and smartphone support, plus there are several USB charger ports, a standard backup camera, a hill start assist, dual-zone climate control, and a 10-speaker audio system.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N Interior
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Hot hatchbacks are meant to make you giggle, and who can frown watching the needle in a boost gauge swing wildly with the throttle inputs?

By contrast, the Hyundai’s interior is quite a bit simpler. Gone is the vast NASA-esque array of buttons you get in the Ford, replaced by a much more streamlined three-tier set-up with climate control on the bottom, infotainment in the middle, and a stand-up infotainment screen up top. Sport seats are equipped for front-seated passengers, while the three-spoke steering wheel comes with a hefty rim clad in grippy, soft-touch material for easier wrangling. There’s also a cool set of shift lights, a TFT readout in the gauge cluster, a nicely weighted shifter, metal pedals, and a cool set of shift lights as well. And although we’re still waiting for a complete infotainment feature list, it’s safe to assume it’ll come with stuff like Apple Siri Eyes Free, HD Radio, SiriusXM radio, and the like.

However, at the end of the day, we’ve gotta give the interior win to the Ford. We think the layout looks better than the overly simplified Veloster, and we’re also loving all the gauges you get on the dash. Hot hatchbacks are meant to make you giggle, and who can frown watching the needle in a boost gauge swing wildly with the throttle inputs? What’s more, the Focus is much more comfortable, especially in the rear where the Hyundai is basically a 2+2 in its layout. If you’re gonna be spending a lot of time in the cabin, the Ford is probably the way to go.

WIN – Ford Focus ST

Engine And Drivetrain

2014 Ford Focus ST
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The Ford Focus ST comes equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, which spins out a maximum of 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm

Here’s where things start to get serious. While aggressive looks and a well-appointed cabin are both important components to the hot hatch experience, they mean nothing if the powerplant under the hood can’t deliver the goods.

As such, the Ford Focus ST comes equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, which spins out a maximum of 252 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 270 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. All of that power goes to the ground by way of a six-speed manual transmission packed with ST-specific gear ratios, which then sends motivation to the front axle exclusively. All said and done, the Focus ST can do the 0-to-60 mph shimmy in 5.9 seconds, going on to reach a top speed of 154 mph.

2019 Hyundai Veloster N Drivetrain
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Then we’ve got the Veloster N, which mounts a turbo 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder in the nose. Compared to the Ford, the Veloster N offers more power, producing a maximum 275 ponies at 6,000 rpm. Peak torque, however, is down, with a maximum of 260 pound-feet of torque created at 1,450 rpm. However, like the Focus, the Veloster sends every bit of motivation exclusively to the front axle, while also utilizing a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission for the cog swaps. Standout features include an automatic rev-match function and an optional electronic limited-slip differential. Acceleration figures look like 6.1 seconds in the 0-to-60 mph test, while top speed is rated at 155 mph.

The quoted acceleration figures depend on several factors, such as the tires, test conditions, driver, etc., but overall, we wager these two are pretty much neck and neck in a drag race.

All told, these two are very close when it comes to straight-line speed. They both weigh about the same (the Veloster tips the scales at about 3,240 pounds, depending on options, while the ST weighs 3,223 pounds, again, depending on options), and while the Hyundai has more power, the Ford has more torque. The quoted acceleration figures also depend on other factors, such as the tires, test conditions, driver, etc., but overall, we wager these two are pretty much neck and neck in a heads-up drag race.

WIN – TIE

Chassis And Handling

2014 Ford Focus ST High Resolution Exterior
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Of course, the other side of the hot hatch performance equation is how the machine in question takes a corner. To that end, the Focus ST gets upgraded suspension, with new front springs and updated shocks. The set-up is four-wheel independent, incorporating MacPherson struts in front and a Control Blade (basically a more advanced form of the trailing arm) in the rear. Making the connection with the pavement are 18-inch wheels wrapped in a grippy summer compound. There’s also electric power assist steering to help turn the thing, offering a variable ratio that ranges between 13.7:1 to 10.1:1 as you add angle. And by all accounts, the Focus ST is definitely well-sorted in the handling department, offering tons of giggles when you throw it into a bend.

Meanwhile, the Veloster N also arrives underpinned by a fully independent suspension system, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link in the rear. Extra tech points to the Hyundai though, as the Veloster N equips electronically controlled dampers, offering either a stiffer set-up or extra cushion as desired. These are tunable via the multiple drive modes, which include such self-explanatory titles as Normal, Sport, N, Eco, and N Custom. These individual modes offer new settings for a variety of parameters, such as the throttle response, the rev-match system, the steering feel, the differential settings, and the exhaust note. Once again, summer performance tires come mounted on 18-inch wheels, with rubber sizing rated at a 225 width. Customers can also get theirs with the available 235 width tires mounted on 19-inch wheels. The standard brake package mounts 13-inch discs in front and 11.8-inchers in the rear, but options throw in 13.6-inch discs in front and 12.4-inch discs in the rear.

On paper, the Hyundai looks like the better track machine. The tunable suspension bits in particular have us intrigued, given the customization it promises.

We’ll have to wait for an in-depth on-track comparison to put hard data to these specs, but on paper, the Hyundai looks like the better track machine. The tunable suspension bits in particular have us intrigued, given the customization it promises. For example, we’d want lots of stiffness on the race track, but a softer set-up when taking on a rally cross course. And that’s why we’re giving the win to the Hyundai in this category.

WIN – Hyundai Veloster N

Prices

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST
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Pricing for the Ford Focus ST starts at $25,075, with options including upgraded interior materials, upgraded infotainment, carbon fiber accents, and more.

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST Exterior
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Meanwhile, Hyundai has yet to divulge exact pricing info, but it’s likely to range between $25,000 and $30,000. We’d expect it to be a few thousand or so more than the ST, with a figure of $26,000 or $27,500 feeling about right.

WIN – Ford Focus ST

Conclusion

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST
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So then, with all the data and info laid out, which of these hot hatchbacks is the better buy?

Well, per usual, that depends on what you want from your hot hatchback.

The Ford Focus ST offers a nicer interior, a larger rear seat, more cargo room, more torque, lots of gadgets and toys in the cabin, and it’s most likely the less expensive option of the two. For those reasons, it looks to be the better daily driver, offering lots of fun when asked, and all the traditional “car stuff” when you need it, not to mention a few extra bucks in your pocket.

The Ford Focus ST looks to be the better daily driver, offering lots of fun when asked, and all the traditional “car stuff” when you need it. Then we have the Hyundai Veloster N, which is the one to get if you plan on hitting the track with any regularity, or you just want more attention on the street.

Then we have the Hyundai Veloster N, which is more exciting to look at, more powerful, and likely a better track toy than the Focus. We’re loving the looks this thing brings to the table, and you can rest assured it’ll turn far more heads at the meet than a five-door Ford. This thing is unique and undeniably cool. The tunable suspension bits are also a fantastic addition for those with a need for speed, so if you plan on hitting the track with any regularity, or you just want more attention on the street, go with the Veloster.

Which would rather have? Let us know in the comments!

References

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST
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Read our full review on the 2018 Ford Focus ST.

Hot Hatch Comparison – Hyundai Veloster N Vs. Ford Focus ST Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Hyundai Veloster N.

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