Arriving in the US in 1986, early Hyundais were seen as affordable entry-level transportation and carried the slogan "Cars that Make Sense." The Excel was later joined by the Sonata and Scoupe in an attempt to cover the low-end market. While these early cars appealed to many first-time and cost-conscious buyers, Hyundai was not on the minds of many other buyers.

Recently, though, Hyundai has been on a bit of a hot-streak with the successful launches of the Accent, Sonata, Elantra, Genesis, and Equus. More buyers are considering Hyundai, and its market share has grown to its largest ever. Looking to continue that expansion and possibly create a new niche in the automotive marketplace, Hyundai is launching the uniquely styled 2012 Hyundai Veloster hatchback.

The Veloster is offered with only one engine option, a 1.6L four cylinder gasoline direct injected unit producing 138 horsepower. The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, with Hyundai's new 6-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission available as a $1,250 option. The DCT transmission can also be shifted manually via steering wheel paddles or tapping the shifter.

One quick walk around the outside, and you can see why this is no ordinary hatchback. With just one door on the driver's side but two on the passenger's, the Hyundai Veloster is a true three door hatchback. The rear door opens independently of the front, so rear seat passengers can easily enter and exit the vehicle without disturbing other occupants. Using what Hyundai calls "fluidic sculpture" and incorporating wraparound head and tail lamps, the 2012 Veloster has an aggressive yet sporty appearance. While 17-inch wheels are standard, stepping up to the Style Package will add 18-inch wheels along with a panoramic sunroof and fog lights. Hyundai offers multiple graphics packages and even painted wheel inserts so that buyers can truly make the Veloster their own.

Inside, the Veloster offers more space and content than its main competitors. The seats are supportive yet comfortable and are available in three colors depending on your exterior color choice. Rear seat room is generous, but taller riders may want to stick to the front seats for longer trips. A standard 7-inch touchscreen with RCA cables allows passengers to watch videos and even play video games. Hyundai's Blue Link telematics system is standard on all cars. Depending on which communication package is chosen, available features include: collision notification, roadside assistance, voice texting, vehicle diagnostic reports, and turn-by-turn navigation directions. The optional Tech Package adds a true navigation system, a rear view camera, and push-button start. The aforementioned Style Package adds leatherette seat inserts, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a 450-watt Dimension premium audio sound system with subwoofer.

On the road, the 2012 Hyundai Veloster's overall focus is on economy, with estimates as high as 40 mpg on the highway. The DCT transmission is quick to upshift while the manual transmission has an "eco-shift" indicator display on the dashboard. Highway miles pass quietly and with little drama, but at times multiple downshifts were needed for highway merging and passing. It's wise to keep the revs high on the side roads as upshifts are accompanied by a pronounced loss of power.

The Veloster is ready to set a new standard of versatility for the compact car segment without sacrificing efficiency. With its best-in-class interior volume mixed with sporty looks, those considering a Scion tC, Honda CR-Z or Mini Cooper should add the 2012 Hyundai Veloster to their shopping list.

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Kristopher Affayroux is a car data analyst with the AutoTrader content team. He's a long-time car buff whose background stretches from vehicle appraisals and auctions to automotive insurance and mechanical upgrades and personalization. When he's not tinkering with his personal rides, Kristopher spends his time rooting for his favorite MLB and NFL teams.

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