Originally unveiled as a concept at the 2007 Seoul Motor Show, the 2012 Hyundai Veloster showed up as a production car at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show.

Phillip Zak, chief designer for Hyundai North America, has said that the concepts were designed in North America, but ultimately the Veloster was styled in Korea.

Whatever its design origins, the Veloster is unique in that it's a three-door hatchback, the third door of which isn't easily identified. Hyundai intentionally integrated the handle into the window to give it a smooth, sporty look. The designer of the Veloster reportedly took his inspiration from a high-performance sport bike. Judging by the blacked-out window supports that do resemble the visor from a motorcycle helmet, that theory holds up.

The obscured third door, located on the passenger's side, isn't a suicide (or reverse-opening) door like that of the Mazda RX-8 or Mini Clubman. The Veloster's door has a conventional hinge, so you don't have to climb over someone to get out of the car, nor do you have to wait for someone else to open the front door to get out of the back seat. 

In keeping with spirit of the asymmetrical rear door, the names of the exterior colors are unique, too: Century White, Ironman Silver, Triathlon Gray, Ultra Black, Marathon Blue, Electrolyte Green, 26.2 Yellow, Vitamin C and Boston Red.

The interior of the Veloster is equally as interesting in terms of aesthetics. The 45-degree angled, brushed aluminum that cradles the center console is attractive. There's no need to take your eyes off the road in order to navigate through complex menus. Most buttons are large, easily accessible and self-explanatory. 

There's plenty of room in the front for two adults, and lots of room in the back for the children. However, it should be noted the Veloster was designed primarily for couples without children - hip, young people who want all that and something sporty, too.

An expansive sunroof makes the interior seem even bigger, especially in the back. And even though the Veloster is technically classified as a hatchback coupe, there's plenty of room in the trunk. 

The Veloster's all-new 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is the smallest Hyundai engine to use Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI). The little engine that can delivers a peak output of 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and maximum torque of 123 ft-lb at 4,850 rpm. There are two transmissions available: a six-speed manual EcoShift and a six-speed EcoShift Dual Clutch Automatic Transmission (DCT). The EcoShift tells you when to shift for optimum fuel economy. 

The EPA fuel economy is 27 mpg city/37 mpg highway on regular gasoline. The automatic dual-clutch transmission rates 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway.

The software for the Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (an electronic throttle control) is so subtle you can't feel it working. The car is even-keeled whether going around a tight turn or full out on a straightaway. Comparatively, the Veloster has better handling and suspension than the competition. 

Infotainment, like Pandora, is a big selling point for buyers of this car. Just enter an artist's name and Pandora will play that artist as well as any other songs that complement that artist. 

Gracenote display technology with voice recognition allows you to find out who the artist is, command the system to play a certain album or artist and purchase the music - all while keeping' your eyes on the road. 

Then there's Blue Link, Hyundai's telematics system. Through Blue Link you can load all your friends numbers into your car. There are also some core Blue Link safety services that are free for a short introductory period, including Automatic Crash Notification (ACN) and Assistance, SOS Emergency Assistance and Enhanced Roadside Assistance. 

Blue Link has other cool features that can come in handy, such as turn-by-turn navigation, points of interest through voice recognition, gas price information, weather updates and stolen vehicle notification.

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is a front-wheel drive coupe that Hyundai says is intended to attract buyers who might otherwise consider cars like the Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle and Scion tC. We bet shoppers would also consider the Veloster alongside the Fiat 500, Ford Focus, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Kia Forte, Kia Rio and Mazda3. There's serious competition in this price range for hatchbacks, but the 86.3 hp per liter performance of the Veloster sets it apart from most other cars in its class.

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster with a manual transmission has a starting price of $17,300. The six-speed EcoShift? Dual-Clutch automatic Transmission (DCT) version starts at $18,550. Add $2,000 for the style package that includes features like 18-inch" wheels, chrome grille surrounded with black highlights, front fog lights, a massive panoramic sunroof and an upgraded audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; alloy pedals; and an automatic driver's side window are part of the package, too. 

For an additional $2,000 you can get the tech package that includes the 18-inch alloy wheels with painted inserts. The tech package also includes backup warning sensors, navigation system with rearview camera, automatic headlights, proximity key entry with electronic push-button start and a 115-volt outlet. 

While the Hyundai Veloster isn't quite as much fun as a Mini Cooper and it might not come off as stylish as the VW Beetle, it is a fun car that offers slight advantages in practicality, performance and fuel economy compared to other sub-$20,000 compacts.

The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is like a dual-purpose car. It looks and acts like a sporty hatchback, plus it delivers value and fuel economy that's on par with many less interesting cars.

The point is, the Veloster is interesting, and that's ultimately why it deserves to be considered alongside other better-known compact cars.

In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.

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Lou Ann Hammond is a long-time transportation and energy buff with writing experience at Chevron, Wired Magazine, Green Car Journal and several others. Today, she is the owner of two automotive industry and legislation sites, www.carlist.com and www.drivingthenation.com.

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