The Detroit auto show had very few surprises this year, but one of our favorites was the Hyundai Veloster N. We’ve known it was in the works and would be closely related to the i30 N sold in Europe, but we had no idea it would debut so soon. If Hyundai’s testing chief is to be believed, the Veloster N will be a blast to drive while offering a little more daily practicality than a Honda Civic Type R. But a conversation he had with another outlet about the Veloster N may have started the War of the Hot Hatches between Hyundai and Volkswagen.
Speaking to Australia’s Motoring, Albert Biermann, the head of Hyundai’s N division, promised that the Veloster N would be much more capable on the track than most of its competitors, as well as more fun to drive. In the process, though, he took aim at the longtime king of hot hatches, the Volkswagen GTI.
“There can be GTIs that are suitable for the track driving, but if you take the standard GTI, it’s not like that,” he said. “So with the N we clearly want to be more suitable for track driving, and give it more character and the most important thing—make it much more fun to drive.” But Biermann didn’t stop there.
“It’s a great car,” he said, describing the GTI, “but after two laps the fun is over. I mean you know.” When asked for more details about what went wrong after the second lap, he responded, “Everything.”
The first comment wasn’t particularly controversial, as it focused on how Hyundai wanted to position the Veloster N in the segment. But the second comment went further, claiming the GTI couldn’t handle track duty. After Motoring published those quotes in an article, Michael Bartsch, the head of Volkswagen Australia, had a few words for Biermann.
“Extraordinary claims are being made for supposed rivals that are not yet on sale. While any skunkworks can turn out a track day special, the expertise and experience required to engineer a GTI or an R—cars that also excel in the real world—is rather more hard won,” Bartsch told Motoring. “When you’ve owned a GTI or an R, it’s difficult to settle for anything less. Volkswagen offers not only the most accomplished fast and fun compact cars in the world, it provides the world’s widest range. There is now a performance Golf for everyone.”
We certainly understand why Bartsch would want to respond, but it’s a little surprising to see him go on the record like that. Usually, when executives are asked to respond to comments from someone at another automaker, their response is something along the lines of, “We welcome this new competition. A rising tide raises all ships.” Something about Biermann’s comments must have gotten under his skin.
Then again, maybe it has less to do with the comments themselves and more to do with who made them. Before Biermann joined Hyundai, he was the head of BMW’s M division. He has more than three decades of experience developing high-performance vehicles, and if anyone can help Hyundai build a credible GTI killer, it’s Biermann. Priced right, the Veloster N could do some real damage to the GTI’s sales numbers.
Whether Volkswagen does or not, we have to say, we certainly welcome its new rivalry with Hyundai. Fresh competition will force this whole segment to improve, and when the cars get better, drivers win.