The 2012 Hyundai Veloster seems to draw design inspiration from hot hatches of the 1980s, particularly when given the swoopy side graphic treatment shown here.

Courtesy photo
CNHI News Service

This is a car that has one door on the driver's side and two doors on the passenger side.

That should tell you everything you need to know about it.

It's called the Hyundai Veloster, and it's one of the most unusual compact cars to be introduced in years.

Like its door layout, it gives one nod to sportiness and another to practicality. It tries to be useful and good looking, exotic and mainstream, all at the same time.

Above all, it's trying to be dramatically different at a time when compact cars are becoming more and more alike with each passing year.

The gap between the best and worst compacts has narrowed significantly, leaving a huge opportunity for Hyundai to make a splash with the odd-looking but eminently likable Veloster.

More than anything, the Veloster is all about styling. Nothing in today's market looks quite like it, although it seems to draw inspiration from the sporty hatchbacks that took the world by storm in

the 1980s.

Volkswagen Golf GTI. Honda CR-X. Hyundai Veloster. They're all cut from the same visual cloth.

My test car, a white Veloster with an automatic transmission, even came with huge graphic stickers on the side that would have looked perfectly at home on an '84 Celica.

As sporty and happy as the Veloster looks on the outside, though, the driving performance just doesn't match. It feels numb from the driver's seat — not particularly bad, per se, but not nearly as hard-edged and smile-inducing as little cars like this can be.

It drives like any of today's strong compact cars, with a smooth ride, decent handling and quiet highway experience. The continuously variable transmission in the Veloster seems more responsive than most CVTs, but that's like saying the Fukushima nuclear disaster wasn't quite as bad as Chernobyl. Neither are a good thing.

For driving enthusiasts, there's still hope. Hyundai will be introducing a turbocharged version of this car that should have much better performance.

If Hyundai can fit this car with a super-firm suspension, manual transmission and more powerful engine, it could be a spectacular car.

Until then, it's just another compact with an exciting body but uninspiring performance. From a practicality standpoint, though, the Veloster actually makes sense. Since it has just one door on the driver's side, it's designed like a traditional coupe with a low seating position and sleek roofline.

Unlike a coupe, though, the Veloster gives you an extra door on the passenger side. It's not a backward-swinging "suicide" door like you'll find on other coupe-like things, but an actual forward-swinging door like an ordinary sedan. It's just shaped weird.

The result is a car that offers almost as much practicality as a subcompact sedan. You can pack kids and friends into the back seat easily when necessary, but it also retains those coupe-like looks for the majority of the time when you're driving alone.

Overall, I suspect this is going to be the latest in a long string of home runs for Hyundai, right after the stunning Sonata, the nearly flawless Elantra and the amazing-for-the-money Accent.

The Veloster fits into that pattern, only for people who like their cars a bit on the weird side.

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