NEW ORLEANS, LA – Hyundai designed and built a little SUV to appeal to the burgeoning youth market. It’s a sport-ute heaped with extra helpings of both tech and styling, and can be ordered in some wild colours. The trouble is, it’s such a good little machine, it wasn’t just the youth market that started snatching them up in droves, but folks from all walks of life found it appealing, and for months now, Hyundai’s compact Kona has been the top seller in its segment.
Having over-achieved with the Kona, Hyundai’s gone back to the well and now there’s a brand new, smaller and more affordable sub-compact SUV is slotting in just beneath the Kona. This one, Hyundai believes, is sure to appeal to that group of Millennials who want a fun and funky machine without sacrificing practicality, efficiency or affordability.
This is the new 2020 Hyundai Venue and it’s based loosely on Hyundai Accent mechanicals, but jacked up to the same 170 mm SUV ride-height as its bigger Kona sibling. Its overall length is just 4,040 mm, which makes it notably shorter than its key competitors from Toyota, Honda, Mazda, and Nissan; and when you’re zipping around in traffic, or trying to park in tight downtown spaces, small size matters.
We spent a day driving around New Orleans in the Venue and its hip appearance – particularly in the bright colours offered with a contrasting roof – fits right into the Big Easy.
Balance of power and efficiency
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder is shared with the Accent and given that the Venue weighs in just over 1,200 kg, its 121 horsepower and 113 ft-lb of torque are adequate for urban duties. Merging onto the highway, the Venue needs a bootful of throttle to really get going since its modest max power is achieved only with fairly lofty revs.
A six-speed manual transmission is offered on base trim (called Essential), but it’s likely Hyundai will sell very few of those, so a new CVT transmission (called “Smartstream IVT”) is standard for the three upper trim levels and optional on the entry-level Essential. Hyundai has done a decent job here making their CVT avoid the miserable mooing that some competitors suffer, and few people will notice any difference from a traditional automatic transmission, with the upside of the CVT providing better fuel efficiency.
Rated at 7.5 L/100 km combined (7.0 city and 8.0 highway) the Venue’s average fuel consumption isn’t class-leading, but it is close to it, with only the Nissan Kicks generating notably better mileage.
No AWD, but surefooted and agile around the city
Steering is quick and with a thick-rimmed steering wheel, feels almost sporty, aided by the short wheelbase. Small cars like this usually have a nimble feel and that’s the case with the Venue. Plus, the diminutive size not only helps navigate in tight spaces, but makes it fun to drive, too. While we had no occasion to test the Venue at its handling limits, the on- and off-ramps did provide enough opportunity to feel the little Hyundai’s decent cornering stability.
The brakes – 280 mm vented front discs and 262 mm rears – have great initial bite and provide good pedal feel to easily modulate, even in aggressive braking. Interestingly, the base model foregoes the rear discs for drums in the interest of cost savings.
We drove a mid-level Trend trim and a top-level Venue Ultimate, both of which wore 17-inch wheels. This sizing is in line with top-trim competitors and allows for a decent amount of sidewall on the tire, helping to soak up bumps. For an entry-level vehicle, the Venue’s suspension feels more sophisticated than expected and does an impressive job of managing the balance between handling and ride quality. And with some of the post–Hurricane Katrina roads having never been properly repaired here, we had ample opportunity to give the suspenders a work out.
All-wheel drive is not offered with the Venue, which could limit sales in our AWD-hungry Great White North. Hyundai claims it was considered, but the additional cost and weight it would add meant it was discarded from the development plans. Instead, within the various drive modes (including Sport and Normal), the Snow mode modifies throttle response and brake control through the electronic stability system to optimize traction. For most Canadian drivers, a system like this, equipped with a decent set of dedicated winter tires should be sufficient. That said, competitors like Mazda and Honda offer subcompact SUVs with all-wheel drive for buyers insistent on the additional traction.
Plenty of standard tech, and even more on offer
Hyundai believes the youthful buyers it seeks will be motivated by the Venue’s style and its abundant technology. The Venue’s 8-inch infotainment touchscreen is the largest in the segment and is standard on every trim. It offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and in Ultimate models, also has on-board navigation. Operating the system is easy with straightforward menus and physical knobs for tuning and volume control.
There are a pair of USB ports up front, but none in the back, and surprisingly, no wireless charge pad is offered. The cubby adjacent to the USB ports is not quite large enough to contain a modern smart phone, though the shelf in front of the passenger seat will. The upgraded sound system in the Ultimate has satellite radio, and sound quality from the six speakers is decent.
As we’ve come to expect from Hyundai, the Venue offers a lot of content, even on an entry-level product like this. Heated seats and heated mirrors are standard across the board, and a heated steering wheel and proximity key are found in everything except the most basic trim. And while there are some cheap, shiny plastics on the door panels, the premium cloth and overall design looks pretty good.
Hyundai offers an impressive suite of safety functions, including blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, forward collision avoidance and even lane-keeping and high-beam assist functions. The trouble is, most of these, along with the LED headlights, are only available on upper trim level cars. Other manufacturers are making the commitment to offer these safety aids, even on their most basic machines, and we’d like to see Hyundai do the same. It’s also surprising that the Venue doesn’t offer adaptive cruise control on any trim.
Clever use of space, smart value
The Venue makes good use of its interior space, carving out head- and legroom front and back that’s competitive, if not class-leading, within the subcompact segment. With the rear seat up, the Hyundai’s cargo carrying capacity is on par with its peers, but when folded flat, the available space is notably less than the Honda HR-V or even the Mazda CX-3. The Venue does deserve some kudos for the clever way its cargo cover slides out of the way, nestled against the back seat when not in use, and for the ability to have the cargo floor flat with the folded rear seats, or lowered down for a deeper cargo hold.
The new Hyundai Venue is a fashionable and reasonably fun-to-drive offering in the highly competitive subcompact SUV segment. There’s plenty of impressive content available, but buyers will need to pay for it. Fortunately, they won’t need to pay too much. While the Venue starts at only $17,099 for a stick-shift Essential model, the top-of-the-line Ultimate is only $24,899, although the content-rich sweet spot might be the $21,499 Preferred trim.
Having sought to provide youthful buyers an SUV that’s iconic and modern with the right balance of practicality, fun, and design, Hyundai has largely succeeded with the Venue. Whether or not it has the same impact on the market as the larger Kona remains to be seen.
The Venue is arriving in Canadian dealerships now.
Engine: 1.6L I4
Transmission: CVT (six-speed manual standard on FWD Essential)
Power: 121 hp @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 113 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 8.0/7.0/7.5 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Cargo Capacity: 528 L / 902 L seats down
2020 Hyundai Venue Canadian Pricing
Venue Essential, six-speed manual: $17,099
Venue Essential: $18,399
Venue Preferred: $21,499
Venue Trend: $22,599
Venue Trend with Urban Package: $23,099
Venue Ultimate: $24,899