2/11/20 UPDATE: This review has been updated with test results.
It's tough to get excited about yet another stylized subcompact crossover such as the new-for-2020 Hyundai Venue. Our lack of enthusiasm, however, has more to do with fatigue for small SUVs in general, rather than an expectation that this Hyundai wouldn't be a well-appointed and well-built product. After first driving the Venue around Miami and later in Michigan and on the test track, we can say that it's both of those things, and it delivers exactly what we think price-conscious shoppers of lifted hatchbacks want.
Distinctly Styled, Pleasantly Appointed
At first glance, the new Venue looks more exciting than it does in photos. Anonymous styling doesn't fly at Hyundai anymore, and the Venue's design stands out within its segment. The silhouette is boxy, the cladding is tasteful, and the overall look is rugged, size XS. Under that body, however, are only 6.7 inches of ground clearance, or just over an inch more than the Hyundai Accent upon which it's based. The Venue also is not available with all-wheel drive, although it does look tougher than other front-drive subcompact utes, such as the Nissan Kicks.
Inside, the Venue is rather conventional. The layout is handsome, the switchgear is sturdy, and the material quality is excellent considering its modest starting price. At $18,470, the base SE model with the standard six-speed manual transmission is the least expensive crossover money can buy. Add $1500 for the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which is standard on the mid-level SEL ($20,370) and the top-spec Denim ($23,170) trim levels.
All models feature an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Audio capability, but you won't find a heated steering wheel, power seat adjustments, or wireless charging. Fit and finish, however, are a step above the Venue's budget-minded status. Opt for a Denim model like our test car, and you get interior upgrades such as padded door armrests and leatherette upholstery with contrasting white piping, which lends it a far more attractive ambiance than you'll get in the significantly more expensive Ford EcoSport.
One oddity inside is the circular temperature readout on the climate-control panel that appears to be an adjustable knob, but it isn't. The rear seat also lacks vents in the back of the center console as well as 12-volt or USB ports, so your ride-share occupants might not give you five stars. While it has more rear legroom than the Kicks and Toyota C-HR and two adults can comfortably sit in back, both the Toyota and Nissan have larger cargo areas with their rear seats folded. The Nissan in particular boasts a significant cargo volume advantage, with 25 cubic feet behind its back row and 53 cubes with the seatbacks folded. In contrast, the Venue can hold only 19 and 32 cubic feet, respectively. That difference allowed us to pack seven carry-on-size suitcases behind the back seat in the Kicks compared with just four in the Venue. While the Hyundai held 17 suitcases with the rear seats stowed, the Nissan held 19.
Every Venue is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter inline-four that develops 121 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, that meager amount of twist isn't fully unlocked until the engine spins to 4500 rpm, which can make passing at highway speeds more of a challenge than we'd like. However, our acceleration tests showed that this Hyundai is still significantly quicker than its front-drive-only rivals. Hustling from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, the Venue was 1.1 seconds quicker than the Kicks and an impressive 2.4 seconds quicker than the C-HR. The Venue also handily topped both when accelerating from 30 to 50 mph (4.5 seconds) and from 50 to 70 mph (6.2 seconds), although its engine sure makes a lot of noise in the process.
The Venue's sensitive steering and wind-catching shape also make it restless and quite noisy at higher speeds. Around town, the Venue is more agreeable. Its small footprint, taut suspension, and quick helm make it easy to dart between lanes. While the engine's throttle response is a bit lazy, the Venue has enough grunt to motor away from stoplights without struggling to keep up with traffic. While we wish the brake pedal felt more linear and had a stronger initial bite, it performed substantially better than its competitors in our emergency braking test. The Hyundai needed 162 feet to stop from 70 mph, compared to 174 feet for the C-HR and an abysmal 190 feet for the Kicks.
It's no surprise that the larger Venue isn't as fuel efficient as its Accent platform-mate. The EPA estimates the Accent at 33/41 mpg city/highway, but the Venue is rated only at 30/34 mpg. We averaged just 28 mpg. The crossover also underperformed on our highway fuel-economy test that consists of 200 miles of real-world driving at a steady 75 mph. Its 31-mpg result is 3 mpg short of its window-sticker estimate. The C-HR and Kicks proved far more efficient, with each achieving 37 mpg in our highway test. The higher-riding Venue, however, does have more available driver-assistance technology than the Accent. While both have standard forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking, only the crossover offers lane-keeping assist, a driver-attention monitor, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Give Them What They Want
Although the 2020 Hyundai Venue represents the reality of a segment that at times still has us scratching our heads, the subcompact market, like many others, has spoken in favor of SUVs, or at least of high-riding vehicles that look like SUVs. The Venue's lack of all-wheel drive may be a turnoff for some and further muddies its separation from conventional subcompact hatchback cars, which generally are more fuel efficient, better to drive, and only slightly less capacious. But virtually every volume brand today offers a wee crossover, and their collective sales numbers look to be going nowhere but up. The Venue should fit in that group well, because it hits almost all of the key points that shoppers in this space demand while demonstrating that cheap transportation doesn't have to feel, well, cheap.
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