Hyundai wants you to think of its new Venue as a pint-size crossover. But don’t believe the Korean brand.
I’m not saying the Venue is a bad vehicle: it isn’t. In fact, it’s one of the most enjoyable autos I’ve driven in the last six months. This little box on wheels is full of charm, rides well, and offers a lot of kit for not a lot of dough. As its name suggests, it’s where something happens. That something is a rethink of the sub-compact car formula.
That’s the big takeaway here. The Hyundai Venue is a car, the inevitable endgame in a race to make crossovers ever more like the vehicles they ostensibly are replacing. But crossovers are what sells, which is why this is a whole new model line and not a dramatic rethink of the milquetoast Accent. If this is the future of the smallest class of cars in North America, I’m happy to report it’s a rosy one.
Funky Box Fun
The Venue continues a South Korean string of great car design. The shape maximizes the available interior room—key for a car this small—while the detailing keeps it interesting. Blacked-out A-pillars pull visual weight out of the glasshouse. My favorite feature is probably the taillight design, with multiple geometric elements giving them real depth.
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My tester arrives with a Cosmic Grey exterior and Acid Yellow highlights. It’s a Canada-specific option, alongside many other combos, including the blue-and-white Denim that tops the US trim lineup. In terms of trims this Canuck-spec Trend is roughly equivalent to the SEL, albeit with its Convenience and Premium Packages added on.
The bright accents certainly make the Venue stand out. Old, young, women, men—I noticed plenty of people turning to get a second look during my time with it. It’s playful, but without the air of calculation (and ubiquity) surrounding something like a MINI.
Simple Interior (But Not Cheap)
With a five-digit starting price beginning with a 1, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Venue’s interior would be a snore-inducing sea of grey plastic, but Hyundai’s imbued the little car with personality. The Sour Warheads color from the exterior pops up inside, lining the dials and as part of the seat’s fabric pattern. The stitching of the leather-trimmed wheel and shifter picks up the bright hue too. Meanwhile the warm grey of the lower dash extends to the leatherette armrests and seat bolsters, lending major touch points a premium feel.
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In keeping with its value proposition, every trim level of the Venue comes standard with the 8.0-inch infotainment screen. It sticks to the iPad-glued-to-the-dash look of many such setups, but the important bits, like the climate controls, get separate tactile dials. Higher trims gain very effective seat heaters (standard across the board in Canada), automatic climate control, sliding center console storage, and proximity key with push-button start.
The front seats are comfortable for my 5’10” frame. I have a long torso, which puts my noggin just shy of the headliner in the back, but it also means my knees aren’t resting against the front seatbacks either.
A Paucity of Power
Every Venue comes with the same engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder putting out just 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque. It also sticks to front-drive only, which shouldn’t bother most shoppers in this segment. It’s a fine enough engine around town, thanks to the quick-witted CVT. (A six-speed manual is also available both sides of the border, but only on the base trim.) Drone is minimal, and up to about 40 mph the Venue feels perfectly comfortable, even almost peppy.
It’s past that speed that the Venue’s barn-door profile starts to blunt performance. Keeping up with traffic on major highways saw my average fuel mileage actually go up, which is usually the reserve of hybrids. Cruise control only exacerbated this, settling into higher revs than what I could manage with my own right foot.
There’s a payoff to this paucity of power: split almost evenly between highway and city driving, the little Venue posted much better fuel economy figures than I expected. It averaged just shy of 38 mpg, more than both the EPA estimates for highway (34 mpg) and city (32 mpg). Traipsing around wine country I even saw 40 mpg. That’s with winter tires too. With zero amounts of the white stuff during my week with the Venue, I wasn’t able to try its Snow driving mode.
Another sign of the Venue’s true intentions: there’s no mention of towing ability anywhere on Hyundai’s website. Without all-wheel drive it likely can’t hope to match the Ford EcoSport in hauling terms. But I maintain few people will really need or care about that when shopping for a car this small. Plus, the EcoSport looks like, well, the EcoSport.
Storage and Safety
The Venue’s other weak spot is its storage space, or lack thereof. It’s not a surprise given the diminutive dimensions, but the Venue isn’t road trip material. 18.7 cubic feet of space aft of the rear seats sounds decent, but it’s shallow and narrow. It’s also substantially less than the 25.3 the Kicks offers back there. Folding down the rear seats bumps the space up to 31.9 cubic feet. Both storage space and total interior volume are less than the Accent five-door hatch, which disappeared from the lineup for this year.
First-time car buyers and those on a budget will appreciate that Hyundai hasn’t skimped on safety features. Remote keyless entry, tire pressure monitoring, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian sensing, lane-keep assist and driver attention warning are all standard. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is optional on the SEL and standard on the Denim.
Verdict: 2020 Hyundai Venue Review
The Hyundai Venue is a welcome reminder that small cars need not be boring. That, more so than its quote-unquote crossover qualities, is what matters here. On a scale of car to truck, it leans way more into the former than the latter in the areas that matter: ease of use, fuel efficiency, and light weight. It bundles plenty of tech and safety with a look that sets it apart from other small cars. In fact, the Venue’s playful, adventurous styling flourishes inside and out aren’t really found in the class up either.
If you’re in the market for something small and affordable that can still make you smile, the Hyundai Venue is the place to be.