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 driving the Venue around Miami, we can say that it's both of those things, and it delivers exactly what price-conscious shoppers of lifted hatchbacks want.
Distinctly Styled, Pleasantly Appointed
At first glance, glinting in the Florida sun, 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 more than 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. What you won't find in any Venue are 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 the Denim model and you get interior upgrades such as a padded armrest 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.
Our biggest gripe inside has to do with 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 Kick 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 stowed. In contrast, the Venue can hold only 19 and 32 cubic feet, respectively.
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. The Venue's sensitive steering and wind-catching shape also make it feel restless at higher speeds. At least the CVT does an admirable job of limiting engine droning, even when called upon for max power.
Around town, the Venue feels quicker and more confident. Its small footprint, firm 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. But we do wish the brake pedal felt more linear and had a stronger initial bite.
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. The higher-riding Hyundai, however, has standard driver-assistance technology such as forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and a driver-attention monitor. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are optional. Accent buyers have to skip most of those features and only get forward-collision warning with automated braking.
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 turn off for some and further muddies its equation versus 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.