FIRST DRIVE: 2020 Hyundai Venue an urban runabout for millennials

Buyers don’t want to spend a lot on their vehicles but they do want some style

Published: December 1, 2019, 4:30 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Hyundai Venue

NEW ORLEANS—Hyundai’s new sub-compact SUV is really small – smaller than the Kona – but it’s not really an SUV at all. There’s no all-wheel drive and no setting for off-road, because Hyundai doesn’t expect the Venue to ever go off road. It will probably never even leave the city.

No, this is an urban runabout for millennials who don’t want to drive anything like their parents’ vehicles. They don’t want to spend a lot of money on their own vehicle either, but they do need practicality with some style, and that includes the taller ride height of an SUV with the utility of a hatchback.

The Venue is significantly less expensive than other sub-compact SUVs, though the price rises through four trim levels and it never does offer all the bells and whistles available in some of the competition. If it’s adaptive cruise control you’re looking for, or wireless charging for your phone, then maybe you should consider the Kona after all.

Four trims

The most basic Venue, called the “Essential,” starts with an MSRP of $17,099, plus taxes and $1,810 for Freight and PDI. This buys a 6-speed manual transmission. If you want a CVT and cruise control, you’ll need to pay an MSRP of $18,399. That Essential trim is quite well equipped, with an 8-inch central touchscreen and keyless entry, heated front seats and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Most buyers are expected to opt for the “Preferred” trim, which lists for $21,499 and includes things like push-button start, a heated steering wheel, and a “Snow” driving mode that uses torque vectoring to find extra traction on snow and ice.

Pay more money for the “Trend” and you can get extras like an additional USB port (though that’s a maximum of only two in the vehicle – what about the back seats?), larger 17-inch wheels, a powered sunroof, and LED lights. The “Ultimate” tops off the line-up with Navigation and the better BlueLink connectivity (Hyundai’s suite of digital applications and remote services), for an MSRP of $24,899.

All that is comfortably below the prices of Venue’s competition, which are vehicles like the Nissan Kicks, Mazda CX-3, Chevy Trax and Ford EcoSport.

Right-size engine

The Venue is built on a platform that’s modified from the sub-compact Accent sedan. It shares its 1.6-litre engine with the Accent, too, as well as the two choices of transmission. Power is nothing exciting, at 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque, but it’s not supposed to be; it’s intended to be frugal and peppy at lower speeds, and it certainly is that. I drove it around the hurricane-ravaged streets here in New Orleans and it parked easily, cruised easily, and pulled away easily at traffic lights.

There’s even a new warning light and chime on the central instrument cluster, unique so far to Hyundai, that lets you know the vehicle in front is pulling away. This is directed specifically at people whose eyes are in their laps, illegally checking their phones while waiting at a red light. It’s offered only on the Preferred and Ultimate editions; it’s a shame it has to be offered at all.  

Peppy ride

The Venue was comfortable on the pot-holed streets of the Big Easy thanks to McPherson strut front suspension and a coupled torsion beam axle at the rear. That taller posture gives a little more ground clearance without pretending it’s built for the Rubicon Trail, so the ride itself was smooth even on bumpy roads.

I also drove a different Venue earlier in the month in Los Angeles, where it was vying for consideration as a World Car of the Year. Those roads were smooth and hilly, with some concrete interstate thrown in for good measure. I wouldn’t want to drive too far on the Interstate because the little SUV is stretched at speed, but it didn’t complain.

On the Pasadena hills, at slow speed among the switchbacks, the Venue was quite comfortable. Nothing special, but easy to drive and never out of breath. There’s no steering pump, which apparently improves fuel efficiency by up to 3%, but it’s not needed because the vehicle is so small; steering effort varies depending on the speed you’re driving.

Claimed fuel consumption is very frugal. The Continuously Variable Transmission – which Hyundai calls an Intelligent Variable Transmission, or IVT – helps consume an average of just 7.5 L/100 km, while the manual transmission version bumps that slightly to 7.8.

Enough space for most

Of course, the Venue is a very practical little vehicle, and it’s also quite stylish. The cloth seats and doors and steering wheel have contrast stitching for a more attractive look. The rear seats have enough headroom for a pair of adults – just – though three people back there will be definitely cramped. Leg room is tight unless the front passengers scrunch forward. Lay the 60/40-split seats flat and there’s 902 litres of cargo space.

One of the clever touches in the rear cargo area is a false floor. It either lays flat on a ledge at the same height as the bottom of the door, which is easier for access and also conceals things underneath, or lays flat on a lower ledge just above the spare wheel, for greater open space. The parcel shelf, when not in use, stows neatly into a pair of slots behind the rear seats.

There are a few clever uses of space in the rest of the Venue, including an open cubby just above the glove box that’s clearly intended as a place for storing a smartphone. If you have a larger smartphone that you want to plug in to charge, it’s a better place to keep it than the cubby ahead of the transmission shifter, because that space is just too small to allow the big phone to lay flat when it’s attached to the cable, and there’s no wireless charging.

Value for money

Is the Venue good value for money? Yes, very much so. Only a few buyers will opt for the cheapest version with the manual transmission, which is probably only offered to lure drivers into the showrooms, but there are enough standard features at all four trim levels to make it more than just a competitive choice.

The Venue is not memorable, but it is kinda funky, especially in its brighter colours and with its available two-tone paint. It succeeds at what it’s intended to do, which is to run around town and deliver people and their armfuls of stuff to wherever they need to be. The fact that it won’t cost you as much as others to do it is all icing on the cake.