2020 Hyundai Venue First Drive: Want a Cheap New SUV? Try This One
A cheerful entry-level crossover for those on a budget.
NOOSA HEADS, Queensland, Australia—The machinations of the car business are sometimes as interesting as the products themselves. Take the Venue, Hyundai's new entry-level SUV. It's no secret that entry-level crossovers are hot; sales in the segment have nearly tripled over the last five years, which is why Hyundai is already playing in this arena with the Kona.
But a closer look at the data by Hyundai's marketing masterminds revealed something else: Of the 40 million people who bought used cars last year, one-third also shopped for a new car. Presumably they couldn't afford what they wanted without going used—and often what they wanted was an SUV. Hyundai saw a gap in the market for a low-cost crossover, and the Venue is it. How low that cost is remains an open question. Our way-early test drive took place some three months before the Hyundai Venue goes on sale in the U.S. and its maker wasn't ready to discuss numbers. The Venue was just getting ready to launch in Australia, so they flew us Down Under to give it a try.
What we found is a competent little front-drive SUV that probably won't thrill the typical Automobile reader, at least not in terms of dynamics. The Venue's engineering is about as pedestrian as it comes: a strut suspension up front, a twist-beam axle out back, and a non-turbocharged, port-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder under the hood. The SEL model—the top of the Venue's two trim lines—gets disc brakes on all four wheels while the SE has rear drums.
That said, for all the simplicity of its engineering, the Venue goes down the road nicely enough. The ride is smoother than we expected given the sub-100-inch wheelbase, and the cabin stays surprisingly quiet provided you aren't calling on all 121 of the engine's horses. Power seemed decent enough, though the Aussie-market cars we drove had a six-speed automatic while North American-market Venues will get a six-speed manual or an optional CVT. The latter is certainly not an enthusiasts' favorite, but enthusiasts aren't the target market.
But as enthusiasts, we approve of the way the Hyundai Venue takes corners. The Aussie cars we drove had summer tires and grip aplenty; our Venues will get all-seasons and a slight retuning of the dampers to compensate. But we're told that the spring and anti-roll-bar rates are the same, and we were impressed by the Venue's flat cornering stance, which is bound to give comfort to first-time SUV buyers. The steering does lack on-center precision, although we're guessing it's one of Hyundai's older setups from the parts bin. But if so-so steering is the Venue's only vice—and we have reason to believe that it is—we can live with it. That said, the Venues we drove all had optional 17-inch wheels and 205-mm-wide tires. Fifteen-inch wheels with 185/65 tires will be standard, and they could introduce a bit of unwelcome squidginess into the driving experience.
While Hyundai clearly saved money on engineering, it spent lavishly on design. Though there's a clear family resemblance to the Kona up front, the boxy shape is far more reminiscent of the Nissan Kicks with which the Venue competes. It's a handsome design, if only because it doesn't look like the rolling soap bars that so many other SUVs have become. Inside, the Venue shows us how simple can be beautiful. There's a big, 8.0-inch touchscreen stereo with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, simple three-dial climate controls, and an easy-to-read instrument binnacle that has "My First Car" written all over it. The design works so well that we can't bring ourselves to criticize the low-buck monochrome display between the gauges. After all, this is a low-buck car.
Hyundai plans a plethora of two-tone color screens for other markets, but we're only getting one, as seen here. It's called Denim Blue, and its medium-blue paint is complemented by a white roof, white rocker panels and body inserts, and a nifty blue-and-white interior. And when we say that interior is blue, we mean blue—Hyundai not only upholstered the seats but also molded the air vents and climate control buttons in blue. Think about the expense that entails—a compete second set of parts and additional construction complexity. It's a lot of money to throw at a car meant to be built on the cheap.
But the bulk of our Venues will get a monochromatic paint scheme and a black interior with minimal metal-look trim, which is a bit of a bummer. Hyundai explained that it currently can't put sunroofs into Venues with contrasting-color roofs owing to cost and manufacturing constraints, though they are hoping to solve this problem before too long. Still, the dark interior is far less interesting than the blue-and-white combo, and we wish it had more character. And we think buyers would be willing to forgo a sunroof for a contrasting-color roof. The Venue is meant to be cheap and cheerful, and the North American version could use a little more cheerful.
In terms of versatility, however, the Venue scores lots of points. The boxy, upright shape yields lots of headroom and allows for a tall back seat with decent legroom, albeit in the vertical plane. It also contributes to the sizable 19-cubic-foot cargo bay, which is supplemented by a two-level cargo floor and a nifty cover that can be stowed behind the rear seatback. And even with all this space, the Venue has room for a real-live spare tire.
What we have here, then, is a rather brilliant exercise in product planning, a cute little entry-level urban runabout that is both attractive and practical. With the slightly-larger Kona starting just under $22,000 and the Nissan Kicks at $19,685 with an automatic transmission, the Hyundai Venue lineup should fall in $18,500-$23,000 range—at least that's where it ought to be if it hopes to be competitive. If the pricing is in the sweet spot, and if Hyundai's product planners are right about this niche in the market, the Venue should be a brisk seller and one to thrill the marketing enthusiasts, if not car enthusiasts.
|2020 Hyundai Venue Specifications|
|ON SALE||December 2019|
|ENGINE||1.6L DOHC 16-valve I-4; 121 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 113 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm (est)|
|TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||32 mpg (combined, est. )|
|L x W x H||159.0 2.7x 69.7 x 6 in|
|TOP SPEED||116 mph|