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2020 Hyundai Venue SEL Test Drive

When getting from point A to B is the only priority

Billy RehbockWriter, Photographer

As a car enthusiast, there's no conversation killer worse than "I only care about getting from point A to B" when talking to a layperson about what they want when they're buying a new car. Fortunately, the 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL is the perfect car to suggest to those whose only requirement for a new vehicle is that it has four wheels and can get them from one place to another.

With a starting price of just $20,370 for the SEL version, it serves as the perfectly normal crossover for almost any budget-conscious new-car consumer, even with its as-tested price of $23,425. Its styling makes the boxy ute look capable without fully taking a polarizing stand in its design. It gives me "Car Brand Car™️" vibes, which is actually quite refreshing in today's era of over-styling. Perhaps the most adventurous aspect of the Venue's styling is its directional-spoke wheels, which look cool, but may bother those who don't like that they point different directions on each side.

For those looking for a no-frills driving experience, the Venue delivers on that point as well. The naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine produces 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque, which may seem insufficient, but is actually plenty to scoot around town and make the necessary lane changes. The power drops off just after merging speed is attained, which can make freeway passing a bit tedious, especially because the engine starts wailing at high rpm.

Fortunately, the CVT tuning is among the best I've experienced and does an incredible job of imitating a crisp-shifting automatic transmission. However, the throttle response is somewhat imprecise, and it's easy to apply a bit too much throttle and torch the front wheels when taking off from a stop sign or light. Flick over to sport mode on the Palisade-reminiscent dial, and the powertrain tightens up a good bit. Throttle response becomes more quick-witted and the steering response sharpens. I opted to drive around in this setting for most of my time behind the wheel.

Otherwise, the Venue follows what seems to be Hyundai's positive track record of producing crossovers that drive like tall hatchbacks. The steering accuracy is better-than-average, and body roll is minimal. It handles well over smooth surfaces and can be quite chuckable on empty on- and off-ramps, however the suspension is a bit stiff over bad pavement. Damping is harsh and frenetic over poor surfaces and, as I'll discuss in a moment, the cabin becomes very loud in these moments. This being said, the overall driving experience should work just fine for someone in need of basic transportation.

At some points, the Venue takes its cost-saving a bit too far. The armrests on the doors aren't even padded with cloth. In fact, the entire interior is covered in hard plastic. Road noise is abhorrent. It almost drowned out the music from the speakers on average-quality highways. Having a conversation at an "inside voice" level can be really difficult when the pavement is anything but smooth. Furthermore, the engine's noise, while it doesn't necessarily sound bad, penetrated the cabin as well. Many of Hyundai's modern products do a great job of masquerading as more luxurious vehicles, but the Venue is an outlier in this regard, especially in terms of NVH and material quality.

Earlier I noted that the Venue I drove had $3,395 in options installed. The most expensive upgrade was the $1,750 Premium Package, which installs some exterior upgrades like LED headlights, taillights, and DRLs. The bigger 17-inch wheels are also part of this equipment group. It also adds creature comforts like heated front seats and side mirrors, a proximity key with push button start, and a larger 8-inch infotainment display. I'd have a hard time suggesting anyone buy this car without opting for at least this suite of goodies.

Our test car also had the $1,150 Convenience Package installed, which further spruces up the cabin with a sliding armrest storage box (this is padded, fortunately), a leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, and a power sunroof. When I had the sunroof open, I noticed an unusual amount of grease and gunk in the channels, which was visible from both the driver's seat and the front passenger's seat. On one hand, some of the corner cutting is understandable because this is a very affordable vehicle, but at the same time more measures could have been taken to hide areas of compromise. Finally, there were $155 carpeted floormats.

It seems Hyundai intends to get buyers onto showroom floors with a low starting price, aiming for the majority of them to end up with a car optioned just like this. Otherwise, drivers will end up with a pretty stripped-down ride for this day and age. As an enthusiast, the thing that kills me about the $23,425 final price is that the much nicer and higher-performance Veloster R-Spec is also available for about the same amount of cash.

For the non-enthusiast, this car will do most everything to satisfy a driver's basic need to get from point A to B—just forget about making the journey exciting or comfortable.

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL Specifications
PRICE $20,370/$23,425 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 1.6L DOHC 16-valve inline-4; 121 hp @6,300 rpm, 113 ft-lb @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 30/34 mpg
L x W x H 159.1 x 69.7 x 61.6 in
WEIGHT 2,699 lb