The Hyundai Venue is, quite frankly, one of the more important cars to come out recently, and while it might not be much to shout about looking over the spec sheet, this is a car that’s all about the context surrounding it.
At the end of last year, the long-in-the-tooth and lacklustre Accent, the previous entry-point to Hyundai ownership, was finally pulled from sale with the Venue becoming the de facto replacement for it as Hyundai’s entry-level model.
And it’s quite a sign of the times, really, that an SUV has taken the place of a small hatch and sedan, but a higher ride height and bigger, boxier looks are just what the market demands these days – even when it comes to small cars.
Starting at $19,990 for the entry-level Go with a six-speed manual before topping out at $25,490 for the auto-only Elite, it marks a significant price increase for what’s billed as the company’s entry-level model, as not only is its starting price $4500 more than that of the Accent – although Hyundai notes that the Venue isn’t a ‘like-for-like replacement’ for it – but it puts it right on par with the price of the i30 Go manual as well.
Tested here in middling Active specification with the optional automatic transmission, its $23,490 price tag isn’t exactly what you’d call cheap for a cheap car, even if it isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things, but it must be said that you do at least get quite a lot for your money.
On the inside, it’s well equipped with a clear 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, six-speaker stereo, Hyundai Auto Link with which you can check the car’s status on your phone, automatic headlights with automatic high-beam, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and front centre armrest, and power-folding mirrors.
There’s plenty in the way of safety equipment as well, with AEB, lane-keep assist, tyre pressure monitoring, driver attention warning, six airbags, rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera all standard as well, although the Active does, unfortunately, miss out on blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Still, though, for teens (or their parents) with enough money looking for a first car, it’s certainly enough to keep them safe.
With that said, however, there are a few features the Active is lacking which show some real signs of cheapness. I’m not just talking about the lack of sat nav or automatic climate control, as neither are really a big deal to be missing in a cheap car, but the lack of things such as an automatic driver’s window or, rather distractingly, the lack of a cover over the mirror on the passenger-side sun-visor are less acceptable in the year 2020.
I think the dinky 15-inch wheels rather spoil the look of the Venue as well, as while the Elite with its two-tone roof and big 17-inch alloys looks fun and cool and funky, this just looks a bit… well, boring, which is a shame with such a fun design.
There’s no doubt that its a clever design though, as while the Venue’s diminutive proportions may have you worried about fitting you, your friends, and your things inside, it’s been very cleverly designed to maximise as much space as possible.
As such, there’s enough room to fit passengers comfortably in both rows, there’s plenty of storage space up front including a handy open tray above the glovebox, and the false floor in its surprisingly cavernous boot can be lowered to allow for taller items or more luggage to be stacked up back there. Again, a couple of conveniences such as a rear centre armrest are missing, but they are forgivable offences in such a small car.
But while the interior space is impressive, don’t set your hopes too high for the quality of the materials inside, as while the things you’ll be using and touching regularly including the steering wheel, seat upholstery, and switchgear all feels fine, it’s otherwise bereft of soft-touch materials, with practically every other surface you’ll come across being harsh black plastic.
Just one engine is available across the range for Australia – a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol unit with dual continuously variable valve timing making just 90kW and 151Nm, with front-wheel drive the only option for power delivery.
It should be pointed out as well that while here in Australia, the available automatic transmission is a six-speed torque converter type, other big markets such as the US receive a CVT instead.
While far from quick, not that you’d expect it to be, it’s a fairly acceptable drivetrain for a car such as this. Around town, it’s perfectly adequate, with the automatic feeling fairly smooth and predictable, and the engine remaining fairly hushed.
At higher speeds it does get a lot more vocal, however, when the cam profiles alter higher in the rev range, sounding a bit shouty, although the volume is at least accompanied by the clear feeling that it’s getting right up to the peak of its powerband.
It’s a shame we don’t get any of the fruitier engines available in other markets, such as the torquier 1.0-litre turbo three-pot available in the Venue in India, and available here in models such as the Kia Picanto GT and Rio GT-Line, as it would help it feel more effortless when accelerating at higher speeds, such as when overtaking or on uphill sections of freeways.
It does handle well, however, the Venue, with it benefitting from a locally-tuned suspension setup specifically for the Australian market as with all other Hyundai models that does definitely do the trick.
Being such a small car, it feels fairly tight and agile, and even though it is quite tall proportional to its length, it remains acceptably balanced through the bends, although you won’t want to push it too hard given its skinny tyres will see it tend toward understeer if you get ahead of yourself.
Most commendable is the steering, which feels light and quick and is absolutely perfect for tight city streets and getting into cramped parking spots the first time every time, with this combining well with the Venue’s tiny size to allow it to fit practically anywhere.
The ride quality itself is pretty good, too, with it handling most road imperfections with ease, although the rear end in particular does feel a tad firm over things like speed-bumps, it should be noted.
While it’s definitively a cheap car built to a price point, as some of the oversights and scrimping goes to prove, it’s still a very good car if cheap, reliable, and safe transport is all you’re after.
Not only does the Venue capitalise perfectly on the SUV craze and meet the changing demands of consumers, but it still manages to be practically perfect for city living. An important car for Hyundai to get right, thankfully, it’s done it.
2020 Hyundai Venue Active List Price: $23,490
Pros: Cleverly-packaged interior, handles better than you’d expect, potentially the easiest car to parallel park around right now
Cons: No passenger visor mirror cover or automatic driver’s window, looks oddly proportioned on the smaller 15-inch wheels, lacking some safety equipment in this spec
In a nutshell: You might get more bang for your buck elsewhere in the range to this automatic Elite, but on the whole, the Venue is right on the money as a first-car for teens (or parents) with the dosh to spend, or for people any age looking for an easy city runabout.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.