In a world where everything has to be a crossover — Ford made a Mustang into a crossover, for Pete’s sake — it is not surprising that Hyundai’s latest vehicle, trying to appeal to first-time car buyers, is (you guessed it) a crossover. The 2020 Hyundai Venue is the automaker’s newest and smallest entry into this segment.
After a self-imposed break from taking press cars, the Venue was the first up when the list came in. On the surface, frankly, it’s not something to get excited about. In fact, coming into the review I didn’t care if I dove my personal car, a 2005 Honda Element I’m not enthralled with, or the Venue.
And that should set the stage of my expectations.
But along the way, a funny thing happened. It ended up being better than I expected.
When the Hyundai Venue arrived, the first thing that struck me was the trim level. This Denim edition is very nicely styled. The dark blue paint with the white roof and white accents on the mirrors grabbed my attention. Less successful was the grille detail. There is a two-color, two-level structure that attempts to give it some depth. The black aspect of the grille is actually in front of the chrome, though at distance it appears differently.
What it really looks like is a mess that came as a compromise from a committee.
Other than the grille, the rest of the Venue’s exterior is decently styled. While nothing really stands out, there is nothing really objectionable — other than the aforementioned grille — yet it is not a boring design or one that fades into the background.
So on that merit, it’s OK.
Slip inside and again the style of the trim level stands out. The seats are fabric and have a faded denim color to them with a few white accents thrown in. The lower portion of the dash, along with the pull area of the doors are finished in a light cream color that contrasts nicely with two different shades of blue in the rest of the cabin.
While it may seem odd, it was the choice of the blue tones, along with the contrasting white, that really sold me on this trim level. It felt like someone who understands style is not “of the moment” was involved here.
That said, I’m not sure how well the white will stand up after five years and 60,000 miles, but as new, I was quite taken with it.
Now, the materials used are nothing special. They are exactly what you expect them to be in a low $20k vehicle. The plastics are hard, though nicely grained, and the padding on the vinyl bits was not ample. However, you’d not be ashamed to show this off if it was your first car.
Hyundai builds quality interiors that are well put together, and this should hold up nicely over the long term.
On the tech front
First and foremost, the infotainment system was solid. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Hyundai interface when not using CarPlay was fine. Plus, when in CarPlay there is a dedicated choice, much like choosing Waze or Tidal or your favorite podcast app, to get into all the Hyundai menus without having to come out of CarPlay. It is the best implementation I have yet seen for this. In contrast, a Mazda CX-5 I had a few weeks after this forced you to leave CarPlay to deal with Mazda menu items.
A big thumbs up to Hyundai for the continued use of buttons and knobs for not only the infotainment system but also the climate controls. Physical controls with true tactile feel and feedback make using them while driving easier and far, FAR safer than any and all touch screen controls while driving.
The sound quality of the stereo was not bad, in fact, it was better than I expected. I’m not saying it was amazing, but if you are just going to be streaming music, you’ll not find it lacking unless you really try to listen at loud volumes. The stereo system doesn’t get to a volume where the music envelops you.
Itty-bitty size, decent interior space
For such a compact vehicle interior space is very good. The driver’s seat has plenty of travel fore and aft to be comfortable for drivers from 5 feet tall to 6 feet 5 inches. Rear seat room was better than expected as well. When I had the driver’s seat set for myself at 5 feet 10 inches I could sit comfortably behind myself. With the rear seats up, the cargo area is reasonable at 18.7 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded, it opens up to 31.9 cubic feet.
To give a little context to those numbers, my (at the time) 4-month-old Irish Wolfhound puppy had plenty of room in the back and could stand up with no problem. My almost 2-year-old Irish Wolfhound could fit, but he could not stand, and he took up the entire cargo area front to back.
In the real world
Where the Hyundai Venue stands out, especially for first-time car buyers, is fuel economy. It is rated at 30 MPG city/34 MPG highway/32 MPG combined on 87 octane fuel. I saw right on-book numbers without being gentle on the throttle. I mention not being gentle on the throttle intentionally because the Venue borders on being underpowered.
Power for the Venue comes from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder providing 121 horsepower at 6,300 RPM and 113 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 RPM, backed by a CVT transmission. I have never been a fan of CVT transmissions, and this one does nothing to change that opinion. The only CVT’s I have found to be acceptable are ones backed by an engine with abundant torque, which this engine does not have.
While pulling out onto a busy street or a highway is not what I’d call scary, it can take planning. When passing on a two-lane road, make sure you have a quarter-mile (at least) of clear space before you attempt.
If you put the lack of power and the CVT transmission aside, once on the road, the ride and handling are just fine. Hyundai has come a long way in its suspension tuning in the last decade.
In fact, on the atrocious roads surrounding Metro Detroit, I had no real complaints about how the Hyundai Venue dealt with potholes and road irregularities. On the highway, there was a genuine lack of wind and road noise, making the interior far quieter than expected.
The bottom line
Maybe this is the best way to sum up the Hyundai Venue: While I wouldn’t say it “exceeds expectations” it is certainly “better than expected.”
With its flexible interior, very good fuel economy, solid ride and handling and stylish interior — all at an as-tested price of $23,305 — I can see this as a good choice for a first-time car buyer, or perhaps, an empty nester couple looking to downsize.