Built for the town, not the country. At first glance, Hyundai’s boxy Venue looks like it’s inherited the ruggedness found in its Santa Cruz and Santa Fe siblings. In reality, this is very much a town car dressed up as a go-anywhere SUV. Not only is it ineffectual off-road due to the lack of AWD (even as an option), but it’s also pretty gutless on the highway as well. Its 1.6-liter engine is mated to a power-sapping CVT transmission, which attempts to disguise its throttle-linked power delivery by occasionally pausing to impersonate a gearchange. That’d be fine if the engine then responded with prodigious power, but its 121 hp seems to evaporate between pedal and road.
Venture outside city limits, and it’s not just the Venue’s lack of power that’ll frustrate you. This is a noisy traveling companion, with large amounts of road roar creeping into the cabin. There are no other engine choices, so you can’t even get the benefits of hybrid economy. The Venue returns 33 mpg on the highway, but its figure of 29 mpg city is arguably more impressive and will be of greater relevance to most buyers.
Cheap and cheerful. The Venue might be writing SUV checks its feeble performance can’t deliver, but in other respects, it’s pleasingly unpretentious. The external styling isn’t impressive (in green, it resembles an angry toad from the front), but it’s acceptable in darker tones. Inside, Hyundai has livened up basic trim with jazzy patterns and left certain panels unpainted for dramatic effect. You can add contrasting roof and rails to some funky wheel designs, and the plastic cladding is practical even if it’s not pretty.
The cabin is rather busy for our tastes – the steering wheel alone has 12 buttons and 16 functions – and there’s a cheapness to the finishings which is disappointing. Mind you, this is a cheap car…
Excellent value. The Venue’s trump card is its price. You can stick one on your driveway for around $20,000 in base SE trim. In that context, its weak performance and uninspiring cabin make more sense. As a first car for a teenager, it’s actually a pretty good proposition. And if you need to transport a significant amount of cargo (human or otherwise), it’s impressively spacious inside.
A high roof creates an airy ambiance in the cabin, while rear riders receive over 34 inches of legroom. Admittedly, the rear seats aren’t especially well padded, but this does allow the Venue to offer almost 19 cubic feet of cargo space – increasing to 32 once those near-vertical seat backs are lowered. That knocks the spots off most sedans, creating impressive versatility in a car measuring less than 160 inches from stem to stern.
Keeping trim. That $20,000 starting price nets you an SE model, which delivers everything from cruise control to a smartphone-enabled eight-inch touchscreen display. Safety across the range includes standard automatic emergency braking, while we have to praise visibility throughout the cabin. You don’t need self-parking when you’ve got windows this big.
If your budget allows, we’d stretch the price tag by $1,800 to secure mid-range SEL trim. Blind-spot monitoring is a welcome addition despite the clear visibility, while this is also the first Venue to receive climate, a power sunroof, and funky alloy wheels. It’s harder to justify the $23,500 needed for Limited’s navigation, heated front seats, and keyless entry.
Final thoughts. When shopping around the $20,000 mark, any new car is going to bring limitations. The Venue is a far more accomplished budget buy than the Chevrolet Trax or Buick Encore, especially considering Hyundai’s five-year 60,000-mile warranty and three years of free servicing. We’re not sold on its fussy external styling, but the Venue’s cabin does a decent job of hiding its cut-price origins. Specifications are decent on every model, it rides well for such a short car, and cabin space is a notable plus.
It may seem unfair to be critical of such an unpretentious little car, but there are areas where the Venue notably disappoints. The listless performance and no-I’m-not CVT transmission make performance leisurely at best, yet mediocre fuel economy doesn’t provide a payoff. There’s little driving pleasure to be had, especially out of town, where the Venue feels out of its depth. The thin and upright back seat won’t impress anyone, and noise becomes wearying on longer drives, while handling is consistently uninspiring.
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