First drive: The 2020 Hyundai Venue sets a small but splashy stage

September 23, 2019

I struggle with sentience while a hotel clerk tells me there are four Australian accents: university, city, Western Australia, and everywhere else. None of them make sense at 9 a.m., not after a 24-hour ride over the ocean for a first drive in the 2020 Hyundai Venue.

Hyundai chose Australia’s Sunshine Coast for this first drive because Oz is where the Venue will be sold first. As I start to shake off the jet lag, I find other good reasons. A, it’s not 98 degrees like at home. B, none of the local wildlife overtly wants to kill me—I mean, I’ve had no threats, at least not yet. C, the Aussie sense of humor is on display everywhere, to my tittering delight at a nearby store named “Who Invited Her.”

It’s a perfect venue, in other words.

The 2020 Venue, on the other hand, has some distance to go. Well-packaged and well-executed, it’s not ready for the U.S. until late this year, so the cars we drive are equipped with different tires, different shocks, and a 6-speed automatic instead of the pulley-and-belt CVT we’ll get, along with an available 6-speed manual.

It’s still enough to gauge whether the Venue will slip beneath the bigger, more expensive Hyundai Kona, and elbow aside vehicles such as the Ford Ecosport, Nissan Kicks, and Kia Soul in the race not just for new-car shoppers, but for a slice of the first-time car-buyer pool—even for a share of the 40 million used-car buyers who might be tempted instead by a sticker price of about $18,000 and a new-car warranty.

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

Safari so good

Like a rugged hiking shoe, the 2020 Venue’s an urban trekker. It’s styled with toylike cues that put some starch in its upright roofline and it adds texture where things could get boring.

With the Venue, Hyundai taps its big SUV family for some cues, such as the split headlights and running lights that put LED eyebrows over boxes for a robo-tastic look. The big mesh grille apes that on bigger Hyundai crossovers, but from the side the Venue reads more eastern European, in a great way—like a Skoda we don’t yet get, but richly deserve. At the back, the 2020 Venue wears diagonally striped taillights and an inset greenhouse that reads almost like a Renault.

Base Venue SE and SEL cars—we’re reluctant to call it a crossover, even; how about we settle on tall hatchback?—ride on 15-inch wheels with all-season tires in the U.S., not the summer treads these Aussie cars have. The SEL’s optional 17-inch wheels fill out the wells better, and balance the creased flares that offset the short body and square it up for the fight through rush-hour traffic. Hyundai smartly bathes it all in happy colors that don’t cost extra—from intense reds and highlighter yellow-greens to a deep, satisfying Denim blue with a white roof.

The Venue’s cockpit bears more than a passing resemblance to that in the Kona, with big round climate-control knobs at its center, a multi-function steering wheel framing a simple set of gauges, and a large 8.0-inch touchscreen perched on the center of the dash, no skimping on a teensy 4.2-inch LCD screen here (cough, Escape/CR-V/RAV4, cough). 

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

The struggle is real

The 2020 Venue leans on the Hyundai Accent for its platform and its powertrain. The 1.6-liter inline-4 found in every Venue can team with a 6-speed manual or CVT, but neither version was made available to bleary-eyed U.S. journalists.

Instead, I rowed through the 4-cylinder’s 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque through a conventional 6-speed automatic, with no paddle shift controls, but with a drive mode selector with the usual Normal, Eco, and Sport positions for slower or speedier responses. The good news? The 2020 Venue weighs just 2,557 to 2,732 pounds; plus a few hundred for passengers, it didn’t feel strained until we attempted a couple of uphill passes with relatively short windows of opportunity. Lots of sound deadening kept the engine from howling in protest, and its even power delivery left no mysteries or surprises, nor much room for miscalculation. On the upside, the Venue might earn an EPA combined rating of 32 mpg, Hyundai says; official numbers won’t come until December or so, when the Venue reaches dealers.

The Venue could be the pert, responsive handler in its class, too, but differences in tires and shocks, not to mention road surfaces, will leave that for a drive on U.S. soil sometime soon. What we can say is the Venue’s electric power steering doesn’t go flat in the middle like an all-wheel-drive car might. It tracked well enough on Australia’s main coastal highway that we could dedicate all our attention to staying in our left-hand lane in our right-hand-drive cars. Our mantra quickly became, just go with the flow, and we felt very Aussie as a result.

From the beltline down, the Venue’s prosaic suspension held up its part of the bargain. It’s struts in front, a torsion-beam setup in the rear. That torsion beam has a V-shaped peak that stiffens it for better responsiveness; the Venue SE gets 185/65R-15 tires, and so does the SEL, though there’s an option for 205/55R-17s on the Venue SEL.

Despite the 6.7 inches of ground clearance and small-ish tires and short wheelbase, the Venue didn’t bound or pitch much when confronted with seasonal road construction and stretches of gravel road. No shimmy, no shake, the Venue handled with more solidity and stability than at least a couple of its named rivals.

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

Well-seated

Shorter than the Accent sedan by a couple of inches, the 2020 Venue checks in at 158.9 inches and rides on a 99.2-inch wheelbase. It’s rated to seat five, but we’d put four adults in it without apologies.

The bigger Kona outpaces the Venue by 5 inches in overall length and 3 inches of wheelbase, but it scores only 2.2 cubic feet more of passenger space. That’s the best story for the Venue; at 61.6 inches tall, it’s made the most of its footprint with a really spacious cabin and well-designed seats.

The front seats in particular have very good shape to their bolsters—better than any seat we’ve felt in any 2020 Ford Escape. Head room is excellent, too, while the center console connects with front passenger knees. In back, the Venue’s doors are cut a little extreme, but once they’re in, adult passengers can sit comfortably behind those in front and again have excellent seat support, maybe with a little knee contact against the front seatbacks. Head room ranges about 39 inches for all passengers, and rear-seaters have 34.3 inches of leg room.

Fold down the rear seats, and the Venue’s 18.7 cubic feet of cargo space opens up to 31.9 cubic feet. The cargo cover slides into a handy groove behind the rear seatbacks when it’s not needed, too.

Hard plastics are the rule inside the Venue, but they’re thoughtfully textured to avoid the cheap, greasy onslaught of the EcoSport’s trim bits. The Venue has a mesh-grained dash, mod fabric inserts in its seats, even a denim-like material that could easily go Toughskins, but hits the Marc Jacobs bogey instead.

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

2020 Hyundai Venue (Australian spec)

Safety and features

Hyundai fits every 2020 Venue with camera-based automatic emergency braking, as well as active lane control and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts are available on the Venue SEL. 

As for other features, the 2020 Hyundai Venue SE rides on 15-inch wheels and gets power features, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB port, cloth upholstery, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The Venue SEL adds automatic climate control, and can be fitted with 17-inch wheels, satellite radio, navigation, heated front seats, keyless ignition, and a power sunroof. No Venue has power seats, leather upholstery, or adaptive cruise control—Hyundai saves that for the bigger SUVs.

The 2020 Venue’s appeal will lie in its price, and at the numbers thrown around while we begged for caffeine and leniency—maybe $18,000 base—the Venue will sound like a bargain to new-car shoppers who’d otherwise have to dip into the used fleet.

The 2020 Hyundai Venue hits showrooms in December, with official prices and EPA ratings to come.

Hyundai provided transportation and lodging to The Car Connection for this review.

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