Just a few years ago, Hyundai found itself in an awkward position. At a time when consumers were going crazy about crossovers, the South Korean automaker had just three high-riding nameplates in its stable: the Tucson, Santa Fe Sport, and Santa Fe. The rest of its lineup was awash in sedans, a wagon, and even (for a short time) a coupe – that product mix that wasn't suitable for the US market.
Fast forward to 2020 and the opposite is now true for Hyundai – its newly crossover-heavy lineup is ideal for American buyers still obsessed with CUVs. The compact Kona and the hulking Palisade both arrived to critical acclaim, helping to flesh out the company’s lineup. Now Hyundai is introducing its smallest high-rider, the Venue, which we recently named one of the best SUVs for 2021.
Technically the replacement for the five-door Accent hatchback, the Venue is a tiny, fashion-forward crossover that offers a lot for a little bit of money. From the comfy cabin to the refined driving experience and impressive tech suite, there's plenty to like about the newest member of Hyundai's growing crossover fleet.
Brandon Turkus, Managing Editor
Favorite Thing: Great Seating Position
Least Favorite Thing: Could Use More Power
I liked the Hyundai Venue immensely when I sampled a right-hand-drive model in Australia last year, so it's little surprise I find this US-spec car just as likable. The ride is comfortable and quiet, thanks to softer dampers than what I sampled down under, while the handling is totally competent for the class. My big concern focused on the transmission.
The Australian model gets a six-speed automatic, but Hyundai is selling the US-market Venue with a continuously variable transmission. Considering the unpleasant wailing of the underpowered engine, I was worried about what a transmission that can't manage the naturally aspirated 1.6-liter's revs would do to the otherwise serene cabin.
My concerns were mostly misplaced. The CVT is smart enough to keep the revs low in all but the most aggressive throttle inputs. The bandying about that made early CVTs so unlikable is largely absent here, too. But the four-cylinder engine, with just 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque, struggles to manage the 2,700-pound Venue.
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Freeway passes and other hard-throttle applications lay bare the Venue's inadequacies – while it's easy to suggest Hyundai offer an N-badged Venue with the brand's long-lived turbocharged 1.6-liter, I'd be happy with much less than that engine's 201 ponies. Kick this car up by 30 horsepower and 30 pound-feet and it would feel far happier on big American roads.
Powertrain woes aside, the Venue is, broadly speaking, a comfortable place to hang out. Beyond the smooth ride, there's a quiet cabin. The seating position is particularly good, with a low hip-point for the class, plenty of adjustability, and adequate room for taller drivers. The seats themselves are excellent, blending long-haul comfort with plenty of support in a way pricier cars could stand to emulate. And the roster of equipment should more than satisfy the sort of customers this car targets: young, first-time buyers.
My only wish is that the Venue had a more expressive color palette. The Australian cars I drove boasted a far broader range of paint combos and interior finishes, like striking Acid Green accents, giving the Venue the sort of stylish touches its impressive design deserves. As Associate Editor Clint Simone so eloquently pointed out to me, this Ceramic White test car looks like a tooth.
Jeff Perez, Senior Editor
Favorite Thing: Fun Styling
Least Favorite Thing: Needs More Power
The Hyundai Venue does a lot of things well. I agree with my colleague that it has a very nice seating position and two comfortable front buckets, plus the 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gives the Venue an adequate amount of standard tech, too. But above all else, this Hyundai is a handsome little thing.
Based on our Instagram comments, the boxy crossover isn't beloved by all. But I still appreciate Hyundai's bold approach. Wearing the brand's signature design language up front – same as what you get on the larger Palisade – the Venue has slim running lights, large headlights, and the “cascading” grille. The optional 17-inch wheels ($1,750) and roof rails (on SEL and above) give the small crossover some extra edge.
But the Venue could have more power – if only just a pinch. The 1.6-liter engine produces 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet, which is just enough to propel the 2,700-pound Hyundai off the line relatively quickly. And the continuously variable transmission is surprisingly good, especially for the segment. But the Venue feels underpowered, specifically on the highway. More horses could make the already great Venue even better – I also wouldn't mind an N-badged version down the line, but that's just me.
Gallery: 2020 Hyundai Venue: Review
2020 Hyundai Venue SEL