2020 Hyundai Venue - A Basic Box

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

At some point in the past few years, the word “basic” began being used as a pejorative, aimed at young men and women whose personal style and interests were “ exceedingly ordinary,” in the words of the great Urban Dictionary.

You know the stereotype: pumpkin spice lattes and Ugg boots for women; untucked button-down shirts, Axe body spray, and dingy baseball hats for men.

Basic doesn’t have to mean bad, boring, or ordinary, though. It can also mean simple. And the 2020 Hyundai Venue is just that: Simple. And that’s not meant as a pejorative.

Which isn’t to the say the Venue is without flaws. But it’s meant for basic – there’s that word again – transport, and not much else, and it’s poised to do that job well.

(Full disclosure: Hyundai flew me to Miami and fed and housed me for two nights so that I could drive the Venue. They offered snacks, which I ate, and a travel coffee mug/water bottle and travel bag, which I declined to take.)

Let’s start with the shape. Hyundai’s design team has kept it simple – the Venue is boxy, without a lot of drama or odd design cues. The grille matches the rest of the company’s SUV and crossover line. Slab sides give the Venue an upright look, and certain colors pop while others blend and still others make you question if the designers were colorblind. Overall, the best thing – and the worst thing – that can be said about the exterior styling is that it’s inoffensive.

Yeah, it’s plain and simple. That function-over-form aesthetic continues over to the cabin. Everything is laid out simply – a traditional shifter for the continuously-variable automatic transmission sits next to the handbrake, the gauge cluster has easy-to-read instruments and info screen, and the center-stack infotainment system is easy to read and use, although the dreaded tacked-on look mars the interior a bit.

Big knobs adjust volume and tuning in a refreshingly old-school manner, and the climate controls are clever in their execution – temperature and fan speed are adjusted via dials that ring the digital displays. The inside is more than roomy enough for most folks, although the rear seat will be tight for taller adults if they’re parked behind a similarly tall person.

While Hyundai offers a fair amount of safety and convenience tech for the price – more on that in a bit – one common piece of tech that’s conspicuous in its absence, if not exactly missed, is auto stop-start.

[Get Hyundai Venue pricing here!]

Venue is powered (that term is used somewhat loosely) by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 121 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque. The engine pairs either to a six-speed manual transmission or the aforementioned continuously-variable automatic.

Unlike most CVTs, this one is a link-type. According to Hyundai, it’s only the second of its type to hit the market, following the Subaru Impreza.

I’d have loved to get my hands on a manual, but Hyundai didn’t provide any for our test drives. This is too bad, since while the CVT is generally well behaved with minimal drone, the engine needs to be kept above 3,500 rpm or so to feel truly responsive, and the presence of the stick-shift would be a useful way to keep the car on the boil.

Putting the car in Sport mode helps here. In fact, buyers might want to drive in Sport mode at all times. Otherwise, the Venue struggles a bit to get up to speed. Keeping the engine in the upper rev band does have a drawback: Noise. Things get loud and coarse at the higher end of the rpm range.

Whether in Sport or Normal – there’s also a Snow mode – the Venue has something one of its competitors, the Nissan Kicks, doesn’t: Actual steering feel. It is a bit artificial and heavy, but it’s something, at least. You do feel connected to the road, which isn’t always the case in this class.

Not that we had much of a chance to truly evaluate handling. Anyone who’s spent time in South Florida knows the only dangerous curves belong to the bikini-clad women on South Beach. Our run to the Keys and back didn’t include any corner that wasn’t a gentle sweeper on the freeway. Hyundai did this because the Venue is positioned as a “city car,” but it would’ve been nice to get even a small sense of how the Venue reacts when pushed a bit. My guess would be not all that well. I’ll have to wait for a loan for further evaluation.

It does ride well on the highway, but we’re talking Florida here – there’s not much in the way of broken, pot-holed pavement to contend with. Again, further evaluation is needed.

Venue does feel better screwed-together than Kicks, Ford’s EcoSport, and Chevrolet’s Trax. The uplevel-trim SEL version I drove is cheaper than similarly equipped versions of the latter two, as well. Venue comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which the Kicks doesn’t.

Like the Kicks, the Venue is not available with all-wheel drive. The Trax and EcoSport, are, of course, as well as the Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, which are also in the Venue’s competitive set. Hyundai claims the lack of available AWD is simply a cost-saving measure.

Venue’s materials feel class-competitive and not cheap at all, but the safety ninnies are especially obnoxious with their beeps and bloops.

There are three trims: base SE, uplevel SEL, and Denim. Standard features include 15-inch wheels, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, USB, auxiliary jack, Bluetooth, air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, and driver-attention warning.

Available features include automatic climate control, the drive-mode select, dual USB charging, 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights, LED taillights, power sunroof, heated front seats, navigation, satellite radio, dual USB charging, six speakers, push-button start, rear disc brakes (yes, the base car has rear drums), BlueLink connected-car system, blind-spot collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The sunroof is part of an option package (along with rear cross-traffic alert), and another package adds the 17s, nav, heated seats, BlueLink, and LED lights. My test vehicle had both package and carpeted floor mats ($135) for an as-tested price of $23,280. That includes the $1,095 destination fee.

The Denim trim includes leatherette seats and a two-tone look in which the roof contrasts with the body color.

Venue’s overall package is intriguing, but is Venue a value? It’s pricier than Kicks when well-equipped, and the lack of AWD may turn off Snow Belters. But it undercuts the EcoSport and Trax while also being a better vehicle. I haven’t driven the CX-30 yet, but it charmed Chris.

Kia’s boxy Soul is also in the same pricing ballpark, at least in base trim, but it doesn’t read as a natural competitor to the Venue.

When we talk about price, we’re talking MSRP, since incentives come and go quickly and we can’t continually update our reviews. This means that the Venue might not cost you what the sticker says – and if a dealer is willing to, well, deal, perhaps the price gap over the Kicks matters less.

It’s also worth noting that if you don’t need boxy utility, you can be shopping Civics/Corollas/Elantra Sports for about the same amount of dough.

Hyundai has cooked up one of the better so-called “city cars,” but it will cost a bit more to get the most desirable features, at least compared to a key rival. Then again, you’re getting a better vehicle for less money than at least two others on the market.

Whether that puts the Venue in a sweet spot in the market or whether cost-conscious buyers will be kicking it with Nissan remains to be seen. Same goes for Snow Belt buyers – is AWD worth the extra cost of the CX-30 or the inferior Trax and EcoSport?

All I can say for sure is that Venue’s “basicness” is more virtue than vice.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 29 comments
  • HotPotato HotPotato on Jan 25, 2020

    I really like the design. For one thing, styling of the front in particular makes it look much bigger than it really is, which helps cut down on bad behavior from people in actually-large vehicles. But wouldn't an Accent platform mean the same torqueless wonder of an engine that my wife's old Veloster had, and the same hard ride too? I'd certainly pass on adding any more weight and wind resistance to that thing in the form of an upright box body. The CVT might redeem it; the DCT certainly did not.

  • Leftydog1961 Leftydog1961 on Mar 21, 2020

    For a few bucks more, you can get the Kona with conventional auto tranny, optional awd, 30 mpg, optional independent rear suspension in awd etc. Unless you have a real hankering for a manual. Still, Venue is nice for a city cute ute and seems to bring some room to the sedan/hatch accent/rio types. Good price, great warranty, lousy engine (had the NA in the '14 veloster- slow as ass) but reliable as far as i could tell up to 60k.

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