Where would you rather see your favourite band: as tiny figures far away on stage in some giant stadium, or at an intimate space where the lead singer’s sweat gets all over your T-shirt? Hmm.
I’m thinking the latter, but perhaps with one of those plastic barriers you get at a salad bar.
Anyway, Hyundai is betting younger buyers want the latter, or are at least looking to get into a crossover that’s smaller than anything they’ve made before. Meet the new Venue, a wee little crossover that’s about the same size as the Kia Soul.
Previously, Hyundai’s crossover offerings have been named after cities (Santa Fe, and so on). The Venue, on the other hand, is meant to be the kind of space you’d want to be in anywhere. It’s smaller than even the Kona compact SUV, and aimed squarely at entry-level buyers who have spent most of their disposable income to go see Billie Eilish, whoever he is.
Thing is, with the Ford Ecosport and the Nissan Kicks already arrived at this end of the market, can this littlest Hyundai make space for itself? Is it the kind of place customers are going to buy tickets to?
First off, compared to the somewhat funky styling of the larger Kona, the Venue is a pretty conservative little tyke. Unique touches like an egg-crate grille and a split-level headlight layout are relatively reserved. In profile, it’s a bit like one of Audi’s smaller offerings.
If you’d like to dress up your Venue a bit, however, doing so won’t break the bank. The $550 Urban package adds LED accents and cornering lights, and the available paint offerings are excellent. Even if you’re a bit too shy to go for the full Acid Yellow, which looks like a trendy sneaker, even the more standard colours can be ordered with bright accents.
For a car that starts at $17,099, the Venue appeals by not trying too hard, but at the same time embracing the whole cheap-but-cheerful ethos. It’s quite good fun.
If the little Venue looks a bit like a small Audi from the outside, there’s no mistaking the interior’s humble origins. At the same time, even if this car is built to a price point, it’s well-executed.
Despite the compact exterior dimensions, the Venue is relatively roomy inside. Rear passengers don’t have a great deal of legroom, but if you’re ferrying your four friends downtown to a concert, there shouldn’t be too many complaints. The trunk is also entirely usable at 355 litres.
Also impressive is how chunky and durable the knobs and switches are. There’s little flash in here, but the important bits you’ll touch every day seem well-made. Heated seats are standard across the range.
Further, every single model of Venue comes with tech you’ll actually use, like an eight-inch touchscreen and Android Auto/Apple Car Play. You can pay more for GPS navigation at the top of the range, but the base and mid-level Venues have everything you need.
Having said that, active folks will probably want to step up to a mid-level Trend trim (with the upgrade) for the better fabrics. You might as well, since basic models are lacking an armrest.
Late for the show? Well, you can only drive as fast as traffic and the law will allow anyway. For getting around in an urban environment, the Venue is just fine. On the highway, it’s not meant to be a long-distance commuter.
Yes, there’s the option of a manual transmission, but most people will opt for the CVT, which is perfectly fine in operation. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine produces 121 horsepower at 6,300 r.p.m. and 113 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 r.p.m.
In stop and go, the CVT makes the most of these modest figures. Attempt to make a pass uphill on the Upper Levels, and the Venue feels very much like the economy car it is.
Further, the combination of high roof and short wheelbase makes the Venue a little busy on straight, fast-moving highways. As the Venue is front-wheel-drive only, perhaps a similarly-priced Accent sedan would be better for longer commutes.
However, that high seating position and nimble handling rules the city streets. The ride is pretty comfortable, and the visibility of sitting up high makes driving a bit more relaxing.
Around town, the Venue is pretty much all the car you need, while still returning good fuel economy. It’s proof that bigger isn’t always better.
At the top of the range, the $24,899 Venue is extremely well-equipped, but probably over-featured for what most buyers need. The best balance of features and price is likely the $22,599 Trend model with the $550 Urban package.
Fuel economy results are very acceptable. Official figures for the CVT model are 8.0 litres/100 kilometres in the city and 7.0 l/100 km on the highway. Mixed results in cold weather were steadily a little under 8.0 l/100 km.
Roomy interior; practical layout; useful tech on base models; fun exterior.
Modestly powered; busy on the highway.
The checkered flag
A small crossover that feels genuinely youthful to drive, yet practical.
Nissan Kicks ($19,298): If you opt for the Kicks with the in-headrest Bose speakers, you’ll end up with one of the punchiest stereos on the market, at any price range. It’s just one of the simple tricks that Nissan’s youth-oriented crossover has up its sleeve.
Fun to drive, and quicker than its lowly power would suggest, the Kicks is a fresh little crossover that even has a fun name. The two-tone roof options are a nice touch, and if the interior is a little cheap-feeling, it’s still roomy.
The Hyundai has a little advantage here because it’s newer. However, the little Nissan is still a great way to get your Kicks.