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2020 Hyundai Venue Prototype first drive review: Not too small, not too slow

Weeks before the Hyundai Venue's New York Auto Show debut, we took a brief spin in a camouflaged prototype in Korea.

Hyundai

Hyundai took the wraps off its new Venue SUV at the New York Auto Show on Wednesday, a subcompact offering that'll slot below the already-small Kona crossover. Ahead of its official Big Apple debut, Hyundai brought me to its research and development center in Namyang, South Korea, for a deeper dive into the ins and outs of the tiny little Venue. This small SUV has a lot to offer.

In addition to that early look, Hyundai threw me the keys to a not-quite-finished 2020 Venue prototype for a very brief spin around its R&D test track. It wasn't a long enough stint to provide a solid impression of what to expect from this pint-size crossover, but this early drive left me optimistic about the Venue.

Getting in the 2020 Venue prototype for the first time, the first thing I notice is how much room I have. The Venue is only about an inch narrower than the Hyundai Kona, yet I don't feel like I'm in danger of rubbing elbows with my front-seat passenger. You sit very upright, and have a great view down the SUV's short hood. The Venue is half an inch taller than the Kona, which helps with headroom. Standing 5 feet, 8 inches tall, I'm not really a great barometer for headroom, but taller journalists on hand didn't register any complaints after their respective stints inside Hyundai's new crossover.

The rear seat is where things start to get cramped. The Venue rides on a wheelbase that's 3.2 inches shorter than the Kona's, and most of this chop impacts rear-seat legroom. Ingress and egress isn't an issue, and while legroom is in short supply, it's adequate for average-size adults like me. Two short folks could sit back here for brief trips, no problem. I definitely wouldn't ask people to sit three-across back here, and if you're regularly schlepping taller folks around, make sure they get shotgun priority.

Opening the upright hatch reveals a cargo area with a wide aperture and a relatively low load floor. With the rear seats in place, the Venue offers 18.7 cubic feet of space, which is only half a cubic foot fewer than the Kona. When you fold the back seats flat, the Venue's cargo hold expands to 31.9 cubic feet. That's more than enough for the occasional item or large amount of luggage, but that measurement is a 13.9-cubic-foot reduction compared to the Kona. The 2020 Venue is one of the least-capacious hatchbacks available in the US.

For one or two people, the Venue will be just fine. The prototype's seats are comfortable, but don't offer much in the way of side support. All of the vehicle's controls are easy to access, and the center stack is free of clutter. Happily, every Venue comes with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, running Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Venue will only be offered with front-wheel drive.

Hyundai

The 2020 Venue will only come with one engine option in the US: a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter I4, developing 121 horsepower. That's only a couple of ponies less than the engines you'll find in the Ford EcoSport and Nissan Kicks, and it'll come with a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission.

Hyundai's test prototype had the CVT -- or IVT, for Intelligent Variable Transmission -- and during a couple of acceleration and cruising tests, it performed adequately. The engine is a little loud, but doesn't drone at high revs like cars with older, less-refined CVTs. Moreover, the IVT helps to keep what little power there is easily accessible. Whether off the line or at speed, stomping on the throttle is met with instant response. I wouldn't call the Venue quick by any means, but it's certainly not sluggish.

The CVT should help the Venue return decent-but-not-great fuel economy, with Hyundai estimating 33 miles per gallon combined. That's the same as the front-wheel-drive Nissan Kicks, and a 2-mpg improvement over the Ford EcoSport.

As for ride and handling, at this point I can only really confirm that, yes, the Venue rides and handles. But through a short slalom course, the prototype exhibits nicely weighted steering that's somewhat devoid of feedback. Body roll in tighter turns is noticeable, but not inappropriate for this type of vehicle. If you like the way the Kona drives -- and Roadshow editors do -- then you won't find much fault with the Venue. The overall experience seems to be about the same, just without the added turbo punch of the higher-trim Kona.

The Venue is a super-small SUV, but it doesn't feel overly tiny from inside.

Hyundai

The Venue will only be offered with front-wheel drive, just like the Nissan Kicks. Hyundai executives said they're open to the idea of adding all-wheel drive, but it isn't a huge priority for a vehicle like the Venue. Instead, the tiny SUV comes with a "snow" drive mode that might help matters a bit in slippery conditions. If slogging through snow is a frequent occurrence in your life, just grab a set of winter tires.

Final development testing is undergoing as you read this, and the 2020 Venue will go on sale in the US later this year. I'll obviously need more time behind the wheel of a finished product to formally judge its on-road manners, but this initial test clears up the two main questions I had about the Venue: Is it too small? (No.) Is it too slow? (Also no.)

With its attractive exterior styling and long list of features and safety equipment, the Venue should appeal to lots of folks shopping in the sub-$20,000 price range. It doesn't look like a cheap-o econo-box, and from what I can tell early on, it doesn't drive like one, either.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.