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2020 Hyundai Venue second drive review: Small car, big promises

Hyundai's Venue is its littlest SUV to date. Look beyond its tiny footprint, and you'll find an awful lot to like.

Hyundai's pulled out some clever colors for the new Venue, including this badass gray getup.

Hyundai

Building an inexpensive car requires some tricky balancing. In a time when automakers are more than happy to pile on all sorts of whizbang features, prioritizing price often comes with a trade-off in equipment, leaving wallet-conscious buyers feeling somewhat penalized when their new car is full of blank buttons and devoid of many things consumers desire.

Hyundai has some experience in this arena, and that's why the automaker's latest small-car venture, the 2020 Venue, feels like a good value. It might not be the most dynamic car out there, but it oozes value in ways that will appeal to its core segment of younger buyers on the fence about buying new.

More space than you think

The Hyundai Venue is small. Very small. For context, the already subcompact Hyundai Kona is some 5 inches longer than the Venue, with a wheelbase about 3 inches longer. That might lead you to believe that driving the Venue must feel about as comfortable as riding the Tokyo subway at rush hour, but I can assure you that's not the case.

Sliding into the Venue, I'm actually impressed with how spacious it feels. A lot of that has to do with the body, which has straight sides and a suitably tall roof, leading to an interior that is nowhere near as cramped as some might imagine. The second row is a little tight with a 6-foot passenger behind a 6-foot driver, but it works. Those big windows make for some excellent visibility on all sides, too, including a commanding view of the road (or the bumpers of larger SUVs) ahead.

The Venue's trunk isn't bad, either. Its 18.7 cubic feet of space will hold a couple of people's worth of groceries, shopping bags or suitcases, but not much more than that. The Venue is almost half as capacious as the Kona, but then again, it's also one of the smallest SUVs available from any automaker, so the lack of storage shouldn't come as a surprise. There are a few other places to sock away your stuff, though, including a small cubby under the center armrest and two large-enough pockets in the door panels. My favorite storage spot, though, has to be the little depression on the passenger side of the dashboard, which is great for a phone or small clutch purse.

Not exactly dripping with performance

All Venues come equipped with the same engine. This 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated I4 produces just 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque, and while I wouldn't call the Venue expressly slow, I wouldn't exactly call it a lively little thing, either.

The four-pot makes a nice noise as the tachometer needle swings north, which helps distract from the fact that acceleration takes a little time to build up. Throttle tip-in is odd in its default Normal mode, with the first 5% of the pedal travel offering no forward motion, but moving the mode dial to Sport tunes some of that out in favor of increased responsiveness. The brakes are the opposite, grabbing with authority early in the pedal movement, requiring some mental gymnastics to retrain your reflexes to deliver smooth driving.

Base Venues come with a six-speed manual, but my high-end SEL tester packs the continuously variable transmission that I imagine most Venues will carry. It's a slick little piece of equipment, keeping engine drone at bay while working to maximize fuel economy. More conventional shifts only pop up under harder driving, but no matter how far you smash the gas pedal toward the firewall, the transmission is the good kind of barely noticeable.

It was particularly blustery on my drive day in Miami, which reminded me that the flat sides of the car can make it feel a little skittish in crosswinds -- a decent trade-off for having a good amount of space inside, I suppose. The steering was direct, if a little numb, but it felt nice as I threw in more than a little course correction to counteract the gusts. I wouldn't enjoy doing this over the length of an entire road trip, but for short jaunts around town (the most likely use case for the Venue), I don't think anybody will be too bothered.

I find the Venue's ride to be as good as, if not better than, many of its competitors. By maxing out wheel sizes at 17 inches, all tires carry suitable sidewall to smooth out the ride over bad pavement. The slightly stiff body makes for a surprisingly engaging ride when you want it, and the suspension feels well tuned for the realities of urban commuting. It's a compelling package.

As for fuel economy, it should be pretty good. All-wheel drive isn't available, and the front-drive Venue is sufficiently thrifty: Six-speed models achieve 27 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway by EPA standards, while CVT variants can reach 30 mpg city or 34 highway, numbers that seem more than feasible after a couple of hours behind the wheel.

If you don't need anything large in the city, why not downsize?

Hyundai

Impressive tech at this price point

Some small cars carry hamstrung versions of an automaker's tech, likely to keep costs in line. Not the Venue, though -- no matter which trim you pick, the Venue comes standard with an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that carries both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Hyundai's Blue Link interface remains as straightforward as ever, with suitable screen responsiveness and graphics that, while a little on the old side, present information in a way that's easy to get used to.

The front passengers will enjoy simultaneous charging thanks to an available pair of USB ports up front, one of which can fast-charge devices. However, both ports are USB-A, with no Type-C on offer, and rear-seat occupants don't get any charging ports, which is a bummer. The phone-size tray ahead of the shifter could feasibly fit a wireless charger, and while one isn't on offer at the moment, Hyundai gave me one of those, "Oh, anything's possible" responses when pressed on the idea of implementing wireless charging in a later update.

While keeping costs low is important, Hyundai doesn't scrimp on the Venue's standard safety systems. Even the base Venue comes with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist. The $1,150 Convenience Package on the SEL trim adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert to the mix, but most of its driver assistance tech is standard. The only real casualty here is adaptive cruise control, which is not available on any trim.

Down to brass tacks

The 2020 Hyundai Venue is immensely affordable, with a starting price of $17,350 before destination. Range-topping models, whether it's the SEL or the more stylish Denim trim, hit the ceiling around $22,000, so you don't have to stretch your budget to next Wednesday to slide into a well-equipped new car, albeit a smaller one.

That's the whole conceit of the Venue, as Hyundai explained it to me -- the automaker wants this little crossover to appeal to buyers who would otherwise be shopping for a used car. There's a special feeling that comes from having a car all to yourself from the start, and if the Venue gets more people to experience that, I'm all for it. As this segment of small SUVs grows, Hyundai has done a great job of establishing a high-water mark for everything that comes after.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it -- this describes Hyundai's infotainment system perfectly. It was great when it came out, and only the mildest of changes have kept it great.

Hyundai

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.