2020 Hyundai Venue first drive review: Tart and tiny in the land of Oz

Remember Tart 'n' Tinys? Scarfed by the handful, they came in a variety of bright colors and punched well above their weight in flavor. The new 2020 Hyundai Venue reminds me of those candies -- small, colorful and surprisingly vibrant and fun. Unlike that classic confectionery, though, a long drive in Australia has convinced me that this new small crossover SUV is actually surprisingly wholesome, too.

How tiny? Well, the new 2020 Hyundai Venue shares a lot of its unseen bits with the much longer Accent subcompact sedan, but at 159 inches overall, it's 5 inches shorter than the popular Kona (itself one of the smallest vehicles on the market). In fact, by my measurements, when the Venue arrives, it'll become the tiniest SUV on our market -- shorter than presumed competition like the Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Kicks.

I say "presumed" because most of those models line up more clearly size- and price-wise against the Venue's Kona big brother. I also say that in light of front-wheel-only configuration, because the Venue could safely be viewed as more of a tall hatchback than a utility vehicle (in much the same way the Soul and Kicks' genres are routinely debated). Finally, the Venue is likely to be significantly cheaper than nearly all of those vehicles.

Proactively, Hyundai is doing what it can to clear up any potential confusion by eliminating the five-door Accent from US showrooms, clearing a bit of mental floor space. That's probably smart, as the Venue is poised to be slightly more expensive than the departing hatchback.

What lies beneath

So that's Venue's size, but what about its substance? Hyundai has not yet released full US specs and pricing, but the automaker did fill in some important blanks ahead of our early media drive on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Australia. (After its home market of Korea, Oz's dealers are next in line to start getting the Venue. US dealers won't get the model until December, so it was easier to ship us to the Venue than the Venue to us.)

The Venue is powered by a 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder also found in the Accent, paired to either a six-speed manual (base SE only) or a continuously variable transmission. Our Australia-spec testers actually came with nicely tuned conventional six-speed torque-converter-equipped automatics, but Hyundai says US models will get a CVT for maximum efficiency.

Venue spans just 159 inches, making it nearly 14 inches shorter than Hyundai's Accent sedan.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Either way, the Smartstream G inline-four will generate 121 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 113 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Those aren't particularly impressive numbers, but they're within a pony and a pound-foot of the Nissan Kicks, a surprisingly entertaining-to-drive vehicle.

As far as fuel efficiency goes, Hyundai is only saying it's projecting a rating of 32 miles per gallon on the combined city/highway cycles. That's a tick below the aforementioned Kicks, but better than the lackluster Trax and EcoSport. It's worth noting that the Venue's under-the-skin twin Accent does substantially better: up to 36 mpg combined. As these two K2 platform-mates share comparable weights (roughly 2,500 to 2,700 pounds), that efficiency gulf likely comes down to factors like gearing and the Venue's boxier, less aerodynamic profile. Such is the price of SUV fashion and utility.

Feisty design

Speaking of fashion, the 2020 Hyundai Venue's look won't be for everyone, but that's by design. The model's stubby dimensions, substantial hexagonal grille and glowering split-element lighting give the nose a far more pugnacious stance and attitude than one would expect for something of this size. The Venue is over 2 inches shorter than a Honda Fit, but its upright, blacked-out greenhouse (available with contrasting roof colors) and strong shoulder line lend the overall design modernity and unexpected athleticism.

It's hard to make such small dimensions look rugged or imposing, but to my eyes, the Venue is more successful at this than rivals. In up-level SEL spec like this Exotic Green model, the Venue also manages to look slightly more premium thanks to smart surface texturing on its bumpers and chunky 17-inch alloy wheels.

Unfortunately, the Venue's novel lenticular-lensed taillamps seen here won't make it to the US market. We'll still get the inner "Z" detailing, but the twinkling, almost holographic inner effect of these lights is apparently at odds with the buzzkills in Washington.

Like all recent Hyundai SUVs, Venue's daytime running lamps act as eyebrows for the main headlights.

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Fun to drive?

A vibrant, unique appearance is one thing, but without any underlying substance this little crossover utility would be a tough sell. Fortunately, the 2020 Venue is packed with virtues. That starts with the way this Hyundai drives, which is simultaneously more fun and more mature than you'd expect. Those descriptors might seem contradictory, but they're really not.

At least with the Aussie-spec six-speed automatic, performance is snappy off the line whether you're in Sport mode or not. It's not quick, mind -- this is still an entry-level economy car at heart -- but it's plenty powerful both for urban stop-and-go running and freeway merging. Carpet the accelerator and the Venue's four-cylinder soundtrack is neither engaging nor grating.

Noise, vibration and harshness are surprisingly well controlled in all aspects. Hyundai's engineers have applied acoustic countermeasures everywhere, including sound-deadening material in the usual dashboard and door locations, as well as foam blocks in the A-pillars, rear fenders and frame rails.

A 1.6-liter I4 giving 121 hp is the Venue's only engine offering.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

It works. Australia's road network is over 50% gravel, and to their credit, Hyundai's route planners didn't shy away from the rough stuff. Inexpensive cars can sound like cheap tin cans when stones pop and ricochet about the wheel wells and underbody, but the Venue remains surprisingly muted inside.

Similarly, this Korea-built SUV is well-behaved on the loose stuff. Steering is appropriately weighted and accurate (particularly welcome for those not used to driving on the other side of the road), and the suspension does its part to inspire confidence, too. The front McPherson strut, rear torsion beam setup is simple but effective, offering predictable, level cornering and good impact isolation. With an ultra-short 99.2-inch wheelbase (3.2 inches briefer than the Kona), the Vue unsurprisingly isn't immune to a smidge of ride choppiness on undulating surfaces, but it's better than most.

Note: My tester's handling was actually more entertaining than expected, even when flung down the challenging, narrow roads that wind over and around Queensland's Glass House Mountains. That's due in part to my model being fitted with 205/55 17-inch Nexen summer tires. Evidently, summers are a not-uncommon fitment in temperate Australia, even on inexpensive crossovers. US-bound model will be fitted with (presumably less-grippy) all-seasons and have slightly different shock tuning.

All Venues pack a segment-best 8-inch touchscreen, plus standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Solid cabin

The Venue's scrappy, fun-to-drive temperament is an important virtue, but not nearly as mission critical as a well-done interior. Hyundai has an excellent track record for creating funky, livable and high-value cabins as of late, and the Venue doesn't err from that formula. There's plenty of elbow, head and legroom. This is a vehicle that doesn't feel the least bit claustrophobic up front. The rear seats offer enough headroom, but those with longer legs will want to keep journeys shorter, and there's no center armrest on the 60/40 split-folding seatbacks to aid in comfort. Still, it's livable back there for shorter journeys.

Yes, you'll find hard plastics almost exclusively throughout the cabin, but they're well textured and they manage to not look cheap. For an SUV likely to start in the neighborhood of $17,000, there's not much to object to when it comes to material choices and fit and finish. in fact, there's a good amount to love here, with trendily patterned fabrics along with lime trim and stitching highlights to keep things youthful. 

Overseas markets will get more color and trim choices inside and out than the US -- blame American consumers' tendencies to buy off the lot instead of placing special orders.

An adjustable floor yields a deeper cargo hold, but it's still tight.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Cargo room is listed at a respectable 18.7 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks up, expanding to just 31.9 with them folded. Down nearly 14 cubes on its Kona sibling, maximum cargo room is the area where the Venue's tiny footprint becomes most apparent. A dual-level rear load floor and a clever storage slot for the rear parcel shelf make the best of an otherwise tight situation.

It's not just fashionable inside, there's good substance, too. For starters, all Venues receive an unusually large 8-inch touchscreen audio system. Navigation, Bluelink telematics and Sirius XM satellite radio will be optional, but with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, there's almost no need. A four-speaker audio system is standard, and a six-speaker setup is available. Neither setup is likely to pique budget audiophiles' interests the way the Nissan Kicks' available Bose system does, but they're easy to use and get the job done.

Optional features include a power sunroof, heated side mirrors and seats, and automatic climate control.  

Interestingly, Hyundai is looking beyond obvious cross-shops like the aforementioned Kicks as well as pricier models like the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR and squarely eying used cars. According to the automaker, last year, of the millions of people who shopped for a new car, about one-third of them settled on a secondhand model. With this model poised to be so inexpensive, Hyundai views the Venue as a ready alternative to the used-car market.

For my money, beyond a full warranty, one of the key reasons to stretch to a new-vehicle purchase over a used one -- especially with parents shopping for their kids -- is the rapidly mushrooming availability of advanced driver assist systems. Features such as forward collision avoidance assist, lane-keep assist and a driver attention monitor were unavailable on most models just a few years ago, but they're standard on the Venue. On higher SEL trims, a blind-spot monitor and rear-cross-traffic alert are optional, as are LED headlamps. Adaptive cruise control is unavailable.

Mighty small, but also small and mighty.

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The variables

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the 2020 Hyundai Venue makes a formidable first impression, both aesthetically and dynamically. Until Roadshow can get its mitts on a US-spec example and take a gander at our pricing, however, it won't be clear just how desirable a model this is, nor how good a value. Hyundai is clearly gambling by going this small and offering something so close in size and spirit to its already-successful Kona. However, if Hyundai can put enough pricing daylight between the two, the Venue might not just be a smash hit in waiting, it could be in the vanguard of a new class of smaller, more affordable SUVs. 

With all that in mind, maybe the Venue isn't so much like yesterday's Tart 'n' Tinys, as they are another, far more ubiquitous treat: Sour Patch Kids.


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. 

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