Just when you thought there was an SUV for just about every occasion, Korean manufacturer Hyundai has released the Venue, a subcompact crossover designed to take on the light car and small SUV segments.
Slotting beneath the slightly larger Kona in the brand's line-up, the Venue indirectly replaces the ageing Accent hatchback as Hyundai's entry-level offering, starting at a (relatively) sharp $19,990 plus on-road costs.
Hyundai says it's seen a sharp decline in the Australian light car class since 2014, to the tune of 37 per cent, while small SUV sales have increased by a whopping 58 per cent over the same period.
Despite being several thousand dollars dearer than the previous entry point, the Venue promises to be a "best of both worlds" proposition, combining the cheap running costs and manoeuvrability of a light hatchback with the high driving position and rugged styling of an SUV.
Hyundai hopes to attract a range of buyer, including young single urbanites and couples, along with middle-aged empty-nesters that are perhaps looking to downsize.
Regardless, the Venue packs a lot of kit in for a relatively reasonable price.
From the entry-level Go specification, all models feature camera-based autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, high-beam assist, driver attention monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines, a 3.5-inch TFT driver's multifunction display, six airbags, and daytime-running lights.
Moving up to the mid-range Active (from $21,490) brings 15-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime-running lights (upgraded from halogen), LED indicators mounted in the side mirrors, a leather-appointed steering wheel and gearshift, rear parking sensors, six-speaker audio (up from four speakers) and static cornering lights.
Finally, the top-shelf Elite (from $25,490) gets 17-inch alloys, a chrome front grille, LED tail-lights, two-tone roof finish and contrasting side mirrors, rear privacy glass, 'premium finish' leather-look seat bolster upholstery, in-built satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates, DAB+ digital radio, single-zone climate control, a USB charge outlet, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
While there's a good amount of standard safety kit fitted across the range, Hyundai is only forecasting a four-star ANCAP safety rating for the Venue following the anticipated local audit test – it's not offered in Europe and therefore has to be crash tested locally.
Hyundai says the differences in Isofix child seat specifications between Australia and Europe could see the Venue's child protection score affected to the point where it wouldn't meet the five-star requirement, and as such didn't equip a 'fusion' AEB system with camera and radar with cyclist detection because it wouldn't change the final rating.
With that in mind, a four-star rating against 2019 criteria can be considered equivalent to a five-star rating from a few years ago, meaning there's little indication that the Venue will be considered 'unsafe' compared to a used car or a vehicle currently on the market with an older ANCAP safety rating.
All versions are powered by a tried and tested 1.6-litre 'MPi' multi-point injection four-cylinder petrol engine developing 90kW at 6300rpm and 151Nm at 4850rpm.
Drive is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed manual as standard in Go and Active trims, while a six-speed torque converter automatic is optional on base versions and standard on the top-spec Elite.
The manual claims to use 7.0L/100km on the combined cycle, while the automatic ups that to 7.2L/100km – we'll get a little more into the driving in a bit.
On first glance the Venue is a little different from the current crop of crossovers in terms of its exterior design. It's quite compact with a tall and boxy aesthetic, and is arguably less 'edgy' than the dimensionally larger Kona.
The teeny-tiny 15-inch wheels of Go and Active versions almost look silly and cartoonish on the squared-off body, but in flagship Elite trim with the larger wheels and eccentric two-tone colour options, the Venue looks quite upmarket and handsome – though this is entirely subjective.
Measuring 4040mm long, 1770mm wide and 1592mm tall, the Venue is shorter overall than the now-discontinued Accent, though stands around 30mm taller than a Kona. In the metal, the boxy proportions and tall height make the little Hyundai crossover look more substantial than it ought to be given its measurements on paper.
It's a similar story inside, where there's plenty of room for four adults across both roads. There's plenty of headroom for all, while an impressive amount of legroom in the second row means you can cart around taller passengers without worrying about them fighting for the front seat.
Up front the design is clean and simplistic, with the dashboard dominated by the 8.0-inch touchscreen flanked by air vents, sitting above three circular dials which are manual air-conditioning controls on lower-spec models and climate controls on the Elite.
Don't expect an abundance of premium materials – there's no denying the fact that this is a budget vehicle at the end of the day – though everything feels well-screwed together and there's a mixture of textures to add some visual excitement. Opt for the top-spec Elite and one of its three interior colourways, and you have another degree of personalisation for the cabin.
Ahead of the driver the dials are clean and uncluttered, with the 3.5-inch multifunction display offering a range of information and menus including trip computer, safety systems, and vehicle settings. These functions are accessed through the multifunction steering wheel, which also houses buttons and switches for the cruise control and media system – no real surprises there.
Moving further back, we mentioned earlier there's good room for two adults. However, there's no fold-down centre armrest on any Venue variant in Australia, nor are there rear air vents. There are Isofix mounts on each outboard rear seats, and map pockets on the front seat backs, but there's little else in the way of passenger amenities in the second row, something to consider if you carry people in the back often.
Hyundai doesn't quote a maximum cargo volume with the seats folded, but an adjustable boot floor means you can turn the back of the Venue into a flat loading bay. A space-saver spare wheel lives under the cargo area floor of all variants.
Out on the road the Venue won't blow your socks off but it certainly offers a drive experience that will appeal to the target demographic.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine's rather uninspiring outputs are translated into the Venue's on-road character, accelerating to city speeds with adequate pace though without any real urge. A lot of that comes down to the fact the Venue doesn't reach its peak outputs until very high in the rev range – 6000rpm for all 90kW and 4850rpm for those 151Nm.
While those figures seem rather underdone, the Venue compensates with its light kerb weight, tipping the scales from 1140kg for the lightest manual version and topping out at 1225kg for the heaviest automatic.
For reference, its larger and more powerful Kona sibling weighs between 250kg and 300kg depending on model.
We trialled both transmissions during the local launch, with an extended stint behind the base Go manual and a shorter drive in the auto-only Elite.
The six-speed manual is a great little shifter, which has a slick and accurate action combined with a slightly springy clutch pedal. It was quite a bit of fun to take full control of the Venue and get the most out of the rev-happy motor, and on the flipside the manual is quite comfortable to use around town.
Meanwhile, the six-cog automatic is definitely more geared to sedate driving and efficiency, at times being a little slow to react to sudden throttle inputs and sending the revs up high which transmits a thrashy and buzzy engine note into the cabin. Around town though, it's smooth, quiet, and does the job just fine.
On the highway, the 1.6-litre petrol engine is spinning at about 2500rpm in sixth gear regardless of the transmission chosen, while 110km/h will see the tacho sitting at around 2750rpm.
You'll notice the motor is a little buzzy under load or at higher speeds, but overall suppression from external noise is surprisingly good, which we assessed over a mix of road surfaces including urban streets, coarser country backroads, and rough gravel sections.
Hyundai was quick to harp on about the Venue's NVH performance at its press conference, and it certainly has done a good job with the 'N' portion of that acronym given the vehicle's price and segment.
In saying that, we found there can be a bit of vibration through the steering rack and cabin under hard acceleration, while sharper hits could produce an echoey 'boom' from the torsion beam rear suspension setup.
Speaking of the suspension, the Venue is quite a good balance between comfort and engagement, offering a supple and forgiving ride around town (especially on the 15-inch wheels and skinny 185/65 rubber of Go and Active models), while exhibiting good body control and limited roll in the bends.
Combine that with light-yet-direct steering, the Venue is genuinely a bit of fun on a twisty road, though you'll need to be proactive and keep your speed up ahead of inclines because otherwise you'll be reminded of the lack of low-down urge from the engine.
There’s also selectable drive modes in automatic versions not only for the powertrain but also for the traction control system to compensate for the lack of all-wheel drive.
There’s Normal, Eco and Sport mode which tailor the throttle response to each corresponding profile, while the Snow, Mud and Sand modes toggle the level of intervention from the traction control system to help provide maximum grip on different unsealed surfaces.
We didn’t really get a chance to trial these modes, as we only drove the manual on gravel, but in its standard guise the Venue can drive competently on an unsealed stretch of road with little fuss, though by no means is this meant to be a budget off-roader.
Hyundai claims the Venue uses 7.0L/100km as a manual and 7.2L/100km as an auto, both on the combined cycle. We achieved mid- to high sixes in the manual during our extended launch drive which was skewed to hilly country back roads and the highway, which isn't bad for a little engine.
The Venue is perfectly happy using 91 RON regular unleaded, and the little 45L fuel tank means you can expect around 600km between fills going by our indicated real-world figure.
From an ownership perspective, the Venue is covered by Hyundai Australia's five year, unlimited kilometre warranty with five years, with roadside assistance and navigation map updates (where applicable) included for the life of the program as long as you service your vehicle at a Hyundai dealer.
Speaking of maintenance, scheduled servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The first five visits are quoted at $259, $259, $339, $459 and $259 respectively – coming to a grand total of $1575 for the first 60 months/75,000km of ownership.
All told, the Hyundai Venue presents as a great car for singles and empty nesters who live an urban lifestyle but want the styling and practicality of an SUV – pretty much nailing its intended purpose.
It's easy to manoeuvre around town while being surprisingly practical inside, can put up with the odd highway stint, and packs in a healthy list of features for the price of most entry-level competitors.
However, if you plan on carting small kids around in the back, it might be worth looking at something a little larger with a current five-star rating, or at least holding off until the Venue gets independently tested to see how it fares in a collision.
Uninspiring powertrain and potential four-star safety rating aside, it'll do most things for most people, at a very sharp price.