The traditional city car is potentially under threat of extinction from pint-sized SUVs. We pitch Hyundai’s new, Accent-replacing Venue against Kia’s established Rio to see whether the sports utility vehicle or hatchback is best equipped for a life of urban motoring.
SUVs have been responsible for the demise of a few passenger cars. It’s no coincidence the Camry wagon disappeared from Toyota showrooms the same year that the Kluger first arrived, and the popularity of Ford Australia’s Territory contributed to the eventual disappearance of the Falcon wagon.
Now, Hyundai is dropping its Accent light car to install its new Venue compact SUV as its new entry-level model.
It makes Hyundai the third major mainstream brand to effectively replace a city car with an SUV. The Juke became Nissan’s de facto entry point after the dismissal of the Micra, while the EcoSport became the most affordable Ford when the Blue Oval’s Australian arm decided (lamentably) to stop importing the Fiesta in 2018.
But is a compact sports utility vehicle more advantageous at the more affordable end of city transport, or are buyers better sticking with the more traditional urban hatchback?
CarAdvice sets out to answer that very question by pitching the 2020 Hyundai Venue against one of the big names in the city car segment – the Kia Rio.
Pricing and features
Australians have become accustomed to cheap and cheerful Hyundais ever since the Excel was released with a $9990 price tag in the 1980s.
But once the Accent is discontinued at the end of 2019, it means the starting point for a Hyundai will jump from $15,490 to the $19,990 the company is charging for the most affordable Venue, the Go. (The i30 Go also starts at $19,990, though is slightly more expensive with an auto rather than manual gearbox.)
The Kia Rio, as a rival to the Accent, kicks off at $16,990 (though cedes cheapest Kia to the even smaller Picanto). For this comparison test, though, we have opted for trim grades that appeal to buyers who want more than the bare basics as well as an automatic gearbox.
And there’s just $100 separating our $23,490 mid-range Venue Active and the $23,590 range-topping Rio GT-Line.
The GT-Line has actually snuck up in price. When it replaced the SLi in late 2018 it cost $21,990 drive-away, whereas it’s now $23,490 drive-away. That still gives it more than a $1500 advantage here when on-road costs are added to the Venue Active ($25,179).
There’s little to split the duo on equipment.
The Rio GT-Line brings bigger (17-inch) alloy wheels, LED foglights, privacy glass and alloy sports pedals to the table, while the Venue Active is unmatched for high-beam assist, tyre pressure monitoring and drive modes.
Key shared features include autonomous emergency braking, fatigue warning, lane-keep assist, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.
The latter is particularly important, as neither model provides factory navigation. Climate control and blind-zone monitoring are also missing. You can at least get those features on the Venue if you can afford to upgrade to the $25,490 Elite, whereas they’re not available at all on the Rio.
Hyundai is offering two extra years on its warranty for the Venue until the end of 2019, which at least until then allows it to match the standard seven years provided by sister brand Kia.
Maintaining the Venue is a bit cheaper – costing $857 over three years or $1575 over five years. For the same periods, servicing the Rio GT-Line costs $1081 or $2027.
There are no surprises inside the Venue. This budget SUV takes a no-frills approach to materials quality, so it’s hard plastics virtually everywhere. The cabin design is also simple, though the upsides are that everything is tidily arranged and owners will spend little time learning where to find all the controls and information displays.
There’s a smart texture for the upper dash and the slick-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen provides the cabin’s biggest visual boost.
Good-quality graphics complement a user-friendly interface, with CarPlay/Android Auto giving it an extra dimension when you plug your smartphone into the USB port. That port (alongside a 12-volt socket) sits conveniently above a tray that can accommodate larger-sized phones.
Front cabin storage is generally fine if hardly generous. Door pockets are primed mainly for small- to medium-sized drinks bottles, there are two cupholders, a small console bin, and a shelf above the glovebox.
Unusually, the Venue Active doesn’t feature a single auto up/down window switch. Buy the Elite and you get them on all door windows.
It’s almost a given that the tall-bodied Venue serves up plenty of head room. Less expected is that a six-foot passenger can sit behind a front occupant of similar height without pressing their knees into the seatbacks.
Acres of toe space, too, and the bench is comfortable in both its cushioning and under-thigh support.
It’s sparse back seat accommodation otherwise, with no armrest, USB points or vents. Storage is restricted to bottle holders in the doors and a pair of seatback nets.
The GT-Line may be the most expensive Rio by some margin ($5300), but uninspiring plastics still dominate its cabin. Limited soft points are the door armrests and console bin lid.
It’s not without some good details, though, such as the gloss-black vent surrounds, leather GT-Line sports steering wheel, and the section of dash that is fake carbon fibre looks interesting visually.
And the Rio at least provides one-touch operation for the driver’s window.
There are some storage one-ups over the Venue, too. The door pockets take larger bottles, there’s a sunglasses holder overhead, and ahead of the gear lever is a double tray that can take a couple of smartphones.
It features 12V, AUX and USB sockets … and something you don’t see much of these days in new cars: a cigarette lighter. (There’s also a portable ashtray that sits in one of the cupholders.)
Both models include push-button remote entry, but starting the engine is by traditional key-ignition.
The Rio’s wheelbase stretches 6cm further than the Venue’s and it’s even better – if only by a pinch – at seating tall people front and rear. Head room isn’t as airy, of course – the Rio is 14cm lower than the Venue – but it’s far from cramped. With less under-thigh support, the Rio’s bench just doesn’t provide as natural a seating position.
The Rio also lacks vents and an armrest, though it provides a USB port when devices need to be charged on longer journeys. Door pockets also prioritise bottles and there’s a single map pocket.
Kia’s effective packaging also allows for a 325L boot that is well above average size for its class. The Venue, though, takes luggage capacity honours with 355L, and it’s more practical in a couple of other ways.
A double floor gives owners the choice of a deeper boot or a flatter loading level. And with the moveable floor in its highest position, it creates a fully flat cargo area when the 60-40 seatbacks are folded down.
The floor is stepped in the Rio when performing the same 60-40 operation. Both models provide temporary spare wheels.
On the road
Relatively small footprints occupy the road here. The Venue is shortest (4040mm), though the Rio isn’t much longer at 4070mm. Spans are less than 1.8m in both cases, too, with the Venue 45mm wider at 1770mm.
These compact dimensions increase your chances of finding a parking space faster, while city-friendly credentials are further boosted by equally tight turning circles.
Hyundai has also borrowed a helpful feature from Subaru: when stationary in a line of traffic, the Venue will alert you audibly and visually when the vehicle ahead moves off. It could alternatively have been dubbed Anti-Beep mode.
The Kia’s steering is harder work at parking speeds and generally heavier.
While the Venue’s steering is more effortless, though, it has a larger dead-zone around the straight-ahead position that can require greater concentration at higher speeds for keeping the vehicle positioned accurately in its lane. The Rio’s steering could also be more direct for a model badged GT-Line.
Whereas some compact SUVs are realistically crossover-style, higher-riding hatchbacks (think Mazda CX-3 or even Hyundai’s next-SUV-up, the Kona, for example), the Venue’s combination of tall body and (relatively) tall ride height makes it a genuine sports utility vehicle from a design perspective.
And sitting three centimetres higher off the ground than the Rio, the Hyundai provides a more elevated view of the road.
All-round vision is excellent, helped by the tall glass of the front side windows that remind you of a Subaru Forester, and over-the-right-shoulder visibility that almost – almost – makes the lack of blind-spot detection less of a disappointment.
A clearer view over the front corners also makes the Venue slightly easier to navigate through small roundabouts or car parks with tight corners where there might be wheel-kerbing potential.
There’s a likeable suppleness to the Venue’s suspension. It can just be a touch fidgety at times, particularly at higher speeds.
Yet it’s consistently more relaxing than the Rio GT-Line’s ride, which is surprisingly stiff – even accounting for its larger wheels and (noisier) thinner-profile rubber. While there are no rude jolts over bigger bumps or potholes, the Kia feels overly busy underfoot.
It doesn’t come with the upside of inspired handling, either. If you’re looking for a proper fun-to-drive city car, check out the likes of the Mazda 2 GT, Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo or Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo for similar money.
The Rio’s wooden brake feel also makes braking feel harder work than in the Venue, while reducing driving satisfaction.
The two engines in this test are a contrast.
The Venue’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder is its weakest link; the Rio GT-Line’s 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder is arguably its best asset.
With both producing similar power (90kW Venue v 88kW Rio) at the same 6300rpm, the difference comes down to torque. Whereas the Venue develops just 151Nm at an unhelpfully high 4850rpm, the GT-Line produces 172Nm from 1500rpm all the way to 4000rpm.
It gives the Rio some semblance of mid-range punch and flexibility, while the Venue needs to be provoked with a heavy right foot to stir it into action. The Kia three-cylinder’s off-beat thrum also adds a bit of character.
The GT-Line, though, would feel quicker if it wasn’t quite so portly at 1176kg. The equivalent Mazda 2 weighs 1036kg, for example, while the Peugeot 308 from the next segment up isn’t much heavier at 1208kg.
It’s likely it would also be more responsive with a regular auto rather than a (seven-speed) dual-clutch auto.
While the transmission is great rolling through the gears when the Rio is already on the move, it can be hesitant at lower speeds and its tardy kickdown combines with the engine’s slight turbo lag to make the GT-Line little quicker than the Venue at filling those gaps in traffic.
The engine’s on-boost delay can also give you more acceleration than you intended when taking off from junctions. Paddle-shift levers wouldn’t go amiss, either.
Conversely, the Venue’s more basic six-speed auto is generally smoother, while it does an admirable job of picking gears to cope with the engine’s dearth of torque. There’s also a Sport mode that improves throttle response.
The same centre console button-dial also accesses Snow, Mud and Sand modes, which vary engine braking and the stability- and traction-control systems accordingly. Just be mindful the Venue is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, so think twice about getting too adventurous off-road.
Official fuel economy figures say the Kia will save you nearly two litres of petrol every 100km: 5.4L/100km v 7.2L/100km. It is the only model here with stop-start technology.
Trip computers during mainly urban testing suggested a similar gap: 8.2L/100km for the Rio versus 10.0L/100km for the Venue. Both models accept regular unleaded.
If you’re after the most street cred here, the Kia Rio GT-Line scores big on style points with its well-executed bodykit, sporty wheels and our test car’s youthful yellow.
The likeable turbo triple also makes this the pick of the Rio range as lesser models get a fairly hopeless 1.4-litre non-turbo engine.
Considering this latest Rio isn’t that old having debuted in 2017, though, it doesn’t feel like one of Kia’s most resolved models. It’s neither as comfortable nor sporty to drive as it could be, while it’s not as sharply priced as it once was.
Hyundai’s Venue would most certainly benefit from a better engine than the rather gutless 1.6-litre. Yet despite the lack of herbs, the drivetrain overall is in some key ways easier to live with around town thanks to the six-speed auto that is smoother and less erratic than the Kia’s dual-clutch transmission.
Add in the Venue’s more comfortable ride, more practical boot and its edge in all-round vision, and it’s the SUV that stakes its place as the pick of these two urban vehicle options.