In the age of iPhones, Tik Tok and artificial intelligence, it feels as though all things analogue now possess a certain nostalgic charm. Take the 2020 Hyundai Venue Elite.
In some ways, the Venue is a thoroughly modern car, with its designation as a 'subcompact crossover' a reflection of the peak-SUV era we’re living in. And yet some of its design details possess as much early 2000s appeal as Paris Hilton, MySpace or Motorola Razr phones.
But with an entry-level pricepoint of $21,990 (plus on-road costs) for the automatic version of the Venue Go – roughly four-grand less than the bottom-tier automatic Kona – the Venue exists to appease buyers who want that high-riding lifestyle on a lower budget.
The Venue’s noughties feel begins with its bubbly, boxy exterior design. I’m talking fluoro-bright colours, a two-tone roof (standard on the top-spec Venue) with contrasting mirrors, so-called 'cube' headlights, a statement 'waterfall' grille, and colourful stitching and accents throughout the cabin.
It’s like a Tamagotchi on wheels, particularly in the ‘acid yellow’ paint hue of the model I tested, which only served to amplify its look-at-me appearance.
All of a sudden, drivers everywhere were letting me in because, let’s be honest, they couldn’t miss me. That, or the fear of potential paint transfer in a collision was enough to demure them.
The interior of the car is not exactly glamorous, with its 'leather-look' seats with fabric inserts, but it’s perky and a little bit kitsch. Enough to elicit a smile which, god knows, we could all use these days.
Price and competitors
The Elite, which is the top-spec Venue variant, is priced from $25,490 plus on-road costs, but Hyundai currently has an ongoing offer of $28,990 drive-away.
That compares with the $39,500 (plus ORCs) price tag on the top-spec Kona Highlander auto, the $34,990 (plus ORCs) price tag of the top-spec i30 N Line Premium auto, or the $41,990 (plus ORCs) price tag of the range-topping Veloster Turbo Premium auto.
They’re all good value for various reasons, but the Venue’s pricing is to its siblings what Aldi is to Coles. Good different.
Looking beyond the Hyundai range, the Venue’s main competitors are other subcompact crossover disruptors in the light-SUV class like the Mazda CX-3, Citroen C3 Aircross, or Nissan Juke, all of which offer entry-level auto versions around the $30,000 mark, Mazda just under, with the other two tipping past the $30K mark.
Like the Venue, all of these are versions of existing hatch-y models from their respective manufacturers that have essentially been given a height boost to see over the crowd. In fact, they almost warrant their own sub-sub-category – 'vertically gifted hatches', if you like.
Importantly, the Venue is a fair bit cheaper than its competitors. But does it feel like it?
Under the bonnet
For starters, one of the main places you’ll notice the price discrepancy is in the amount of punch the Venue has – or lack thereof.
The front-wheel-drive Venue Elite scores a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with only a six-speed automatic transmission available – if you want manual, you’ll have to opt for an Active or a Go.
It’s capable of producing a subdued output of 90kW of power (at 6300rpm) and 151Nm of torque (at 4850rpm) that can feel underwhelming when you’re behind the wheel.
Still, if all you’re really doing is heading to the shops, you won’t mind this lack of power because – let’s be honest – this is not the car for people who enjoy routinely drag-racing, getting up over 100km/h or even just aggressively overtaking sports cars.
One complaint – the transmission felt like it could lag a little, with the car feeling slow to accelerate, then bucking ever so slightly as it caught up. In stop-start traffic this can feel jarring, but otherwise it’s just something that might take some getting used to.
If you do need to tackle rougher roads, the Venue has an optional two-wheel-drive 'traction mode' that can be customised for mud, snow or sand. These settings are all able to detect the specific surface and wheel-spin speed, adjusting power and braking accordingly to regain or maintain control, but only at speeds of 80km/h or less.
I’d call this more of a peace-of-mind function than a necessity on a car of this size and demographic, but it's good to know that if you need to do a bit of soft-roading you’re covered. Best to leave the real rough-n-tumble for something more purpose-built, though.
As for the suspension on the Venue – the best way I can describe it is 'bouncy'. It doesn’t completely absorb lumps and bumps, but rather springs over them in a manner that’s not exactly smooth and gentle, but kind of fun nonetheless.
Behind the wheel
Behind the wheel of the Venue, you can't help but develop a sense of body dysmorphia. The driving position is much higher than a hatch, so you automatically feel as though you should be wider and longer than other vehicles on the road. You’re not.
Aside from having to grow accustomed to that unusual First World problem (it only takes a few days), the Venue is really intuitive to drive thanks to what Hyundai terms its “uncluttered analogue style”.
This is where that early 2000s feel kicks in again – there’s a traditional ignition, gearstick and parking brake, and personally I did not miss all the new-fangled ways manufacturers have reinvented cabin staples. It substantially cut down on the amount of faffing time required to drive away from the kerb.
In advertising the car, Hyundai makes the claim that it “fits in anywhere, stands out everywhere”. I can attest to both of these things.
Parking, reversing, taking corners – doing anything, really, is so easy I looked forward to tackling feats I usually find super stressful (parallel parking on a crowded main road, reversing out of my parents’ labyrinthine driveway and so on).
The combination of excellent visibility, responsive steering, ride height and shorter, lighter body (the Venue has a 1225kg kerb weight) came together to make magic on some more nightmarish sections of Melbourne’s inner-city. The 10.2m turning circle helps, too.
There’s no head-up display, but I didn’t especially miss it because the speed figure in the centre of the instrument display is clear and high enough to remain in your eyeline.
Going up steep hills can occasionally sound like a bit of a struggle power-wise, and the Venue has a bit more backwards roll than other cars I’ve driven, even with an included hill-start assist system – something I always find disconcerting, like you’re in a manual trying to do a hill-start. The stuff of my nightmares.
It also doesn’t coast for as long as some other vehicles, and I occasionally felt a little backwards tug when I decelerated.
Comfort and practicality
For the driver, the Venue is charmingly simplistic, even in top-spec Elite mode.
The faux-leather-and-fabric seats are adjusted manually and there are no seat heaters, but there are a bunch of sensible storage options in the front and rear – two cupholders in the centre console, one small centre glovebox, a phone tray next to the gearstick, and two door bins. Personally, I am a neat freak who doesn’t like storing things in the car, but knick-knack hoarders will be satisfied.
Rear passengers will find satisfactory leg room and head room for a car of this size and rear privacy glass, but no rear air vents.
The 355L boot is generous, but probably more in line with a roomy hatch than an SUV, although the 60:40-split rear folding seats should help you out in the event of any impromptu furniture-ferrying.
One of my favourite touches on the Venue was the slide-away cargo cover, which stows neatly in behind the back seats so you don’t have to deal with it flapping about when unattached.
Tech is one area where the Venue isn’t stuck in the 2000s. The suite of tech does the job, but doesn’t go above and beyond – like the car equivalent of that relative who doesn’t contact you all year, but chucks fifty bucks your way every birthday.
It scores all the essentials: satellite navigation with live traffic updates, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ digital radio, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and two USB ports.
Climate control is single-zone, so your passenger will have to get used to your body temperature quirks.
One unique but helpful function was the inclusion of voice notes, allowing you to note down your thoughts while driving. It felt particularly pertinent to this car reviewer.
As of 2019, the Venue Elite scores a four-star ANCAP rating. It mainly lost points when it came to the vulnerable road user protection and safety assist categories (specifically the speed-assistance system score).
Specifically, ANCAP said it was held back by "its ability to avoid a rear-end impact with vehicles in front".
However, the car scores Hyundai’s SmartSense safety system as standard, so you’ll receive basics like a blind-spot monitor, camera-based autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warnings, reverse sensors and a reverse camera.
Handy extras like a rear cross-traffic alert, driver fatigue 'sway' warning, leading vehicle departure alert, high-beam assist and a speed limiter are also standard. As for how they all work – lane-keeping assist is pushy, but in a good way. Unlike in some other cars, you can really feel the car pulling you back into the lane.
My favourite feature in any car, when present, is a speed limiter, but I found the Venue’s version a little tricky to bump up in the event of surprise speed limit increases. For example, going from 80km/h to 100km/h takes some persistent toggling work with your thumb. A minor peeve, but a peeve nonetheless.
The rear-view camera is a little grainy and basic, and the reverse sensors are on the relaxed side and not as aggressively loud as in other cars – a good or bad thing depending on how much you rely on them.
Fuel consumption is where the Venue loses points. Although Hyundai claims 7.2L/100km, my week of very regular city and freeway driving clocked in at 11.1L/100km.
My colleagues have accused me of being a leadfoot, but another recent CA test recorded a figure of 9.6L/100km, so I’m thinking it’s not just me.
The Venue has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, while five years of Hyundai capped-price servicing will set you back $1575 with 12-month or 15,000km visits required.
The Venue Elite feels like an easy, approachable car that doesn’t ask too much of its driver.
I found the unique body size, height and shape allowed me to park better than I normally do (which is not saying much), see all potential hazards on the road, and still squeeze down narrow streets.
This is very much a car for hatchback drivers who just want more height and, to that end, it’s nailed the brief.
The design is distinctive but completely charming, especially when dressed in the ‘denim blue’ shade with contrasting white roof, and the standard safety and technology options available are sufficient, if not over-achieving.
The simplistic interior and interface, plus the easy-to-manoeuvre body, could position it as an excellent car for first-time drivers, but at close to $30,000 drive-away, the Elite isn’t the spec to go for if you’re on a tight budget.
Still, it’s cheaper than similar cars that may spring to mind from competitors, and it certainly has a lot more aesthetic X-factor.
As a result, the Venue seems perfectly suited to budget-conscious younger drivers who don’t need too much space or power, but are envious of all the people driving around town in SUVs.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time-travel trips back to the fluoro-hued noughties every time I stepped into my acid yellow Venue. Who knows, I might even buy some low-rise jeans and start listening to Avril Lavigne again.