Hyundai’s brand-new sub-compact SUV is a funky little urban vehicle, built to be inexpensive and to introduce millennials to the brand. Hyundai expects most of its buyers to be women, but don’t call it a woman’s car.
“We don’t make anything excessively feminine in a clichéd way,” says Lawrence Hamilton, Hyundai Canada’s head of marketing. “However, all our cars are designed to cater to women, in terms of their features and usability. It’s the practicality of things like load heights and seat-adjustment lengths – things that make these cars very feasible for different statures to drive.”
The Venue is the smallest SUV that Hyundai now sells, though it’s hardly really an SUV. It’s built on a modified platform from the Accent and shares the Accent’s 1.6-litre engine, but it’s a little taller and more practical for carrying cargo. There’s only a front-wheel-drive version available among its four trim levels. If you want all-wheel drive in a small Hyundai, you need to look at the slightly larger Kona.
This is partly because the Venue is intended as a city runabout, but mostly to help keep the price and weight down. The least expensive trim level, called Essential, starts at $17,099 (plus taxes and $1,810 Freight and PDI), which is about $4,000 less than the Kona and about the same as the most popular trim of the Accent. That’s with a six-speed manual transmission. Add a CVT transmission and cruise control, and the price climbs to $18,399.
The most popular version is expected to be the next trim up, the Preferred, which has an MSRP of $21,499. Start adding more bells and whistles, and it rises through the Trend trim to the Ultimate, at $24,899.
At this size and cost, price is everything, and the Venue is significantly less expensive than competition such as the Mazda CX-3 and the Chevy Trax. It still needs something special, however, to make it stand out from the others.
I drove the new Venue for a day around New Orleans to try to find that special quality. I began in the all-singing, all-dancing Ultimate edition and ended in the one-down Trend Urban. I swung U-turns in tourist traffic as I tried to navigate a city that seemed filled with lurching drunkards and homicidal taxis, and I pressed forward on roads still ravaged with potholes and subsidence from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I drove through the quiet stillness of an 1812 battlefield and into the chaos of Bourbon Street. Never once in this challenging city did I want to be in a different car.
For one thing, the Venue is easy-peasy to drive. The bottom-end Essential trim still needs a key in the ignition (though not to open the doors), but even it comes with an 8-inch central touch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and heated front seats. Pay the extra money for the Preferred trim and you get forward-collision assist (handy among those lurching drunks) and blind-spot collision warning with rear cross-traffic alert (which paid for itself against those taxi drivers). You also get push-button start and a heated steering wheel that’s not really needed down here.
All CVT Venues get a Snow mode in their drive settings, along with Sport and Regular, and Hyundai says it uses torque-vectoring to add extra traction on slippery roads. I couldn’t say. It doesn’t snow down here.
The Trend trim has a powered sunroof and two USB ports (one more than the lesser trims), as well as larger 17-inch wheels and two more speakers for the sound system. You can add LED lighting and a nicer cloth interior with the Urban option, while the Ultimate trim has Navigation and Bluelink connectivity.
That top-end model includes a cute little feature unique (so far) to Hyundai, which warns drivers – when the vehicle isn’t moving – that the car ahead is pulling away with a chime and a message on the instrument cluster. “For those of our customers who are maybe a little bit too focused on their phones,” says Hamilton, “if you’re not paying attention, the Venue will remind you to keep your eyes on the road, which is unfortunately a useful feature in this day and age.” Hmm. Cute.
Where the Venue really held its own was on the nasty, nasty roads savaged by Katrina. Many of the floo-damaged houses here have been fixed, but the roads are something else. The ride was not cushy-limo smooth, but the suspension kept everything comfortable over the bumps and holes, and the steering – which changes the effort needed from the driver as the speed varies – was quick and compliant. I watched a BMW 4-Series try to navigate the choppy roads near the mansion of author Anne Rice and was content to be in the taller, more practical Venue.
In the city, the 121-horsepower engine provided peppy power, especially when set to Sport (which just affects the throttle sensitivity and shift points on the CVT). It wouldn’t be a first choice on the highway, however, where it’ll be revving its little heart out among the bigger traffic, which is most everything else out there. Hyundai’s proud of all the noise-reduction, achieved with clever design and sound-deadening materials; some wind whistled in past the driver’s window, but only when the direction of travel conspired with the direction of the wind to make it so.
The Venue is not just a smaller Kona or Tucson – it’s purpose-built to appeal to millennials and then keep them in the Hyundai family. The Korean maker’s never had a vehicle in this super-sub-compact segment before, but if millennials really do want to buy a car that’s not like their parents’, it may well succeed.
- Base price/as tested: $17,099 / $24,899 (plus taxes and $1,810 Freight and PDI)
- Engine: 1.6-litre inline four; 121 hp, 113 ft.lbs.
- Transmission/Drive: 6-speed manual or CVT / FWD
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): CVT: 8.6 City, 6.8 Hwy., 7.8 Combined; Manual: 8.0 City, 7.0 Hwy., 7.5 Combined
- Alternatives: Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Ford Ecosport, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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