Our drivers’ notes for the 2020 Hyundai Venue subcompact crossover

The 2020 Venue is Hyundai’s foray into a new type of subcompact: an entry-level crossover. Hyundai launched the new Venue late in 2019, dipping even farther down the size spectrum to deliver something smaller than even the subcompact Kona

The Venue is exclusively front-wheel drive, though you can option the entry-level model with a manual transmission. Power comes from a 1.6L 4-pot putting out 121 ponies and 113 pound-feet of torque. This doesn’t make the Venue especially quick, but it’s enough to get the job done under most circumstances.

Our test model was an SEL with both the Premium and Convenience packages, pushing the total price up to $23,270. That price point opens up several other options, both tiny and not, so we were eager to see how the Venue performed in the real world. 

Road Test Editor Zac Palmer: This car is small. Remarkably small. The Hyundai Kona is a tiny car, but this Venue is five inches shorter, and it shows right away. I parked it next to a new Honda Civic, and the Civic dwarfed this crossover. That may say more about how large the Civic has gotten these days, but the point remains. The Venue is economical personal transportation with a personality, emphasis on personal. I tried sitting in the backseat with the driver seat set where I was comfortable, and it wasn’t pleasant — I’m 5’10”. Uber and Lyft are going to have to start barring cars from use based on rear seat room. The Prius Cs are bad enough to ride around in these days.

I was plenty pleased to walk up to the cute crossover and hop in the driver’s seat, though. Many subcompact crossovers aim to be spunky, but none of them are as easy on the eyes as the Venue is. I adore the intricate and intriguing taillights. Even in white paint and SEL trimmings, the Venue is bursting with the kind of youthful presence that so many other car companies try to capture. Subcompact crossovers are rarely appealing to my eye, with overwrought plastic molding and dysfunctional shapes, but the Venue does it right. Some of the Venue’s design is spectacularly functional, too. Its upright and squarish shape allows for a large greenhouse and great visibility through the front windshield. Even the A-pillars are thin. I have some grumblings about the way it drives, but at its low price point, there isn’t a deal breaker in sight.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I really wanted to love the Venue. I was taken by its exterior when I saw it in the flesh on the floor of the New York Auto Show. I must not have looked inside that one. When I got into the one we had in our office, I was underwhelmed. Lots of cheap-looking plastic in great, unbroken swaths with a touchscreen unartfully tacked onto the center of it all. The most interesting visual feature was the cargo tray in front of the passenger seat.

Actually driving it was a mix of good and underwhelming. Visibility was good, and it was easy to dice through Woodward Avenue traffic. It feels pointy bending around corners. It’s slow, though, and sounds rough under acceleration without the satisfying tug to accompany it. You have to plan your moves pretty far ahead when trying to get around traffic on the highway. If I were mostly going to live with the Venue in the city, it could make for a decent value proposition, but a regular highway commute would make this less appealing.

The Venue made me appreciate the Kona more, with its extra power and traditional automatic. I like the Venue’s price and exterior styling, but the Kona’s price premium buys a lot more livability.

Associate Editor Byron Hurd: My thoughts echo those of Zac and John. This is a tiny car. It’s not quite Fiat 500 tiny, but considering the latter is more of a rolling fashion accessory than an actual car, that’s not saying a whole lot. 

Frankly, this is the future of small-car packaging. There’s really no reason not to approach subcompacts the way Hyundai did with the Venue. If anything, the Venue and other small crossover/hatchback designs validate something many car enthusiasts have known for decades: This is the most efficient way to build a car for a given footprint. It fits anywhere, the upright seating position gives you more legroom, and the cargo area is surprisingly vast. 

But efficiency isn’t exciting, and Hyundai knows that. That’s why the Venue gets funky looks and a cutesy interior. The only problem is that it seems a bit underbaked. The interior is trying to be something in between a Mini Cooper and a Kia Soul and it doesn’t really succeed. It’s kind-of interesting, but not quite there. 

At approximately $23,000 after destination, this SEL packs a lot of features into a relatively inexpensive package, but it doesn’t get the high-end Denim model’s better-developed aesthetics. The Denim proves the Venue can be cool if you’re willing to pay for it, but the low-mid $20,000 price range is full of compelling (and larger) options, and I’m not convinced that blue jean upholstery is going to entice buyers to shell out extra for an economy car. I hope I’m wrong.

News Editor, Joel Stocksdale: I like small cars in general, and there’s a lot I like about the Venue. I love the styling, it looks solid and chunky, but with lots of great details such as in the taillights and the grille. It looks even better with two-tone paint like the Denim, but sadly that top-level trim is the only one with a contrasting roof.

I actually like the inside, too. Yes, the plastics are hard and on the cheap side, but this is a car that starts at under $18,000. And the plastics do have a nice variety of colors and textures that look nice together. There are some nice details such as the wavy ribbing on the climate controls and the detailed gauge rings. The upholstery in our SEL trim had cool racing stripes down the backs and bases. There’s oodles of headroom from the high roof, and thankfully you can keep your seat down at a reasonable height. That being said, the rear seat accommodations are tight.

I think this is a great option for someone looking for a crossover on a budget, since it’s attractive, ultra easy to maneuver thanks to its size, and drives nicely enough. But when considering the Venue, it might be worth looking at the Nissan Kicks and Kia Soul, too. Both are available for similar money. The Kicks isn’t as enjoyable to drive, but it is more spacious. The Soul is much larger than either, and it offers more power, but its less fuel efficient than either.