Curbside Tire Kicking: 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL – We Go High, We Go Low, We Go For Your Dough

Fresh off the successful launch of the Hyundai Palisade at the high end of the range (the neighbor of the house I’m working on just traded in a Jaguar XF for one, go figure) and its Kia Telluride stablemate, Hyundai finally introduced its smallest CUV-ette at the low end of the range, the new Venue.  Actually it launched late last year and sold just over 1,000 by the end of the year with almost another 1,000 finding homes in January.  Today as I was on one of my Sunday dealer walks I came across the first one that I’ve seen in the metal.  They had about half a dozen on the lot but this one was unlocked so let’s take a closer look.

First impressions are good, frankly it looks more European, perhaps one of the far-flung VW brands than Korean.  It’s quite square without being completely Kei-car about it and has some decent touches that aren’t overboard, such as the fairly square tail lights that have an interesting pattern within.

Looking at the front makes it obvious it’s not ashamed of showing lots o’ grille, with an interesting basketweave sort of pattern.  The actual headlights are the larger units below the squinty running lights, just like in the larger Kona and the pre-facelift Jeep Cherokee.  The look has grown on me, it’s probably not my favorite thing ever, but if it works then whatever.  I’ve seen worse things.

And the rear shows a large hatch and lower lights in the bumper that are the turn signals.  I’m not sure if I prefer them down there, they seem kind of out of the way, but on the plus side they are distinctive when they flash and don’t get lost within the brake lights as with some/many other vehicles.  A rear wiper is always welcome and the contrasting black trim to my eyes makes it look pricier than it is.

Popping that hatch gives access to a fairly spacious area with a solid cargo cover tray held up with strings just like an older watercooled VW and makes obvious that the rear seats can fold in a split arrangement.

Underneath the floor is a space saver spare tire and the tools to install it if needed.  The paint down here looked good and solid, many pricier cars seem to skimp on this rarely seen area as of late.

Taking a look inside reveals a modern dashboard arrangement with minimal center console to intrude on one’s self, the de rigueur large touchscreen (8″ in this case, one of the larger ones in a non-premium car), and logically arranged controls including steering wheel mounted cruise control and redundant audio controls.  A drive mode selector is below the transmission lever, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and the HVAC is of the automatic variety.  Various plugs/outlets are also on board at the lower edge of the console.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included as well at no extra charge as are LaneKeep Assist and Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection as well as Driver Attention Warning.  Some don’t like these things, I figure anything that helps me avoid some moron that decides to walk off the sidewalk while looking at his phone and ends up in front of me is welcome.

The instrument cluster displays the basics in an easily legible font and arrangement with a subtle pattern on the rings surrounding the dials and a center display that can vary the information shown.

The seats are upholstered in a nappy cloth that doesn’t feel as cheap as I feared, it actually feels quite durable and has an attractive pattern stripe that wouldn’t be out of place in some sort of GT model.  Two basic cupholders, a manually operated parking brake (!) and a glovebox with a little supplemental shelf above it round out this part.

Lots of hard (spelled “d-u-r-a-b-l-e”) plastics as with everything in this class but they don’t look penalty box cheap somehow.  Remote keyless entry is included but you do need the key to start the car, a little throwback to the good old days they threw in for those that are afraid of the new technology (Yes, I’m kidding!)

The back seat was roomy enough for me with my knees just touching the front seatback when adjusted for myself in the driver’s seat (6’1″, 32″ inseam for reference).  Plenty of headroom (no sunroof in this SEL trim level) and big windows make this livable for some distance.

Opening the hood revealed the 1.6liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 121HP and 113lb-ft of torque backed by a continuously variable transmission.  Not huge numbers but then again it isn’t a huge car.  And is rated at 30mpg city/34hwy and 32combined on regular gas. What struck me about this engine is how low it sits in the chassis, the body isn’t particularly tall but the top of the engine seems to be about 8″ or so below the hoodline which may bode well for the handling.

But then again the 185/65-15 tires don’t seem to send a message that handling is a priority.  However little French cars seem to handle exceptionally well and they are never over-tired either so maybe…hope springs eternal.  All four wheels sport disc brakes behind them.

Here’s a comparison shot with a handy Ford Fiesta for a visual size comparison.  Not much bigger outside but I’ve been in a Fiesta and the Hyundai seems leagues bigger inside.  Being square like SpongeBob helps.

So how much is this thing?  Well, this is the SEL trim level so quite well equipped and rings in at $19,150 above the line.  Add a couple of minor options like floormats, mudguards etc in this case and the delivery charge of $1,095 and the grand total for this one is $20,530 before any discounts.  Note that the standard features include plenty of safety items and lots of convenience items but there is a more basic version that starts in the $17k range that doesn’t seem to skimp that much either (Here is the spec comparison chart at the manufacturer’s site) and even includes a manual transmission for those that still want that; it’d probably up the fun factor quite a bit.  Either way, at $20k or so, this one’s about $8,600 in 1986 dollars (Hyundai’s first year in the US market) and this thing absolutely blows away anything Hyundai offered here that year. (and the base one at $17k is equivalent to about $7,200 in 1986 dollars)

More the the point though, the obvious competition includes the Nissan Kicks at very similar price points and also FWD only (that’s right, no AWD for the Venue), the Ford EcoSport starts at $20k so this seems like a better value and (to me at least) doesn’t look nearly as odd, the Chevy Trax starts at around $22k as well as FCA’s Jeep Renegade and Compass, both at around the same $22k as their value leader options in FWD.  I’m sure ALL of these are available with discounts that vary by dealer, location, and a buyer’s qualifications, hence I can only compare the stickers here in which case the Hyundai looks very compelling.

The point of that last paragraph is that the domestics had better get serious about offering even better value entry level CUVs as I fear that Hyundai (and Nissan as well) have a couple of great value plays going on here and if the customers are happy they won’t be leaving to visit a different dealership the next time.  Note of course that Hyundai also has several sedan lines priced even lower with likely the same quality and feature sets and can upsell into a Venue, the domestics pretty much START at that point now and are likely pricing some consumers out completely.   Hyundai includes their 10yr/100k powertrain warranty on this as well and yes it’s available in a range of different actual colors (green, red, blue, etc).  But wait, there’s more!  Hyundai now also includes three years of maintenance as we learned here a couple of weeks ago.  At this end of the market that kind of thing can make a difference.

I like this FAR better than I thought I would.  It’s a contender and will be interesting to watch.  Hyundai now has five different vehicles in the CUV/SUV space, all of which sort of overlap each other.  And sister brand Kia has at least that many as well.  The domestics need to watch out that they don’t get reduced to body on frame shops only.

The only thing left is for me to actually drive it.  Shame on me for visiting on a Sunday when they are closed in order to avoid everyone…