Hyundai is ditching its popular Accent small car, replacing it with an SUV, which will be the smallest in its range and, with a starting price of under $20,000, likely to be one of its most popular.
It could be seen as another nail in the coffin of the sedan and hatchback passenger cars reporting falling sales every month while SUVs, generally, are getting all the party invitations.
Get used to it.
The Venue, launched this week in Australia before other major markets including the US, is expected to be the company’s second biggest seller after the Kona SUV but even Hyundai says it won’t meet the giddy sales heights of the Accent’s annual 17,000 sales.
So why replace the Accent at all and why the move to an SUV?
Hyundai says the Accent is eight years old and, by the way, production in Korea has stopped.
So there’s enough stock for Australian buyers this year but that’s it.
Why an SUV? Because it’s the hot-selling genre.
If I was to ask you what your next new-vehicle purchase would be, I’d be pretty much on the money if I guessed an SUV — they make up almost 60 per cent of new cars sold today.
It’s a no-brainer major car makers such as Hyundai want to be on your SUV shopping list and it’s the reason why the Venue has practically been rushed on to the market.
Coincidentally, this smallest SUV from Hyundai will be joined in a little over a year by its biggest, as the eight-seater Palisade was this week confirmed for Australian release.
In the meantime, Hyundai lures the go-anywhere, adventure loving and child-rich with the Venue and follows it up with incrementally bigger SUV wagons, first the Kona, then the Tucson and Santa Fe.
The Venue is 4m long, which is considered compact yet is ideal for urban life. It has a tight turning circle, a big glasshouse for excellent vision, a spacious interior comfortably seating four adults and loads of luggage, plus a high seating position for easy access.
It is, simply, dead easy to drive. It will be promoted with all the colours and vibrancy to attract the youth market, littered with words such as funky and cool.
And yet, Hyundai claims much of the sales will go to the over-50s thanks to the Venue’s size, ease of driving, high hip point and comfort.
There’s no doubt its sensible design, size and price will suit a very broad market.
The features are comprehensive and even the base version, the Go, has a lot of appeal thanks to features such as standard autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist, plus its neat audio with Bluetooth and Android Auto connectivity.
The Go gets steel wheels which are generally a bit naff but bright wheel covers hide their budget look from the neighbours.
I’d be quite happy with the Go as my daily drive, particularly as it gets the same drivetrain as its more expensive siblings, so the performance and fuel economy is identical.
The mid-spec Active adds 15-inch alloy wheels, rear park sensors, folding mirrors and leather steering wheels, while the top-shelf, automatic-only Elite has more fruit including satellite navigation and a two-tone paintwork with some alarming — or funky, depending on your opinion — contrasting colours. One test car had a battleship grey body with a fizzy yellow-green roof that looked like it had been dipped in Mountain Dew.
Each to his or her own.
The great thing about driving cars with wild colours is you can’t see it from the inside; same with the alloy wheels.
On the Venue’s launch, er, the venue, was a road map of some decidedly non-urban roads, running from the coast north of Brisbane into the hinterland and back again.
The roads were mostly dirt, stony and brittle under a dry sky, turning to narrow rutted bitumen and then opening to freeways. It was a good test for a vehicle unlikely to witness such unkempt roads.
Despite the assault, the two Venue variants tested — Go and Elite — barely drew sweat.
The bodywork is as tight as a drum and the cabin comfort right in the big-car class.
There were no rattles or squeaks, no suspension noise, no tyre roar and even stones thrown at the underbody were muted.
The engine is quiet and rarely sounds harsh – it’s a good pick for this vehicle and its intended buyer.
The 1.6-litre is a simple non-turbo engine pumped out of Hyundai’s Korean plant for about a decade which built a reputation for modest performance but reporting very few gremlins. The suspension set-up is a common one for cars — and increasingly so for SUVs — with front struts and a torsion beam at the rear.
Such simplicity not only soaked up the dirt but showed delightful handling through fast bitumen corners.
There are disc brakes all around and though it’s an SUV and it targets those who love the image of getting out into the bush, it is only available as a front-wheel-drive.
Was all-wheel-drive considered? Yes but no. Price was one factor and sheer lack of interest by potential buyers was the other.
A manual transmission is standard on the Go and Active, not available on the auto-only Elite. The six-speed automatic is a $2000 option.
You may feel it is a shame the popular Accent is being replaced with this cute little box; in fact, the Accent has had its eight years in the sun.
The Venue is a better drive, is safer and roomier, more comfortable and handles better than the Accent.
Another win to the SUV.
Variants: Go; Active; Elite
Price: $19,990; $21,490; $25,490
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual or auto, FWD
Thirst: 7.0L/100km (man); 7.2 L/100km (auto)