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Pocket-sized Venue SUV adds a few tricks

When first introduced to Hyundai’s pint-sized SUV, called the Venue, it wasn’t exactly a case of love at first sight.

The prospect of spending an entire week behind the wheel of this dinky little Korean machine that looks like it should be driven by Mr Bean, didn’t exactly set pulses racing.

But, bit by bit, this unassuming little vehicle – the new entry point for the Hyundai range – began to exert its unexpected charm.

The Venue (yes, it is a funny name) has replaced the long-serving Accent hatchback as the most affordable model in the Hyundai family, giving it the important task of attracting first-time buyers into the Korean marque’s glossy, granite-and-chrome showrooms.

Fittingly, given the exponential growth of SUVs as a proportion of the market, the Venue also arrives as one of the most affordable SUVs available (with an entry-level price just over the $20-grand mark), intended to entice first-time buyers and develop brand loyalty as they progress through the Hyundai SUV family.

But while Hyundai’s sophisticated sedans and hatchbacks seem to be getting steadily larger with every successive model, the Venue looks and feels (at first glance at least) like a shrunken version of something more substantial.

The Venue first broke cover back in 2019 but no doubt the COVID-19 disruption to the motor industry has frustrated sales, somewhat. As a result Hyundai has decided to refresh the Venue range, doing away with the basic ‘Go’ variant and upgrading specifications on all three models.

The addition of Apple CarPlay adds value and appeal to the $20,690 entry-level variant, now just called the Venue, along with alloy wheels and, of all things, heated door mirrors.

The mid-range Active ($22,620 with six-speed manual) gets 17-inch alloys, compared to the scrawny 15-inchers on the base model. Stretching the budget to the $26,490 Elite adds a sunroof and smart key with push-button start.

All three models bring the same 1.6-litre engine and choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions (the self-shifter is a $2000 premium, but the only choice in the Elite).

At this price point, the Venue is more likely to be competing directly with a Chinese option, such as the popular MG-ZS or Haval’s Jolion, although the Korean model undercuts both substantially on price. Toyota’s Yaris Cross is also part of this mix, along with the Venue’s Korean cousin, the Kia Stonic.

Venue buyers will primarily be young, mostly female, price conscious but also tempted by the higher-riding SUV configuration and snappy interiors offered by the Chinese models.

Higher-spec Venue models will also appeal to young urban couples looking for a little city runabout, possibly as a second car. And in that sense it fits the bill effectively.

While first impressions were underwhelming, particularly because the base model looks slightly awkward with its tiny wheels and boxy design, the Venue quickly asserted itself as a surprisingly sturdy, assured little machine.

The interior is presentable and comfortable, with Hyundai emphasising the addition of premium cloth seats to this model. It’s sensibly laid out and, at a push, fits five agile young people into its modest dimensions. Best if they’re already acquainted with each other, though.

The engine is a little revvy and harsh under heavy acceleration, mated to a six-speed automatic that is generally well-suited to the job at hand.

The interior feels pleasingly fresh and modern, although the use of hard plastics tends to make it look a little cheap, as well as contributing to slightly above-average road noise.

But any unfavourable first impressions gradually gave way to the car’s predictable, well-resolved and nimble driving habits.

The Venue also delivers a surprisingly extensive electronic safety suite, generous for a car in this segment, with all three models offering lane-keeping assist, pedestrian detection, high beam assist, and tyre pressure monitoring. The base model still gets a colour touch screen, with less functionality than the more expensive models.

The Active model has parking sensors and cornering lights, while the Elite’s satellite navigation with live traffic updates, blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert could justify the extra spend.

The Venue is a sturdy little machine that feels impressively well balanced and solid at highway speeds, and impressively so for a vehicle not much larger than a bathtub. Those same dimensions make it a breeze to manoeuvre and park in the inner-city context.

The engine’s 90kw and 151Nm has its limitations, particularly with a few passengers on board, but engaging ‘sport’ mode manages to extract some welcome acceleration and responsiveness.

Yes, it’s a bit awkward looking, but that’s a trade-off made more palatable by the Venue’s solid build quality and impressive safety features.

And, of course, there’s the price, which is where the Venue is certain to win its share of admirers.

As they say, don’t judge a book by its cover.

HYUNDAI VENUE

* HOW BIG? It’s a sub-compact SUV which makes it pint-sized, but its square-style design means it is surprisingly roomy inside, despite its small dimensions.

* HOW FAST? Not at all, but it’s still quite fun to drive. Hyundai doesn’t offer a 0-100km/h time, which says a bit.

* HOW THIRSTY? Not particularly impressive for a small machine – 7.2L/100km for the automatic version and slightly less for the manual.

* HOW MUCH? The starting price is just over $20 grand, with decent spec and the appeal of an SUV, makes it worth a look for young buyers.

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