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Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL Review

Mark Savage
The 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL is a low priced, entry level crossover for those looking for a vehicle that looks good and has a comfortable ride.

If you’re belly-aching about the costs of new cars you obviously haven’t driven a Hyundai Venue.

This all new crossover from Hyundai is as good as it gets for entry-level vehicles, the kind recent college grads and others just working their way into our economy can afford. But this is not a cheap econobox, a base car that you’d feel embarrassed to drive. No way!

READ: 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro Review

Venue is small to be sure, but it doesn’t feel small. It’s inexpensive, but feels and looks mid-level. It’s economical, but it’s not bargain basement.

No, Venue is a stroke of entry-level genius from Hyundai, which continues to impress with its designs and build quality. First, Venue looks like a blend of early Subaru Forester and Jeep with its squared body and prominent wheel flares clad in black plastic. Yet it oozes modern design with thin LED headlights and taillights, plus interior amenities such as heated seats.

My test vehicle was a handsome black SEL, a mid-level Venue with silver roof rails, gray lower-body cladding and fancy 17-inch alloy wheels that are part of a $1,750 Premium Package. More on that in a bit and don’t let that cost put you off.

That’s because a base SE model starts at $18,470 with manual transmission and $19,670 with an automatic CVT. The tested SEL lists at $20,370 with delivery and the “fancy” Denim model hits $23,200. Both come with the CVT. Really, in a market where $35 grand or so is the average, these are amazing values.

Here’s why. It’s not just the price it’s the Venue’s solid build and performance coupled with its cute, stylish looks.

Credit Mark Savage
The Venue is not the most powerful vehicle but Sport mode can provide some extra oomph on the freeway.

Handling is precise with a moderately heavy steering feel that provides good turn-in for corners, almost a sporty feel. And the Venue has a low center of gravity, so it powers nicely through turns, feeling well planted.

I shot up and down the freeway and did not feel any excessive side to side motion, although I’ve heard other reviewers claim side winds affect Venue’s stability some. I didn’t find that.

Power? Oh, that’s where you’d expect sad news here as its 1.6-liter I4 is rated at a paltry 121 horsepower. But with a car weighing just a touch over 2,600 lbs., that’s plenty of pony power when linked up with a smooth CVT automatic transmission. Venue feels peppy from 0 to 30 mph, where you need it most in city driving. Power seems more relaxed from 30 to 50 mph.

But there’s a solution for that too, a Drive Mode knob on the console. Choose the Sport option and it accentuates the low-end power. Choose it anytime you need some extra oomph. (There’s a Snow option too.) I found Sport particularly helpful entering the highway as it held the engine revs a bit higher until you reach 50-60 mph. Then it eases off and the engine calms to a quiet highway cruise level. Even when maximizing the power the engine isn’t overly noisy and the cockpit here is generally quiet, not much road noise.

Credit Mark Savage
The interior of the Venue features black cloth seats, comfortably firm seats, and an easy to use touchscreen console.

Ride, well you’d expect a crossover with a petite 99.2-inch wheelbase to deliver a severely bumpy ride. Sports cars and other economy models with such a tiny wheelbase tend toward jittery, if not abrupt ride. Not the Venue. There’s a little bump and jiggle, but mostly ride is well-controlled and well dampened.

While the base model comes with drum rear brakes, moving up to this SEL and beyond gives the Venue disc brakes like most vehicles have, ensuring shorter and truer stops. It also bumps tire size up from 15-inchers to 17-inchers.

Inside, the black test vehicle featured black cloth seats with white stitching and black textured dash and doors with matte silver door releases, vents and console trim.

Seats are comfortably firm, although the bottom cushion is fairly flat. I’d prefer a little more hip support. But the seat back is fine and although the seats are manually adjusted there is a pump handle for the driver to boost seat height. There’s reasonable legroom inside too for four adults if no one is a giant.

Venue’s rear seat folds down to increase cargo space, plus there’s a hatch for easy cargo loading, and a wiper in back too.

Like all of Hyundai’s dashes, this one is well laid out with large buttons below the touchscreen located between two air vents and large knobs for adjusting the climate system below that. There’s a shifter on the console instead of buttons and a push-button start, something missing still from some value-oriented cars.

The touchscreen is easy to use, the radio volume knob is large, there’s a navigation system here and even three-level seat heat up front. Granted the heated seats and nav are part of the two option packages, Convenience and Premium.

Credit Mark Savage
The Venue starts at $19,822 and with suggested options comes out to $23,405.

Convenience adds a power sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, sliding armrest/storage bin, blind-spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert warning for $1,150.

The $1,750 Premium package adds the heated seats, LED head and taillights, R17-inch alloy wheels and tire upgrade, push-button start and fob, along with the nav, Blue Link services, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and satellite radio.

Standard is lane departure assist, forward collision assist with pedestrian recognition, and a driver attention warning system. Told me I needed coffee after 20 or so minutes once, really?

But the point is this is a well-equipped small crossover even before adding the option packages. And even with that this Venue was just $23,405, an absolute steal in today’s automotive marketplace.

Remember too, that Denim edition with a white roof and all the goodies of the SEL, plus cloth and leatherette seats.

Add a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and 36 months or 36,000 miles of free maintenance (think oil changes) and you will be seeing low maintenance costs for at least that first 3-year period. And get this, right now Hyundai is offering to cover 6 months of payments for your Venue, if you lose your job due to Covid-19. Wow!

Then there’s gas mileage. Venue is rated 30 mpg city and 34 highway. I got 29.0 mpg in about 80% city and suburban driving. With gas prices low now that may not seem to matter so much, but in the long run the good mpg makes Venue a low-cost weekly driver.

If you had been considering a Hyundai Kona or Kia Seltos the new Venue is another good low-cost option. Kona’s advantage is a longer wheelbase, more cargo room and a sleeker profile. But while Venue is 5 inches shorter in length, its interior passenger space is nearly identical.

Kona also is available with all-wheel drive, something Venue doesn’t offer yet, maybe ever. Venue is front-drive only.

But Venue is well built, drives well and is cute in its own way. It’s one of the elite high-value vehicles in the entry level vehicle market. A test drive may surprise you!

Overview: 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL

Hits: Cute, precise handling, peppy low-end acceleration, inexpensive, well equipped, great warranty and 36 months/36,000 miles of free maintenance. Sunroof, heated front seats, excellent dash layout and touchscreen, big radio volume knob, navigation system, blind-spot warning, lane departure, hatch with wiper. Smooth CVT and good MPG.

Misses: A little more power would be nice and seat bottom cushions fairly flat.

Made In: Ulsan, South Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter I4, 121 horsepower

Transmission: CVT automatic

Weight: 2,612-2738 lbs.

Length: 159.1 in.

Wheelbase: 99.2 in.

Cargo: 18.7-31.9 cu.ft.

MPG: 30/34, 29.0 (tested)

Base Price: $20,370 (includes delivery)

Invoice: $19,822

Major Options: Convenience package (power sunroof, sliding armrest/storage box, leather-wrapped wheel/shift knob, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning), $1,150

Premium package (heated front seat/side mirrors, LED headlights/running lights/ taillights, 17-inch alloy wheels/tires, proximity key, push button start, 8-inch touchscreen w/nav/Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, satellite radio, Blue Link), $1,750

Carpeted floor mats, $135

Test Vehicle: $23,405

Sources: Hyundai, Kelley Blue Book

Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.
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