2020 Hyundai Venue SEL Review: The Accent Hatchback is All Grown Up

Enthusiasts have an odd affinity toward hatchbacks and wagons, in a world where the “average” buyer is more interested in an all-wheel-drive crossover. Until recently, Hyundai has always offered a hatchback version of their Accent subcompact sedan. For 2020, the Accent hatchback was dropped in favor of what Hyundai calls an “urban compact SUV,” the 2020 Hyundai Venue. I got to spend a week with a Venue SEL to see what’s what.

What Is It?

Hyundai claims the Venue is an “urban compact SUV,” which means approximately nothing until you scroll down to see the next-smallest offering, the Hyundai Kona, labeled “compact SUV.” The 2020 Hyundai Venue is the indeed smallest vehicle the company sells and thus ideal for urban and city environments. With just a 99″ wheelbase and 159″ overall length, it’s shorter than Hyundai’s smallest sedan, the Accent, by nearly fourteen inches.

Though it’s easy to consider the Venue “just an Accent hatchback,” it’s on a modified version of the platform and uses a slightly different drivetrain that is only starting to make its way to other Hyundai models. Every 2020 Hyundai Venue is powered by the company’s “Smartstream” 1.6 liter four-cylinder, 121 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 113 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm.. All SEL and Denim trim levels are mated to what Hyundai calls an “IVT” (their take on a CVT), while the base SE can be had with a three-pedal, six-speed manual transmission. Regardless of pedal count, every Venue is front-wheel drive.

My test Venue was a high-spec SEL trim, with both Convenience and Premium packages added. This is, more or less, the nicest way to equip a Venue and MSRP comes in at just $23,405. The most basic Venue SE starts at $17,350.

For city-dwellers looking to move people and things with ease, while occupying the shortest street parking space available, the Venue makes a case for itself. It mixes crisp lines with just the right amount of funky styling to stand out in a sea of gray. Speaking of gray, my test Venue SEL was painted a love-it-or-hate-it shade called Green Apple. Hyundai offers a red and two blues, though I wish they’d offer more wild colors. They work on small cars and amp up the personality even more.

Driving the 2020 Hyundai Venue

For such a basic vehicle, the Venue’s Smartstream four-cylinder is very technically interesting. “Smartstream” refers to Hyundai’s new four-cylinder engines that feature Continuously Variable Valve Duration, a technology different from variable valve timing or variable valve lift. Hyundai claims this CVVD technology allows both performance and efficiency gains. I came away impressed with the efficiency bit, but found power and torque lacking.

The Venue SEL pairs the technically-interesting-but-slow Smartstream 1.6L with an Intelligent Variable Transmission, or “IVT” for short. It’s basically a chain-driven version of a continuously-variable transmission. The IVT feels just like other CVTs but is, theoretically, more efficient and lower-maintenance. Hyundai offers a manual shift gate, but nobody will ever use it.

Hyundai Smartstream engine Venue

This drivetrain combination, on paper, doesn’t sound so bad. Theoretically, it’s all elegantly-designed, durable, and efficient. Speed is clearly not the goal of the Venue and it wasn’t my expectation. But behind the wheel, the Venue feels lethargic. There’s too much “dead zone” programmed in to the throttle before acceleration happens, which leads to that slow feeling away from a light. Once up to speed, you can tell you’re not working with much power, but it’s managed better. In sharp contrast to the slouch of a throttle, the brakes offer too much initial bite, especially at city speeds. It’s a good enough combination, but feels unbalanced.

Once up to highway speeds – sixty takes 8.8 seconds but feels longer – the Venue feels better, but only just. Fuel economy was excellent, averaging nearly 40 miles per gallon on a 200-mile highway run. Passing maneuvers require some strategy, but the little 1.6 will give what you ask of it, eventually.

This is one car where I feel the manual transmission would absolutely wake it up, both in the city and on the highway. The throttle programming and IVT manners work to make the two-pedal Venue feel slower than it actually is.

2020 Hyundai Venue Green Apple rear

Everything Else in the 2020 Hyundai Venue SEL

Drivetrain aside, there is a lot to legitimately like about the Venue. Hyundai has put forth a great effort to make everything in their vehicles feel very thoughtful, and that shows, even in this “cheap and cheerful” end of their lineup. The key, shared with other models, has an appropriate amount of heft. The buttons and knobs inside are nicely textured and feel good to use. Everything moves with a sense of purpose and imparts a sense of quality on the driver.

Hyundai continues to offer one of the best infotainment systems in the industry, and my thoughts from the recent Palisade review are shared with the Venue. It’s snappy, intuitive, and offers an appropriate amount of customization without being overwhelming.

Front seats were comfortable, though I found the cushions to be short for those of us with longer legs. Rear seat room is cramped for tall people, but good enough for an hour or so of driving. The rear seats fold flat and allow a bicycle to fit – just. Hyundai has a neat two-level cargo floor behind the rear seats, allowing more vertical space unless a perfectly flat floor is needed. The rear cargo cover can be secured in a track between the seats and cargo area, should you need to transport something tall without advance notice.

Popping the (heavy) hood reveals a very clean engine bay, with maintenance items easy to find. Could a turbo fit in here, in some strange “Hyundai Venue N” fantasy world? Maybe. Access is plentiful, a welcome sight for those of us who like to turn wrenches ourselves. Hopefully wrenches won’t be needed for quite some time, though, as Hyundai’s typical 5-year, 60k mile bumper-to-bumper warranty is standard on all Venue trims. Roadside assistance is provided throughout that warranty period, and the drivetrain is warrantied for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Cheap and Cheerful?

The phrase “cheap and cheerful” is often used to describe low-power, economy-minded cars that have a bit of personality. I really hoped Hyundai would drop the Venue off, and I’d find it to be an oddly-fun entry-level poster child for our readers, almost if the Veloster N had to grow up a bit. The Venue is not that. It’s not engaging for those who care about the drive.

I do think the 2020 Hyundai Venue falls under this cheap, cheerful umbrella, but only just. It’s value-packed, feels solid enough, is easy to park in the city and does very well on gas. The styling is a good kind of funky that’s not overdone, and you can have yours painted an actual color, which is excellent.

The 2020 Hyundai Venue is a compelling option for folks who’d typically look at pre-owned vehicles given the price point, but desire modern safety and technology over all else. Hyundai’s warranties ensure most owners won’t have to do much on their own to keep a Venue going, and those who wish to keep theirs going without the help of a mechanic should find most work simple. It’s a solid offering for many, and may leave you wondering why you’d look at a used car at all.

Hyundai Venue Howard Theatre

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