Small cars used to have more personality. Remember the 1990s? We had neon paint colors, incredibly bizarre seat fabric patterns, and occasionally, a zestier-than-usual engine dropped in for some added performance. Despite recent trends pushing everything into this weird aspirational quasi-lux space, Hyundai has built a funky little hatchback called the Venue. It gets funkier if you choose the trim level named after your favorite jeans – the 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim.

I drove a 2020 Venue last year, the first model year for the car, and came away fairly impressed. Hyundai is on a roll lately, and even one of their cheapest models still feels substantial, with nicely-weighted buttons and knobs. While 2021 is mostly a carryover year for the Venue, Hyundai sent me this Denim to see how I liked it compared to last year’s Venue SEL.

2021 Hyundai Venue Denim

What Is It?

This is a 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim. It’s the “top tier” of the Venue lineup, though it and the Venue SEL sit more next to each other than anything. Denim is an appearance package only, with front-facing automatic emergency braking as its only mechanical or safety difference.

The “normal” Venue SE and SEL come in a variety of colors, but the Venue Denim is only sold in a fantastic shade of blue-jeans-esque navy. It’s got some purple to it when the sun hits just right, and is paired to a white roof, white mirror caps, and other white accents around the car.

Moving inside, the Venue Denim continues the two-tone theme with a navy blue interior and creamy white accents. Seats are covered in a mix of leather and a kind of wool material, with a neat pattern sewn in to the centers. It’s all a very fun take on a subcompact hatchback, and proof that “fun” doesn’t have to mean “bright, bold colors.”

2021 Hyundai Venue Denim interior

Every 2021 Hyundai Venue is powered by the same 1.6 liter four cylinder. It’s naturally-aspirated and makes 121 horsepower and 116 lb-ft of torque, which is… fine. Hyundai offered a six-speed manual in 2020, but it’s been discontinued this year.

Nobody bought it in a volume worth selling this year, perhaps because it was only offered on the base SE trim and perhaps because the Venue Denim isn’t much of a performance machine. Coming in at 2,738 pounds, each of its 121 horsepower must pull 22.6 pounds of weight before you sit down inside.  

The 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim is the most expensive Venue, edging out the Venue SEL with Premium Package by a hair at $23,390.

2021 Hyundai Venue Denim interior

The Focus is Not on Fun

Hyundai has been making some very good cars lately for those enthusiasts who care about driving, like the Sonata N and Veloster N. This 2021 Venue is not one of them. There’s no getting around the fact that a naturally-aspirated four cylinder with 121 horsepower is going to move at a somewhat glacial pace. It’s not helped by Hyundai’s “IVT,” which is just their marketing term for a continuously-variable transmission.

Throttle response in the Venue’s normal drive mode is a bit laggy, exacerbated at highway speeds. Pulling out to pass or catching back up to speed if you’ve slowed for traffic is a most-of-full-throttle affair. Twisting the drive mode dial to “Sport” boosts throttle response and is helpful for point-and-shoot city driving in particular.

Once at cruising speed, the Venue Denim is pleasant enough for what it is. It’s composed, with good suspension dampening over expansion joints. Hyundai rates the Venue at 33 miles per gallon on the highway, and a 120-mile round trip returned even better economy, around 34 miles per gallon.

Given its small size, the Venue really excels as a city car more than anything. Its short overall length will let you sneak into parallel-parking spots that other vehicles have to cruise right past. The folding back seats and roughly-square shape give you both decent backseat headroom and the ability to transport all sorts of large or awkwardly-shaped items.

2021 Hyundai Venue Denim front seats

Final Thoughts

Hyundai is calling the Venue a “crossover,” which it decidedly is not. It’s a front-wheel drive hatchback with the world’s cutest lift kit installed. But hatchbacks are fantastic, practical cars. And here, the 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim mostly succeeds. It’s got personality, it’s versatile, and it’s practical. The driver assistance technology that Hyundai includes continues to be some of the best on the market, and everything tactile inside makes a great impression. It’s a lot of car for the money.

Other manufacturers are playing in this subcompact don’t-call-it-a-hatchback segment, and they offer turbocharging to help their not-hatchbacks feel a bit more sprightly even if power and weight figures mean they’re not actually much faster.

The 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim is presented as a street-focused vehicle, which I appreciate – who’s really going to take a Chevy Trax off-road? – but I do wish it was just a bit more punchy.

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