Review: 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim edition

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Cameron Neveu

From the day I started carrying a wallet, my father has harped on me to carry cash. Rightfully so, as the man has picked up many roadside deals, from tools to whole cars, for below listed price by simply unfurling a wad of crisp greenbacks under the seller’s nose. Since I am young and foolish, I often find myself without this ultimate bargaining tool in the back pocket of my Wranglers. Such was the case when I spotted a minibike at a rummage sale, a few weeks ago. Not only did I pay full price for the scooter, but I also paid a three-dollar ATM fee at a nearby gas station to withdraw cash for the purchase. Insult, meet injury.

An unlikely hero in the form of a Hyundai Venue helped soften the sting of a more-than-full-price purchase. See, despite my reputation as a dirt-track-lovin’ country mouse, I do not own a truck so most of my big hauls require favors from friends or Mr. U-Haul. Not this time, as I was mid-road-test with a 2021 Venue provided by Hyundai. Rather than call a buddy, I folded the Venue’s seats down and wiggled the bike in. The South Korean subcompact proved itself a legitimate hauler, taking on far more than my daily-driven Impala could handle and just as much as my girlfriend’s CR-V (which measures about a half-foot longer). Suddenly, this pint-sized appliance of a car was punching above its $23K price tag.

Hyundai Venue denim
Cameron Neveu

In 2020, Hyundai brought the Venue to the US market, directly competing with the Kia Soul, Nissan Kicks, and Ford EcoSport for a piece of the crowded compact sport utility space. The Venue, which is the smallest Hyundai stateside, is ideal for urbanites uninterested in public transportation. It could properly serve as a college student’s first financed car, or a middle-aged graphic designer’s errand runner. Measuring 99 inches between the wheels, this compact package exists to move people (preferably on paved roads) and haul stuff that sedans can’t. Think of it as a taller, and thus perceived to be safer, hatchback.

A year since its US debut, the 2021 iteration remains largely unchanged in the styling department–less boxy than a Soul, but possessing more right angles than a Kicks. Most of the running gear is also the same as it was last year, with the exception of the transmission. Hyundai ditched the previously standard six-speed manual and made the CVT mandatory, eliminating any romantic notion of hucking this go-kart-ish compact into alleys or through roundabouts.

Our particular test vehicle, the Venue Denim edition, is the model’s top trim level. For a few more grand than the base trim (SE), Denim buyers are treated to a blue leatherette interior with denim seats, plus a bevy of extras like heated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and 17-inch alloy wheels. You also get a handsome blue and white paint job. If you bought the Denim edition on the two-tone coat alone, we’d understand. After all, an appliance can have pizazz, and two colors are a proper way to distinguish yourself from the monochrome masses. Not quite the mix-n-match quirkiness of a Nissan Juke with the Color Studio options, the Denim paint sits closer to the confident-urbanite chic of a Volvo XC40.

Inside, the color play continues as the denim Venue interior is generously wrapped in leatherette and denim cloth. (FYI: the cloth doesn’t immediately strike an observer as being pulled from a set of blue jeans, and is far less cheeky than the beloved Levi edition AMC Pacer.) There are plenty of materials, lines, and design contours to distract the front seat occupants from the liberal use of cheap plastic required to keep any car’s sticker below $30K. The seats, though horribly stiff and uncomfortable, are works of art with uniquely patterned cloth pads and blue leather wings featuring white piping and stitching. The equally ornate backseat bench is part of a utilitarian space so simplistic that it lacks adjustable vents. Laying the 60/40 rear seats down results in over 30 cubic feet of cargo space.

While driving or riding in the Venue doesn’t induce claustrophobia, thanks to the lofty ceiling, taller drivers may find themselves sliding the seat back, behind the b-post, for proper leg room. Blind spots are minimal, and compared to many crossover greenhouses, the Venue’s reads like a BMW 2002.

Unlike some of its subcompact competitors, the Venue is only supplied with front-wheel-drive. Independent McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam out back make for a far-too-rigid ride. However, the lower center of gravity, relative to the typically high-sprung segment, feels much safer and less top-heavy than, say, what you’d find in an EcoSport. Under the hood, and across all Venue trim levels, an aluminum 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder produces 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque. The small displacement and the 2600-pound curb weight help make the Venue a certified sipper, to the tune of 31 miles-per-gallon.

The Venue’s powertrain is snappy enough to bounce you through metro grids, but quickly runs out of oomph on steep hills and passing lanes. Every downshift from the CVT is a high-revving echo through the cabin. Engine noise meets road and wind noise for one heck of an unwanted indoor concert. On the positive side of the ledger, the steering is absolutely sublime at low speeds and in parking lots. Combined with stubby wheelbase, the driver can U-turn out of even the tightest predicament. Ultimately, you pay for it on the highway as the wheel requires plenty of micro-adjustments to keep the thing going straight (the featherlight curb weight and broad, kite-like sides don’t do any favors either). While on a brief blast North, our drive over the Mackinaw Bridge was a white-knuckle affair.

Considering the price tag, infotainment is one of the Venue’s highlights. The 8.0-inch touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities, operates smoothly and rarely gives indication that this is tech in a vehicle that costs no more than a box of twenty iPhone 13 Pros. Driver-assist tech is minimal and that’s a good thing. Outside high-end luxury cars, most adaptive cruise is terrible, so Hyundai was smart to leave it off the Venue’s hit list. The CUV does possess lane assist and a driver attention warning that reminds you to take breaks if it notices you drifting side-to-side (which it will, because of the aforementioned steering issue). Normal, sport, and snow modes are selected with a dial on the center console. All told, the Venue contains a surprising amount of gadgetry.

However, the Venue’s stereo brought us back down to earth. Unlike the Nissan Kicks SR subcompact, which has a robust Bose sound system, the top trim Venue has an unbranded, six-speaker system that produces a tinny, front-loaded pile of noise. While it benefits from dialing rear bias into the fader along with a healthy dose of bass, the whole setup still reminds me of a Bluetooth speaker you’d pack in your beach bag.

Despite its quirks the Venue is exactly what you’d expect in a $20,000 compact, plus the occasional pleasant surprise. If you rarely leave the city limits, desire a car to navigate metropolis congestion, but require something larger than a rear trunk, this is your jam. The Venue is a decent value play and nominally undercuts competitors’ price tags while providing some pleasantries only available in the next rung of crossovers. The formula is working, with sales almost double what they were at this point last year, and why not? For the price of Hyundai’s next-step-up Kona, you could purchase a Venue, a minibike, and have enough cash left over for your wallet.

2021 Hyundai Venue Denim edition

Base price/as-tested: $18,750 (SE Model)/ $23,380 (Venue Denim with destination)

Highs: Nimble, possesses the turning radius of a shopping cart, plenty of tech and cargo space for a $20K subcompact

Lows: Suspension too rigid, seats are uncomfortable, tough to keep in a straight line above 45mph

Summary: If you live in the city and want a bargain-priced people mover with hints of flair, this Venue’s for you.

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