Payne: Adorable Hyundai Venue mini-SUV is a bargain at under $20,000

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 6, 2020

Where are the headlights? In the middle. Framed by an LED tube, the headlights for the 2020 Hyundai Venue SUV sit under a running light "eyebrow" like the Chevy Blazer.

Where are the headlights? In the middle. Framed by an LED tube, the headlights for the 2020 Hyundai Venue SUV sit under a running light “eyebrow” like the Chevy Blazer. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The Hyundai Venue is a tasty little snack box. Loaded with standard features, a remote smartphone app and perky styling, it’s as Mini Cooper-cute as it is utilitarian.

And it’s also an increasingly rare dish: a new vehicle available for less than $20,000.

Finding an affordable vehicle these days is almost as hard as ordering a $3 hamburger in an airport. The average — average! — new car transaction price in the U.S. market in December was $38,948. Blame our mad rush for expensive trucks and SUVs as well as a laundry list of nanny-state regulations.

Small cars have struggled under the burden while sales — and profit margins — shrink. As readers of this column know, I am a hatchback fan, and I’ve shed a tear as wee appetizers have been crossed off the menu. For example, my favorite Ford Fiesta hatch has packed its bags for Europe, taking its mild fuel appetite and ST sportiness with it.

But I am also a part of the problem.

As entry-level car prices have risen, I’ve purchased used cars instead of new. In the last 15 years, I’ve bought four small cars — Dodge Neon, Ford Focus and two Honda Civics. All used. Why pay $25,000 for a new car when I can walk across the lot to the pre-owned salesman and buy a perfectly good used hatchback with 25,000 miles and extended warranty for just $15,000?

There are whispers among some manufacturers that this is the new business model: forget entry-segment vehicles and concentrate on $23,000-plus subcompact SUVs. What of the buyers who want a car for less? Let ’em buy used.

Don’t think automakers are happy about this trend. Ford and Fiat Chrysler are losing sleep over losing first-time buyers to Asian competitors. Happily, there’s the Ambien of fat profits from pickups to help them rest easier.

Foreign-makers don’t have the luxury of selling mega-trucks. They put bread on the table by moving new vehicles. As prices of new vehicles rise, entry-level buyers are fewer.

Hyundai thinks it has an answer. The Venue is a segment-buster.

Starting at just $18,470, it is the cheapest SUV on the market — and one of only three utes under $20,000 (along with the Nissan Kicks and the funk-tastic Kia Soul). That’s about $3,500 less than a subcompact Ford Ecosport or Mazda CX-3. Call the Venue a sub-subcompact. Call it a mini SUV. Just don’t call it a hatchback.

Hatches are less popular than Michael Bloomberg’s soda-pop sermons. Hyundai made a fetching $15,700 hatchback version of its Accent subcompact sedan until 2017 that cost $2,300 less than the Venue. No one cared.

But Hyundai has cooked the Venue in its secret sauce. Not only does it conform to millennials’ SUV tastes, it’s peppered with the modern electronics they crave and that have only been available on more expensive Hyundais like the Elantra and Tucson: standard features like phone app, automatic emergency-braking, automatic high-beams, Apple CarPlay connectivity, 8-inch tablet infotainment display …

You had me at phone app.

One of my favorite luxury conveniences — courtesy of brands like BMW and Tesla (and always cutting-edge Ford) — is monitoring my car by app. Remotely. I run my life by phone, so why not my car, too?

Download Hyundai Blue Link from the Google Play store. Enter VIN number. Simple.

On a Venue media test on a toasty Miami day in January, I remote-cooled the interior to 65 degrees while at lunch. Try to do that in your old used car.

My wife would like preheated seats as well, but that would require adding the $1,750 premium package that include navigation and a sunroof — pushing an automatic, front-wheel drive Venuewell north of $20,000 and into the path of better-equipped, more powerful, all-wheel drive subcompact utes like the stylish $23,000 Mazda CX-3 (for some reason, a Chevy Trax doesn’t get these goodies until it hits $28,000).

Venue’s biggest value-play is under $20,000 thanks to its suite of standard electronic goo-gaws. Like standard Apple CarPlay. It’s all Venue needs to get where you wanna go. Utes specialize in what millennials like to call their “side hustle” — a second job or avocation. Pop the hatch, flatten the rear seats, and Venue will carry your gear anywhere.

With its upright proportions, Venue beats a similarly priced Toyota Yaris hatchback in nearly every metric. The Venue has three more cubic feet of cargo room and another inch of head- and rear legroom. That means more space for your music case, bandmates, golf clubs, bicycle or whatever your hustle.

All this and looks, too. My mini ute was so cute I was comparing it to the Mini Cooper Clubman ($30,000) and Audi Q3 ($40,000).

The jack o’ lantern grille is sandwiched by mid-fascia headlight cubes that are topped by “eyebrow” parking lights. The cube lights are echoed in the taillights. Choose the Denim trim and its Mini Cooper-like white roof, and — aw, what the heck — you may be willing to cough up $23,000 it’s so adorable. The interior is a pleasing dish of chunky climate dials, storage cubbies and 8-inch tablet screen.

Pleasing, too, is Venue’s willingness to play. Despite its boxy shape, this SUV is no high-riding porker. Weighing just 2,612 pounds, the Venue feels more hatchback than SUV with a 6.6-inch ground clearance, just an inch higher than the Yaris. Miami is hardly a twisty alpine playground, but the Hyundai eagerly attacked the odd 360-degree cloverleaf.

The driveline, however, will only create goosebumps on EPA bureaucrats.

To meet stringent emissions regs, the meek 121-horse, 1.6-liter 4-banger (at least it bests Yaris’ 103 ponies) has been designed with expensive dual-injectors for better fuel burn. It’s then matched to a continuously variable transmission that returned 37 mpg on my 100-mile hustle. I think I out-dragged a box turtle at a stoplight once.

For the budget-conscious buyer not shy of stick shifts, I’d suggest ditching the CVT for the more-fun $18,470 manual-transmission model. Or you could just buy a used low-mileage 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback with more power, room and same electronic features for $17,000.

Now I’m causing trouble again.

2020 Hyundai Venue

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger compact SUV

Price: $17,350 including $1,120 destination charge ($23,280 SEL as tested)

Powerplant: 1.6-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 121 horsepower, 113 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic continuously variable-transmission (CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.9 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 115 mph

Weight: 2,612 (with CVT)

Fuel economy: EPA 32 city/37 highway/34 combined (automatic as tested)

Report card

Highs: Cute ute; standard features galore

Lows: Zero-60 mph in a while; fat $1,210 destination charge hurts value play

Overall: 3 stars

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