The adage goes that there are no sure things in the automotive world. But the arrival of certain sub-compact SUVs lately is shaking the foundations of this belief.
Motorists are crazy about SUVs. It's no longer news, it's a given. The sales numbers are there to prove it. So the category represents a potential windfall for manufacturers, especially since there's still room for new creations, even if you might think the market is saturated.
Take the example of Hyundai, which two years ago introduced a new small SUV called the Kona almost two years ago. Since then, you can’t turn your head without spotting one. This year, the Korean automaker is back at it with a pocket-size version of the Kona, the Venue. And right from when you get a gander at its appealing looks, you kind of have to think Hyundai has a winning lottery ticket in its hands, even before the draw. A sure bet? This might be as close as you get to that.
But will the automaker get the grand prize, one of the bonus prizes or… tickets for the next draw? We'll have to wait and see, but Hyundai is right to feel bullish about its chances.
A knack for design
The beauty of a vehicle remains very much in the eye of the beholder. I'll only venture so far as to say that the market offers up beautiful and less-beautiful products. But talented car designers generally have a good batting average and manage to deliver creations that appeal to the majority of consumers.
These days, Hyundai designers have themselves a formula that works, especially when it comes to SUVs. The Kona continues to sell like hotcakes, almost two years after its debut. Yes, it offers tremendous value, but if it was homelier, like say a Honda Clarity, it would be collecting dust in dealer inventories.
It also has the good fortune of belonging to a very fashionable segment, that of subcompact SUVs. That certainly helps.
In fact, that niche is now so popular that some manufacturers offer two models within it. Nissan does it with the Qashqai and the Kicks, and Hyundai does it now with the Kona and the new Venue.
With the newbie, a simple but effective formula was applied: good looks, two-tone colour schemes and a clean-cut style with distinct aesthetic traits. Add to this proper value like you expect from a Hyundai, and voilà – a can’t miss.
An Accent stung by a wasp?
While the Kona is available with all-wheel drive, the Venue is only served up with power going to the front wheels. All in all, it's pretty simple: this and other details indicate that the new SUV is quietly taking on the role of the Accent subcompact for the manufacturer.
Why? In 2019, the Accent subcompact sold 5,989 units across the country compared to 9,021 in 2018, a drop of 33.61%. You can be sure that the Kona is largely responsible for this and the Venue will finish the job. Among our neighbours to the south, the drop was 11.9%.
What makes this so worrisome for Hyundai is that the current Accent subcompact is relatively new to the market, having been redesigned for 2018. It is as good as it’s ever been.
I’m not saying its demise is imminent, but the Venue all the munitions required to kill it. In the end, the consumer will decide.
So we start from the assumption that the Venue is essentially a high-standing Accent. And that stance is sales pitch number-one as it sets out to conquer for new followers. It offers a slightly higher driving position and, because of the back-end design, a little more cargo space.
Under the hood, unsurprisingly, it benefits from the same engine as the Accent, a 1.6L 4-cylinder unit that here delivers a slightly lower output of 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque. It's nothing to write home about, but it's enough, and you learn to manage it well. There's no need to get into talk of “performance” with this vehicle.
The Venue doesn't offer the same driving dynamics as the current Accent. The difference between the two is not huge, but a car is still a car, with the advantages that brings when on the road. As for fuel consumption, the SUV's extra weight compared to the subcompact also has repercussions there. Its rating is 8.0L/100 km in the city and 7.0L/100 km on the highway, with the combined ratings somewhere in between. The Accent? The official ratings are 8.2L/100 km city, but a much stingier 6.3L on the highway.
No matter. What people want is SUVs, numbers be darned.
The Venue is available in four trim levels: Essential, Preferred, Trend and Ultimate. Without getting too deep into the weeds regarding what each one offers, it’s worth noting that from the start, the front the seats and mirrors are heated, and the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto applications are integrated. The next two trims essentially add safety features, and 17-inch wheels in the second case.
With the top-of-the-line model, features such as navigation, BlueLink connected services and automatic climate control come on board. The variants are priced at $17,099, $21, $499, $22,599 and $24,899 respectively, without counting the exorbitant $1810 freight and preparation fee.
Behind the wheel
The driving experience is, as we alluded to above, uneventful. Nothing moves very quick, but then nothing disappoints either. That latter fact is good news given the clientele that will be interested in the model. The driving position is reasonably good, as are the ergonomics inside, and once on the road, you benefit from a quiet ride thanks to good soundproofing. Hyundai's continuously variable transmission (CVT) also scores well, for what it is. The CVT, with its "intelligent" mode, is much less unpleasant to drive than some other CVTs in the industry.
Moreover, you can feel the steering wheel and the Venue's behavior is predictable; you can’t really ask for more from a vehicle in this price range.
In fact, it's all about what you get for your money. Something decent, if not exciting.
The Venue is just now starting to make its presence known on our roads, and we expect that to be a quickly rising curve in the coming months. With an attractive-looking product offering good value, Hyundai is pretty confident it’s holding a winning ticket.
Given what it accomplished with the Kona, we wouldn’t bet against Hyundai in this case.
Decent soundproofing for the segment
We like less
Engine a little too anemic in certain situations
In exchange for a little more space, you get a less-dynamic drive than from the Accent