CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Think Hyundai Automotive South Africa has already plugged every conceivable crossover-shaped hole in its extensive line-up? Well, think again. There’s apparently a smidgen of space at the very foot of the range and the box-fresh Venue has elbowed its way onto local dealership floors to fill it.

Not that it needs much room. Measuring a mere 3 995 mm nose to tail (and thus qualifying for India’s all-important sub-four-metre class, which attracts a lower excise duty), the SA-spec Venue is a substantial 330 mm shorter than Ford’s EcoSport and some 240 mm more compact than Volkswagen’s new T-Cross. A rummage around the segment reveals only the Mahindra XUV300 (likewise imported from India) is similar in size to Hyundai’s tiniest crossover.

Each of the five derivatives in the local Venue range is powered by the same turbocharged 1,0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine available in the Kona. The entry-level Motion and mid-tier Fluid trim levels are offered in conjunction with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while the range-topping Glide variant evaluated here ships exclusively in self-shifting guise.

It’s a lovely little engine, directing its 88 kW to the front axle with a pleasing mix of verve and sophistication. While the Chennai-built crossover’s peak twisting force of 172 N.m doesn’t look particularly impressive on paper, the fact it’s spread liberally from 1 500 to 4 000 r/min means the Venue (which tips the scales at about 1 100 kg) feels genuinely punchy. Although the smooth-shifting dual-clutch gearbox goes about its business with little fuss (and is ideal for those who commute in heavy traffic), it’s the manual cog-swapper that allows the driver to make the most of this refined turbo-triple’s sprightliness.

And comfort levels? Well, it’s often tricky to develop a balanced ride when working with a short (in this case 2 500 mm) wheelbase but Hyundai’s engineers have done a fair job with the new Venue. It’s slightly on the firm side but that’s mitigated somewhat by 195 mm of ground clearance and fairly high-profile rubber (215/60 R16 items on this range-topping model). The secondary ride, though, isn’t quite as polished over corrugated surfaces, while the steering feels a touch slow around centre.

But such foibles are unlikely to concern buyers who do the vast majority of their driving in bustling city centres. Here, the diminutive Venue excels, with its upright stance offering a commanding view of the road ahead. The driving position is suitably lofty, even with the height-adjustable perch (something the entry-level derivatives do without) dropped to its lowest position, but frustratingly the steering column offers tilt adjustment only.

You’d think the Venue’s truncated body would result in a decidedly pokey cabin but the Korean automaker has been very smart with its packaging. Making the most of its boxy proportions, the Venue offers surprisingly generous headroom all round, while the luggage compartment can swallow a claimed 350 litres. Legroom at the back is sufficient for passengers of average height, although the pint-sized pavement-hopper’s rising hipline and chunky C-pillars render the rear quarters slightly less inviting for those of a claustrophobic disposition. It’s also worth noting the centrally sited rear passenger has to make do with a lap belt rather than an inertia-reel item.

While you don’t have to look far to find hard plastics in the cabin, partial-leather upholstery and a leather-trimmed steering wheel (both bearing neat white stitching) along with an eight-inch touchscreen (boasting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality) lend the mid- and high-spec variants added tactile appeal. Fit and finish, too, are impressive.

So, what sort of cash are we looking at here? Well, with the base Motion derivatives stripped of various items (such as the aforementioned touchscreen, rear parking sensors, cruise control, alloy wheels and roof rails) and settling for two airbags rather than the six employed by the rest of the range, pricing starts at a competitive R274 900. The best value, though, is to be found in the middle of the line-up, where the well-specified Fluid variants are priced at R309 900 and R339 900 (manual and automatic, respectively).

The flagship Glide derivative, meanwhile, comes in at R369 900, resulting in a small overlap with the Creta. But it’s perhaps the Korean firm’s i20 hatchback that will be most affected by the arrival of the Venue as buyers continue their migration towards crossovers.

Hyundai’s most impressive achievement with the Venue is the fact it doesn’t feel at all hamstrung by its compact dimensions. Indeed, from behind the wheel it comes across as far larger than it is, allowing it to go toe-to-toe with its slightly bigger rivals. And while the gap at the bottom of Hyundai’s crossover range was by no means considerable, I suspect the Venue’s sales figures in its first few months on the market will prove it was one very much worth filling.



FAST FACTS

Model: Hyundai Venue 1,0 TGDi Glide DCT 
Price: R369 900
Engine: 1,0-litre, three-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power:  88 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque:  172 N.m from 1 500 to 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 11,5 seconds
Top Speed: 187 km/h
Fuel Consumption:  6,9 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2:  148 g/km
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch
Service Plan: Three-year/45 000 km