It’s spacious and characterful but the Hyundai Venue faces some stern cross-examination from its established rivals...

Quite a few eyebrows have been cocked by those taking in the sizeable Venue badge adorning the tail of Hyundai’s latest crossover, no doubt associating the word with a place where events are held rather than a funky little car. Delving into the proper derivation of the word reveals it’s a legal term: the jurisdiction where a trial would take place. While the Venue may not be culpable in anything malicious, its arrival has landed it in the dock of the South African market to be rigorously scrutinised by a jury of gifted competitors in an already burgeoning segment. It faces a tough jury and will need to plead its case for a slice of the lucrative small-crossover segment. Will the Venue be vindicated, or will the verdict be harsh?

Slotting in below the Kona and Creta, the Indian-built Venue is the latest addition to Hyundai’s already comprehensive crossover stable and looks to lock horns with the likes of the Volkswagen T-Cross as well as a broad cross-section of the local automotive demographic that includes the entry-level Jeep Renegade, Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster. It’s likely to also pop up on the radars of buyers in the market for a small hatchback.

The Venue’s 3 995 mm frame is noticeably shorter than most of its rivals and shows virtually nothing in the way of overlap when parked next to most small hatchbacks. This compact form is the by-product of legislation that sees cars measuring under the four-metre mark benefiting from tax concessions in the Indian market. And while such incentives are sadly absent here, the Venue’s resultant packaging makes it a viable option across a larger buyers’ demographic than many segment-equivalent models.

Despite its proportions, the Venue still cuts a distinctive figure. The chunky, pseudo-SUV bodywork, crowned with a purposeful-looking set of roof rails and playing host to such features as that egg-crate grille flanked by a stacked headlamp/daytime-running light array, is a pleasing departure from its curvier stablemates.

By contrast, the cabin, with its predominantly black trim, is far more conservative. The ergonomics are a little hit and miss. The facia is neat and simple; ancillary controls are easily legible and logically sited; and the seats are comfy and supportive (although their raised position, compounded by a lack of reach adjustment on the steering, make it difficult for taller folks to find a comfortable driving position). Perceived quality lags slightly behind the competition. Hard, lightweight plastics aren’t quite on par with those in the VW (itself not exactly a shining example) and Citroën C3 Aircross. Even so, everything feels well screwed together and the 7 000 km covered by our test unit – including some dirt roads – failed to unearth any trim rattles.

But while its finishes may appear somewhat sombre, the cabin is surprisingly spacious. Headroom in excess of 850 mm, fore and aft, combine with a generous glasshouse that lends the interior a pleasing airiness. The 647 mm of rear kneeroom also means even the longer limbed will see some daylight between their kneecaps and the front seatbacks. It may lack the sliding rear-bench modularity of its rivals but the boot still manages to accommodate a respectable 272 litres of ISO measuring blocks with the rear seats in place, swelling to a cavernous 904 litres with the (oddly single-piece) seatback stowed flat.

At best, the marriage of small-capacity petrol engine and automatic transmission is a rocky relationship, yet the Venue’s turbocharged 1,0-litre three-pot is a solid performer. With 88 kW on tap, it’s one of the more powerful units in its class and revs willingly. By and large, it melds well with Hyundai’s in-house dual-clutch transmission, swapping gears smoothly and responding quickly to overtaking throttle inputs.

The only criticisms that can be levelled at the Venue’s powerplant are its rather coarse tone under acceleration and some noticeable turbo lag off the mark that occasionally blunts its urban nippiness. This is possibly the upshot of its somewhat modest 172 N.m peak torque output. Enthusiastic as they are, Hyundai-Kia powerplants are not always the most frugal and Hyundai’s claimed (although real-world tested) consumption figure of 6,90 L/100 km is merely reasonable. Our mixed-use fuel consumption testing told a different story, with the little turbocharged unit gleaning a far more respectable 5,70 L/100 km.

Where many cars built for the Indian market have a tendency to favour a softer, long-travel suspension calibration that’s conducive to badly potholed roads on the subcontinent, the Venue’s ride caught us off-guard. It does possess generous market-associated ride height (195 mm) but it’s quite stiffly sprung, possibly in an attempt to rein in the handling characteristics of a car with a short wheelbase and high centre of gravity. This is something of a mixed blessing. Driven with vigour, the Venue is a surprisingly composed little car. The steering, although light, is reasonably responsive and the front wheels start relinquishing their grasp on the tarmac only when pushed into a corner. However, Venues are not likely to regularly encounter this sort of driving. Driven more sedately, rippled road surfaces induce some choppiness. While it won’t render it unliveable, it is a little disappointing for a car that’s going to spend much of its time round town.

In terms of standard specification, the Venue in Fluid trim ticks most of the right boxes, with features such as 16-inch alloy rims, touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone integration via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, cruise control, auto lights and rear parking sensors with camera among the items that distinguish it from the comparatively spartan Motion models. There are some odd omissions, though. The centre rear seat (which, as we mentioned, does not have a split backrest; only the flagship Glide offers this feature) makes do with a lap belt, which is a bit peculiar when the Fluid’s safety feature array includes six airbags, Isofix child-seat anchorage points, ABS with EBD and a stability control system.



TEST SUMMARY

Dispensing with the jury’s conspiratorial muttering and over-the-shoulder glances, the verdict on Hyundai’s newcomer can be presented. In the Venue’s case, its virtues outweigh its shortcomings, making it an appealing and competent addition to the local small-crossover market.

There are some words of caution regarding the rough edges in terms of powertrain refinement and an overly firm ride that sees it lose some ground to more polished offerings.

Even with such stern judgment, however, the Venue’s funky styling, class-leading warranty package, generous standard specification – at least in the Fluid model – not to mention the trust and degree of brand cachet attached to the Hyundai nameplate in our market, it will no doubt become a solid banker for the Korean firm’s local arm.