Cheap SUV could spell end of hatchbacks

Stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap. A simple concept but, when it comes to our insatiable appetite for small SUVs, Hyundai's new $19,990 Venue looks like sales gold.

The starting price should lure punters into showrooms before the good salesfolk talk them into the pricier variants. These days if you show SUV shoppers a price starting with "1" - once common for small hatchbacks - they can go into a Boxing Day-style sales frenzy.

It makes good business sense. Hyundai's new baby SUV is giving the people what they want.

Good value urban transport, desirable SUV body, high ride for those with dodgy knees or hips, enough safety and features, plus assuring five-year warranty. All boxes ticked.

I know what you're thinking. Hyundai already has a small SUV with its funky Kona. This one's even smaller, best seen as a replacement for the brand's titchy Accent city car.

Boxy and bluff, the Hyundai Venue offers good headroom for tall passengers.
Boxy and bluff, the Hyundai Venue offers good headroom for tall passengers.

The Accent will be dropped from Hyundai's line-up by year's end, even though it's the country's best-selling light car, last year's sales tally exceeding 15,000.

Are they mad? Probably not. The Accent costs just $15,490 - meaning very little profit margin - and our buying habits are changing rapidly. In just five years, sales of light cars (think Mazda2, Toyota Yaris) have dropped by 37 per cent, while small SUV sales have grown 58 per cent.

Hyundai has seen the future and acted pre-emptively. "It all plays well for the introduction of our new entry level car," says Hyundai marketing director Bill Thomas of the new Venue.

"Light cars are attractive for low price, economy, manoeuvrability and ease of parking. Small SUVs have ease of ingress and egress, high driving position and desirable SUV body style. The Venue's job is to appeal to (buyers of) both."

It appears a job well done. From a distance the Venue looks almost toylike. At barely four metres long it's shorter than an Accent and even a Mazda2, but is taller than its Kona stablemate.

The Venue is available in a range of eye-catching colour schemes.
The Venue is available in a range of eye-catching colour schemes.

It's certainly cute but the stacked headlight front-end and pumped out wheel arches suggest

some ruggedness, even if off-roading in this front-wheel drive is a strict no-no.

And what of kerb appeal? Pick the top grade Elite ($25,490 plus on-roads) and you get edgy 17-inch alloys, two-tone paint, contrast colour body inserts, chrome grille and LED tail-lights.

Despite the awkwardly skinny rear, these Elites look superb - especially if you're bold enough to option Acid Yellow with black roof.

The lesser Go (from $19,990) and Active (from $21,490) on 15-inch wheels and plainer hues look a bit daggy in profile. That's probably not a concern for older empty-nesters but budget first car buyers may eschew the Go and its tiny steel wheels with plastic covers.

Steel wheels with hubcaps (pictured) feature on the entry-level Venue Go.
Steel wheels with hubcaps (pictured) feature on the entry-level Venue Go.

The Venue Go undercuts our best-selling small SUVs, the Mitsubishi ASX (from $23,490) and Mazda CX-3 (from $22,260).

To do so, it's built to a budget - and it shows. The steering wheel's plastic, there's no central armrest and you'll be swapping cogs yourself unless you pay the extra $1500 for a six-speed auto gearbox.

For the modern buyer, the eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth and tear camera, plus cruise control, auto emergency braking and lane-keep assist cover most non-negotiables.

Inside the 2019 Hyundai Venue.
Inside the 2019 Hyundai Venue.

Most will stop and shop at the Active grade as it adds 15-inch alloys, rear park sensors, leather steering wheel and better audio and lighting.

It's a $2000 leap to the auto-only Elite, which appears best value overall with two-tone body, satnav, more premium seat finish, climate control and enhanced active safety.

It's cosy inside, the high roof giving good headroom front and back, although adults in the

rear struggle for legroom. Doors are big slabs of hard plastic no matter the grade you choose

and the doors and boot feel light-car tinny when closing - expected at this price, really.

The boot's a useful 355L, nearly matching the Kona's load space.

The Venue shape is all new but the engine's an old faithful. There's no zippy little turbo petrol or anything hybrid to see here, just Hyundai's tried-and-tested 1.6-litre petrol with 90kW/151Nm in all grades.

Don’t expect the Hyundai Venue to bully bigger cars out of the fast lane.
Don’t expect the Hyundai Venue to bully bigger cars out of the fast lane.

Putting a positive spin on this pragmatic choice, Thomas insists Hyundai's research showed the 1.6 to be a plus point as "that capacity's associated with better fuel economy." Its claimed 7.0L/100km shows it's hardly the most frugal (Renault's 1.3-litre turbo Captur returns 5.4L), and the weedy power figure means there's lots of noise and lazy progress on steeper hills.

In the natural habitat of towns and cities, the engine is fit for purpose. As you sit in your elevated position, it hums along and the six-speed auto gearbox delivers a more satisfying drive than the whiny continuously variable transmissions commonplace in small SUVs.

The Venue turns sharply, the steering is lovely and light in town and the compact dimensions help with tight city parking spaces.

A dedicated “sand mode” could entice people to take the Venue offroad.
A dedicated “sand mode” could entice people to take the Venue offroad.

The auto (no paddle-shifters, sadly) can get lazy and confused on inclines given the engine's lack of guts. You save money by taking the manual gearbox, also a six-speeder, which adds more driving joy in the wilds - choose your own gears and you can keep revs high and the

motor singing.

As we expect of Hyundai, the local engineering team has excelled in the ride and handling

department.

Fun to throw into corners, the little car feels balanced and safe, while ride comfort is markedly better than typical light cars - even the 17-inch wheels on Elite grades do little to reduce comfort. It's stable at highway speeds but tyre and wind noise are quite intrusive at 110km/h.

A noteworthy feature is the traction mode selection dial, to adjust engine torque to suit snow, mud or sand driving. If you see a Venue owner attempting such things, take the keys from them and sit them in the shade.

Hyundai hopes the Venue can overtake small cars such as its Accent.
Hyundai hopes the Venue can overtake small cars such as its Accent.

Verdict:

Venue has the height, looks, features, space and price tag for mass appeal and it shines as

urban transport. The cabin shows it's built to a budget but there's enough charm to win over

young and old alike.

4 Stars

Try this on for size:

Just how small can SUVs go? The Venue's quite tall but lengthwise it's a tiddler. It's not the

smallest though. The baby Hyundai is 4040mm long, Ford's EcoSport fits your garage even better at 4017mm but Suzuki wins the shrinking race - its pocket-size Ignis is 3700mm long and the Jimny is just 3645mm. This shortest of small SUVs is the only one that should be called a sport utility vehicle: it can go off-road, where the rest will flounder.

The Venue works best in urban environments.
The Venue works best in urban environments.

Hyundai Venue vital statistics:

Price: From $19,990 plus on-roads (great value)

Warranty and Servicing: 5 years/unlimited km (very good); $1575 for 5 years/72,000km (very good)

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl, 90kW/151Nm (lacks power)

Safety: Untested (4 stars est), 6 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, rear camera. (good)

Thirst: 7.0L-7.2L/100km (could be better)

Spare: Space-saver (not ideal)

Boot: 355L (not bad)

 

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