2021 Hyundai Venue Denim Edition: An old Soul?

Price: $23,305 as tested. Carpeted floor mats ($135) were the lone option.

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes the controls, fuel economy, and braking, but not “the ride, noise, fit and finish, or rear seat.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Small SUV. Big city hustle.”

Reality: Definitely has the flavor of the original Kia Soul in so many ways.

What’s new: Hyundai added the Venue to its lineup in 2020. Though like the Soul, it’s smaller, and no all-wheel-drive version is offered. It’s an attractive little box, looking like a kiddie-cart version of the Palisade.

Up to speed: The Venue has a small-car “peppy” feel. It’s tuned to make a quick getaway from a standing start up to about 25 mph. After 25 mph, though, it becomes harder and harder to make the 1.6-liter engine keep up the momentum.

But that peppiness is an illusion brought on by the Venue’s small dimensions and low-riding profile. The engine makes just 121 horsepower, and the Venue gets to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, according to Motor Trend, so that bears out my impression.

Shiftless: The power curve is not aided even a little bit by the continuously variable transmission. It’s just a rotten thing to do to a small car, give it this kind of golf cart feel without the awesome power of an electric motor’s continuous power curve.

Hyundai does offer “gears” 1 through 7, but the test car was stubborn about downshifting. If it were my car, I’d have it back to the dealer in a hurry.

A stick shift was available in 2020 but dropped for 2021. I’d encourage any shoppers to look for a leftover and learn how to clutch and make life more fun. I’ll teach you, for God’s sake, as well as to parallel park.

On the curves: The sprightly feel also comes through on corners and curves. Sure, it’s a tall box with Hyundai suspension, but it’s fun enough.

Of course, this being a cheap box from Korea, you already know that on rough road surfaces it

(a) glides like a swan

(b) occasionally upsets its more delicate occupants

(c) loosens several teeth on each trip.

This feels like the first generation of the Soul, which was Jeep-like in its bicuspid jostling. (Those of you who chose a or b need to re-read all my columns, now. And get your dentists on speed dial.)

The interior of the Hyundai Venue is as small as you think and not an easy place to find comfort.
Hyundai
The interior of the Hyundai Venue is as small as you think and not an easy place to find comfort.

Driver’s Seat: The cloth manually adjustable version tested was impossible to set just right and left me with my neck craned or my back too straight and stiff. And these are the only seats available.

Gauges and cockpit controls are nicely arranged, though. The shrinking speedometer (10-mph increments until 40 and then 20s) felt weird, but I see the point.

Play some tunes: The Venue has the typical Hyundai-Kia stereo interface, with dials for volume and tuning, buttons for various mode choices, and a touchscreen for everything else. It looks inviting and works well.

Sound quality is about a B+, maybe even an A-.

Friends and stuff: When it came time to visit Sturgis Kid 1.0, we had a choice of vehicles: the Venue or the Cadillac CT4. Lanky Sturgis Kid 4.0 picked the Venue for its more adequate legroom and headroom.

That’s not to say roomy, but simply more adequate. Let’s just say the Venue seats four in discomfort.

Cargo space is 18.7 cubic feet with the rear seat up and 31.9 with the seat folded. That second number is far less than the Soul.

Keeping warm and cool: The HVAC system is easy to use and works well enough. Dials control temperate and fan speed, while a button controls source. (Some clever designer thought the temperature readout should look like a third dial in the center, and I twisted it enough times to feel like an idiot. I hope you’re happy.)

No vents in the rear seat on a hot day probably made young 4.0 regret his choice after all.

Fuel economy: The vehicle was averaging 33.8 mpg before I got my hands on it. It dropped to 29 pretty quickly. Yeah, I’m rough on cars, but someone has to put them to the test. Feed it whatever.

Where it’s built: Ulsan, South Korea

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the Venue’s reliability to be a three out of five.

In the end: Coming in a $7,000 to $12,000 under earlier contestants Kia Seltos and Buick Encore GX makes the Venue an attractive option. If you don’t need all-wheel drive, or comfort, and aren’t in a big hurry.

Among the three tested, I couldn’t highly recommend any. For a little more money upfront, the Subaru Impreza Hatchback or Crosstrek offer much more vehicle than the Venue, and even on Hyundai’s own lot, the Kona and (leftover 2020) Elantra GT make much better companions.