05 HYUNDAI VENUE

LESS IS MORE IN SPUNKY CROSSOVER - EXCEPT FOR ENGINE SIZE

TRENT GIUNCO

AUTHENTICITY. SOME PEOPLE have it, and some donít. Small SUVs are similar. These jacked-up hatches with Ďlook at me, I can go off-roadí body cladding usually fall into the latter category by trying to be something theyíre not. The stance and rugged addenda lure you into thinking Ďfuní, but Ďhumdrumí is often what presents itself through the lightly veiled smoke and mirrors.

The Hyundai Venue isnít one of those SUVs. Once youíve finished chuckling at the name, the Euro i20 supermini-based contender from Korea is a good bit of kit. And, unlike some of its competition here, the Venue hasnít had a personality bypass. Just look at our two-tone tester, with its greeny-yellow hue and contrasting black roof. It sports a confident, oversized grille with square-shaped LEDs, squinty eyes and a rather conventional rump. Polarising? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No.

Inside, the top-spec Elite features body-coloured accents and visually appealing plastics, even if theyíre hard and scratchy. Kudos for that big touchscreen too, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel that houses clear and concise controls.

Packed with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto goodness, infotainment is a criteria Hyundai/Kia cover off well. The graphics are pleasing and the user experience is one of ease - the Venue is an ergonomic win. While the Elite is generally well specced with key safety items like AEB, for a range-topping variant, the absence of keyless entry and start, plus all-round one-touch power windows is notable.

Despite diminutive dimensions, the Venueís height affords ample headroom. Legroom is a bit tight in the back and there are no rear air vents (a common issue across this group), but its 355-litre boot is a decent size.

The weakest link is the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels via a six-speed torque-converter auto. Granted, itís a hard little worker thatís willing to please, but you certainly hear about it, and ultimately the 90kW and 151Nm outputs just arenít enough. The Venueís 0-100km/h time fails to break through the 10-second barrier, and the engine sounds thrashy and coarse when pushed. On the run, the lithe 1225kg kerb weight helps the Hyundai scoot along effectively, but the powertrain is, ultimately, lacklustre - and the result of its toil is a 9.5L/100km test-consumption average. The smooth auto canít offset the grunt shortfall or cover up the lack of refinement.

Itís a pity, because the Venue is a dynamic surprise. The Elite is full of verve, with its lightness of foot delivering a pleasing drive. Cutting through traffic, with excellent outward vision, will bring you joy. Which makes it even more of a shame a turbo engine isnít employed. There is a can-do attitude to the handling, and despite the higher centre of gravity (on a torsion-beam rear), lateral pitch and roll isnít an issue. The ride quality is also impressive thanks to local tuning, and there is a surprising amount of grip from the Nexen rubber. Yes, sound deadening could be improved, but you have to remember this is a car built to a price. On gravel, the ESC is a little lazy but itís all controllable, if quite loud, fun.

At $25,490, the top-spec Elite variant starts to lose its appeal. The ideal spot is the $23,490 middle-rung Active - or better still, the $2000-cheaper six-speed manual. Yes, you get fewer bells and whistles and the paintwork isnít as modish, but itís all the Venue youíll ever need. Whatís more, it retains the upbeat persona that makes the smallest Hyundai SUV hard to ignore and easy to like.

TRENT GIUNCO

7.5 /10


SPECS

Model Hyundai Venue Elite