Entry-level vehicles are tough to do. You don’t have a big budget or reams of rich materials at your disposal if you want to sell the final product for $20,000 or less. You can’t skimp on design; consumers are too smart and demanding today. Nor can you cut corners on safety and convenience features; consumers expect top safety ratings and to connect their phone and activate cruise control.

Into this fray enters the 2020 Hyundai Venue, which slides below the similarly small Kona in Hyundai’s SUV lineup. The Venue actually shares the same platform with the Kona as well as the Accent, a subcompact that dropped its hatch to clear a path for the 2020 Venue.

So if Hyundai already has the Kona crossover in many flavors including an electric model, and still offers the Accent as a sedan, why even add the Venue subcompact crossover to the lineup?

The Korean automaker sees opportunity among first-time buyers. Of the 40 million used car buyers in the U.S. last year, a third shopped new cars but couldn’t find something affordable, Hyundai executives say. The Venue was designed to fill that gap. And although the automaker is not releasing pricing yet, a starting price below $20,000 is a must. It will compete with the $19,685 Nissan Kicks, $21,090 Ford EcoSport, the 2019 Mazda CX-3 started at $21,435, and the Venue’s Korean cousin, the Kia Soul that starts at $18,535.

We drove the new 2020 Hyundai Venue in Queensland, Australia, along the Sunshine Coast. Why the long trek: production for the Australian market started earlier. We are still months from the Korean assembly plant churning out models homologated for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. A more basic version of the Venue went on sale in India in May and has quickly became that country’s top-selling SUV. The Venue will not be sold in Europe.

B segment vehicles were once considered too small for the U.S. but small crossovers are rapidly growing in popularity in North America and the segment has grown to 735,000 in the U.S.

The Venues we drove were right-hand drive but are close to the models North America will get, with the same springs and stabilizer, but the U.S. will get different shock absorbers. And the Australian cars rode on summer tires while North American models will have standard 15-inch and optional 17-inch wheels shod in all-season tires.

Under the hood is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque (the Soul adds a turbo that boosts performance to 201 hp and 195 lb-ft). The 2020 Venue does not have stop-start and is front-drive only with no plans to add AWD. We drove models with a CVT, but a six-speed manual will be standard in the U.S.

It might not sound like much grunt but the little engine did not disappoint over a full day of driving on assorted surfaces, up some hills, carving around some curvy roads. Road noise was minimal but it did get a bit loud on the highway. Hyundai went for rear disc brakes and braking is smooth.

Being an entry-level car, the suspension is McPherson strut up front and torsion beam rear axle. We drove over rough pavement and many miles of gravel roads (which accounts for half the roads in Australia) and found the suspension to be hardy and well up to the task.

The three drive modes (normal, eco, and sport) increases throttle response and delays upshifts. While some markets get snow, mud, and sand traction modes, the U.S. will only get snow mode that allows increased wheel spin for maximum traction.

The Venue has a 99.2-inch wheelbase compared with 101.6 inches for the Accent. Its 6.7-inch ground clearance is the same as the Kona. Much effort went into maintaining aerodynamics with the boxier shape. The car achieves a drag coefficient of 0.34 with the help of A-pillar garnish to direct air flow, a rear spoiler and an asymmetrical radiator grille.

Fuel economy is expected to be 32 mpg combined city and highway driving.

Design-wise, Hyundai continues its chessboard strategy where each model has a different look and function but is still recognizable as part of the same overall game or family of vehicles.

Designer Jae Bong Jang, head of Hyundai Exterior Design Group, said his goal was not to create something cute and toy-like, but small and confident, with a different look and personality than the sporty Kona. The Venue is more playful with its own take on the cascading grille that adds chrome on the higher trims. Jang said he did not benchmark the design of the Soul but the Kia is the vehicle he was most concerned about as he worked on the Venue with hopes it would follow the Soul’s footsteps in become a defining vehicle for the brand.

The 2020 Venue, especially with a contrasting roof, is an attractive and cheerful vehicle with a strong front and upright windshield but a more raked look in back and headlights that should distinguish it on the road. Following the Hyundai script, packaging is excellent with thoughtful touches and a lot of amenities and safety features for an entry-level vehicle.

Executives are not concerned about the Venue stealing Accent sales as long as customers stay in the Hyundai family. Nor are they worried about too much cross-shopping against Kona given their distinct looks. “Once the profile of a vehicle changes, the customer changes,” said Saikiran Nuli, product planning manager for the Venue globally.

Hyundai expects to offer the most customization in the segment. Globally the CUV will be offered in 23 exterior colors and three interior color schemes, for 80 different combinations. While Canada will get all 80, the U.S. is limiting its palette to seven exterior colors and two interior choices: gray or black.

2020 Hyundai Venue Interior and Safety

But if you order the Denim package with the SEL trim, you get the two-tone blue and white Venue, which is by far our favorite. It has a blue body with white roof, side mirrors, and trim. Inside, the blue plastic looks fresh and there is blue leather-like material on the steering wheel, gearshift and trimming the blue cloth seats. The doors are two-tone and other nice touches include the white bottom on the storage tray above the glovebox. Once you see the denim interior, it will be harder to settle for the regular black or gray interior and we predict customers will ask for the two-tone treatment with additional colors—something Hyundai is open to considering.

Inside, the 8.0-inch touchscreen is nicely integrated into the dash with vents on either side. There are good old-fashioned knobs for volume and radio tuning as well as HVAC controls. The bin to store the phone sits below the USB and 12-volt power outlets. In the base model there is only one USB outlet in the front instead of two, and the second row has no air vents or USB outlets. The Venue is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and navigation is an option, as is satellite radio. Other options include push-button start, heated front seats and side mirrors, and a sunroof.

While the 2020 Venue is slightly smaller than the Kona, its upright shape gives it 18.7 cu-ft of cargo space. To make the cargo area even more functional, the cover can be removed and stored flush with the back of the hatch area. Additionally, there is a two-level cargo floor. The dash has also been pushed back, giving it a bit of a snubbed nose look, which provide more space in the front row and the windshield drops low for a large greenhouse.

For safety, 70 percent of the structure is Hyundai-made advanced steel and other high-strength materials. Forward collision avoidance assist, lane-keep assist, and driver attention warning are all standard; there is optional blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

To funnel money into safety features, other amenities are more basic, such as manually adjusted seats and a hand brake, as well as cheap headliner material. For convenience you can get remote start for cold mornings, as well as Blue Link with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant who can be given the command to start the car.

The Venue introduces a new taillight coating known as lenticular lenses, a thick translucent film with a pattern that gives it a crystal look. While it is on the Australian cars, it is not available in the U.S. where it takes about five years to get such new technology certified. The coating is cosmetic only, it does not affect luminosity.

Nuli says the Venue plays different roles in different markets. It is an entry-level vehicle in the U.S. but is a more mainstream subcompact in Australia and Southeast Asia and is a family vehicle in India.

The 2020 Venue goes on sale in the U.S. in December in SE and SEL with the Denim packages and will be priced between the Accent and Kona. It will have Hyundai’s extensive warranty.

With its sprightly looks, good packaging and ample interior room for such a small vehicle, the 2020 Venue should be a good deal worth leaving the used car lots for.

2020 Hyundai Venue
BASE PRICE $18,000-$24,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 1.6L/121-hp/113-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual, continuously variable automatic
CURB WEIGHT 2,550-2,750 lb (mfr)
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 159.0 x 69.7 x 61.6 in
0-60 MPH 9.7 sec (MT est)
EPA COMB FUEL ECON 32 mpg (mfr est)
ON SALE IN U.S. December 2019

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