Crossover or entry-level car? 2021 Hyundai Venue wants it both ways

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Hyundai Venue different?

Little of substance, but a change in status is probably on the way. In a year or two, this subcompact wagon will likely assume the role of Hyundai’s smallest and least expensive vehicle. The Venue, promoted by Hyundai as a crossover SUV, would supplant the automaker’s little Accent sedan, which reportedly will be discontinued. 

The Venue debuted for model-year 2020 and should return virtually unaltered for 2021. Hyundai calls it a crossover SUV, and while it has a crossover shape and a slightly elevated seating position, Venue isn’t available with all-wheel drive (AWD). It’s front-wheel-drive only. In our book, a vehicle like this without AWD isn’t a true crossover. A better descriptor is another marketing label applied by Hyundai: “versatile urban commuter.”

Indeed, user-friendly city duty is a great role for a maneuverable hatchback with seating for five and adaptable cargo capability. So is any role where affordability – base-price range is roughly $18,600-$23,500 — but not quick acceleration or AWD are part of the script.

Should I wait for the 2021 Hyundai Venue or buy a 2020?

2020 Venue SEL

Not much reason to wait for the ’21 Venue. It’ll be a virtual rerun of the debut 2020 model, although it’s almost certain to cost more. Buying a 2020 Venue gets you solid, sensible transportation that won’t change significantly for several years. And buying a ’20 makes you eligible for Covid-19-related discounts and incentives that may not be in place once the 2021 Venue rolls out.

The ’21 Venue will again slot into Hyundai’s lineup just below the slightly larger and costlier Kona subcompact crossover. Kona’s a true crossover because it’s available with AWD, like the Chevrolet Trax, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, and most vehicles in this competitive set. The front-drive-only outliers are the Venue, Nissan Kicks, and Toyota C-HR. In this sense, the Venue is kin to the Kia Soul, the front-drive-only subcompact hatchback from Hyundai’s corporate partner.

Expect the ’21 Venue to return SE and SEL models, plus a possible special trim, such as the Denim edition offered for 2020. The sole engine will again be a 121-horsepower four-cylinder linked to a manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic. Among the selling points: a nice array of standard features, including key safety tech; and options not always available on entry-level vehicles, such as an imbedded navigation system.

Will 2021 Hyundai Venue styling be different?

2020 Venue SEL

Only by virtue of more colors for an already broad palette aimed at Venue’s youthful target audience. Green Apple and Intense Blue should be among returning hues. For ’20, the extra-cost Denim ensemble included exclusive blue paint, a white roof, and matching mirror caps. It was upholstered in denim-colored fabric with darker leatherette trim.

Otherwise, the ’21 Venue will reprise an upright four-door body whose most provocative aspect is a front end with busy grille work and stacked lighting. The lighting can be enlivened with the LED headlamp/daytime running lights that are part of the SEL’s Premium Package and were included with the Denim. The ’21 SEL and any Denim-type edition should also come with crossover-style roof rails. Expect 15-inch wheels to return as standard – steel on SE, alloys on SEL – with 17-inch alloys included in the SEL Premium Package and with the Denim.

2020 Venue Denim

Unchanged will be dimensions that provide only marginally less interior space than in the larger but lower-slung Kona but more than in the 13.6-inch longer Accent. There’s 36-percent more cargo volume behind Venue’s rear seat than in the Accent’s trunk, and nearly two-and-half-times more with Venue’s 60/40-split rear seatbacks folded. That roomier – and trendier-looking – body is one reason Hyundai is expected to shelve the Accent in favor of the Venue around model-year 2022.  

Venue occupants sit fairly upright, and the chair-like posture provides rear seaters better legroom than would be otherwise be possible, given the relatively tight clearance to the front seats. Headroom is generous all around. Cabin-materials quality is a bit better than Venue’s entry-level rung might imply but hard plastics still dominate, and the fabric seating surfaces common to all trims feels uncomfortably synthetic. Dour black is the only interior color for the SE; SEL buyers can choose black or an equally drab gray. The Denim’s mix of blue and gray is a welcome relief. Hyundai would do well to offer more such blends for 2021.

2020 Venue SEL

The dashboard layout holds no mysteries. Gauges are clear, controls well marked and easily accessible. Expect all ‘21 Venues to again come with a tablet-style 8-inch central dashboard infotainment touchscreen and support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Imbedded navigation with satellite radio and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics would be included in the SEL Premium Package and with the Denim. So would pushbutton ignition.

2020 Venue SEL

The SEL Convenience Package and the Denim should return with a power sunroof, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and an armrest front center console. Look for the SEL and Denim to again feature automatic climate control.   

2020 Venue SEL

Interior storage benefits from space at the front of the center console and a passenger-side dashboard shelf but isn’t otherwise generous. Although greater than any small sedan’s, Venue’s cargo volume is stingy compared to the average subcompact crossover, most of which are larger overall. There’s 18.7 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 31.9 with them folded. A cargo floor panel adjusts to bring the load surface roughly level with the folded rear seatbacks.

Any 2021 Hyundai Venue mechanical changes?

2020 Venue Denim

Highly unlikely. All ’21 Venues should return with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine of 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force that gets a vehicle moving, horsepower as the energy that keeps it moving). Expect a six-speed manual transmission to return as standard on the ’21 SE, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) optional there and standard on the SEL and Denim. A CVT performs the role of an automatic but without stepped gear ratios.   

Venue’s power output is modest for a modern entry-level vehicle of any type and acceleration is adequate, at best. No manual-transmission SE was available to test in time for this review.  

CVT-equipped Venues comport themselves acceptably around town. But any call for lively pickup away from a stop or to merge or pass requires very aggressive throttle application. Unfortunately, even that doesn’t deliver strong acceleration. And it’s accompanied by intrusive engine drone, as the CVT allows engine speed to race ahead of vehicle speed. It’s a common CVT shortfall.

2020 Venue SEL

Some manual-type gear control is possible by toggling the floor shifter in its adjacent gate. But that’s useful mostly to summon engine braking, not muster more power. SEL and Denim models should again come with a Drive Mode that dials up Sport and Snow powertrain settings. Sport sharpens throttle response a little. 

Venue feels stable at freeway speeds and handles fine on city and suburban streets. Reflexes take on a whiff of sportiness with the 17-inch wheels and tires. Try to hustle through turns or along a twisting road, however, and Venue responds mostly by nose plowing until you back off. Note that the SE is among the few new vehicles that still uses rear drum brakes; other Venues get rear discs.  

Ride quality is remarkably compliant with the 15-inch wheels and tires. The 17s enable bumps and ruts to register roundly and they allow more road roar, too. Wind rush is noticeable but not disruptive at highway speeds, and we’ve already noted engine drone with the CVT and liberal throttle application. 

Will 2021 Hyundai Venue fuel economy improve?

2020 Venue SEL

Not unless there’s a change in EPA calculations. Expect 2021 Venue EPA ratings to repeat those of the 2020 model. Here, Venue’s relatively small size compared to an average subcompact crossover – and absence of weight-adding AWD – pays off in good but not great fuel economy within its competitive set.

Look for the ’21 Venue to rate 27/35/30 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 30/34/32 with the CVT. By comparison, the ’20 Kona, with its 147-horsepower engine, six-speed automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive rated 27/33/30 mpg. In its sole configuration of front-drive, 144 horsepower, and a CVT, the ’20 Toyota C-HR rated 27/31/29 mpg. And the Accent, which shares the Venue’s powertrain, rated 29/39/33 with manual transmission and 33/41/36 with the CVT for 2020.

Will there be new 2021 Hyundai Venue features?

2020 Venue SEL with imbedded navigation and automatic climate control

Probably not, although Hyundai may contemplate giving Venue a competitive edge by introducing more driver assists or making existing safety features available on the SE trim. Expect every ’21 Venue to again come with autonomous emergency braking designed to bring the crossover to a stop to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. Also continuing standard will be lane-maintaining automatic steering correction and a drowsy-driver alert.

Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection probably will remain part of the SEL Convenience Package and included with the Denim. As Venue takes over for the Accent, Hyundai may well make those assists available for the SE. And it could enhance the standard cruise control system with an adaptive function to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead.

2020 Venue SEL

Otherwise, every ’21 Venue will return with the equipment already mentioned, plus automatic highbeam headlamps as well as touches not often found in this price range, such as steering-linked guidelines for the standard reverse camera and, in lieu of turn-signal mirrors, signal-linked front-fender marker lights.

Expect options to remain the province of the SEL model, while any Demin or similar top-line edition would come equipped with those options, plus any trim-specific extras. For ’21 the SEL Convenience Package was priced at $1,150. It probably would continue as a prerequisite for the SEL Premium Package ($1,750), which should again include heated front seats, heated mirrors and LED lighting front and rear in addition to content mentioned earlier.

Will 2021 Hyundai Venue prices be different?

2020 Venue SEL

They’ll probably increase slightly, remaining at the lower end of Venu’s ostensible subcompact-crossover competitive set but higher than comparable subcompact cars. To illustrate, the ’20 Accent’s base-price range was $16,270-$20,375, including a $975 destination fee. The ’20 Venue’s base-price range was $18,490-$23,190, including a $1,140 destination fee.

Whether buyers will accept this South Korean automaker’s pitch that the Venue has enough style and substance to justify that price premium over the Accent will go a long way to determining its success as the new entry-level Hyundai. Its an issue other brands, such as Ford and Chevrolet, must deal with as they supplant low-cost cars like the Focus and Cruze with more expensive (and more profitable) crossover replacements. 

For reference, here are 2020 Venue base prices, including the aforementioned $1,140 destination fee. The ’20 SE started at $18,490 with manual transmission and and $19,640 with the CVT. The SEL was priced from $20,390 and the Denim from $23,190.

When does the 2021 Hyundai Venue come out?

2020 Venue SEL

Barring delays related to the pandemic, expect a 2021 Hyundai Venue release date in the third quarter 2020.

Best 2021 Hyundai Venue competitors

Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Jeep Renegade, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]