Exclusive: Hyundai Venue First Drive Review

We drive the much-anticipated new Hyundai Venue subcompact SUV ahead of its market launch. The car has been unveiled globally, and is the Korean manufacturers first attempt at the subcompact space

The Hyundai Venue has arrived with much fanfare. Like its elder sibling - the i20 - the Hyundai Venue too will be launched in India ahead of the rest of the world. The car also had its global debut simultaneously at the New York Auto Show and in India just last week. The part you do know is that Hyundai is setting this up as India's first connected car. The Venue comes with a pre-installed eSim that allows it to access data services in order to offer a host of functions and features on board. It also has flexible seating and cargo options, despite its small size. You also know it will be offered with either the brand new 118 bhp 1.0 T-GDI, the i20's familiar 82 bhp 1.2 litre petrol or the 1.4 litre 86 bhp diesel. Transmission choices will include the 7-Speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission) with the 1.0 T-GDI, a 5-Speed manual with the second petrol and the 6-Speed manual with the diesel. And lastly you also know that the car is Hyundai's first ever subcompact SUV. What you don't know is how it drives. But we do, so here goes!

We recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of a pre-production model at a press event held in Korea at Hyundai Motor's Namyang R&D facility. The car is really compact, and yet - just as we have seen on its debut stage - even in real world conditions its proportions scream SUV. And we can attest to the fact that the Venue's interior is well laid out and unusually sophisticated for its segment. In fact, the shapes and colour combinations remind somewhat more of the hydrogen-powered, far more expensive Hyundai Nexo, rather than say the Creta, Grand i10 or i20.

The car we got to drive was fitted with the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre "Smartstream" engine, rated at 121 bhp - paired with a CVT. That is its standard drivetrain destined for the US market. The Venue's acceleration is very satisfying, but the somewhat lazy CVT transmission thwarted our hopes for more agile throttle response. We suspect that the Venue is a lot more fun when fitted with a manual gearbox, or with that aforementioned 7-Speed DCT. The sound is quiet and unobtrusive, and the cabin does seem rather well isolated; we think the Venue will be a comfortable long-distance cruiser too as a result. That makes it ideal for city and highway driving - something not too many tiny crossovers can claim. As for the driving characteristics, overall, the car won't out and out impress you.

And yet, the chassis is well balanced, comfortable and reasonably agile, with the stability control system keeping the Venue's balance on the safe side. The Hyundai Venue is a mature car, beautifully styled and exceedingly practical. A sports car it isn't - but you already knew that! The ride quality bodes well - especially at the rear - for future products like the next generation i10, which will use the same platform, and similar engines. The car also handles well, though the drive we had was in a controlled environment and so extensive real-world testing will give us a better sense of both these departments. Yet as first impressions go, the Venue does well. And it would certainly be able to stand ahead of most rivals, and seemingly hold its own against the well built, sportier ones like the Ford EcoSport.

That car will be its chief competitor globally, though in India of course it would be the Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza that would be the archenemy. Throw in the rather capable Mahindra XUV300 and also others like the Tata Nexon, and the Venue has much to contend with. But it is in terms of looks and equipment - especially all the gadgets the car boasts that the car will truly stand out. That its performance is also looking satisfactory is an added comfort. We do expect the T-GDI engines to form the backbone of the Hyundai (and Kia) entry and compact model range in India in the imminent future, and so that is the next engine we are keen to test. Watch this space for much more on the Hyundai Venue - especially the test-drives of those India specific engines - and in our road conditions at that.

The Hyundai Venue breaks Hyundai's streak of naming its SUVs after towns in the United States: The Palisade (named for the Pacific Palisades in Santa Monica, California), the Santa Fe (New Mexico's capital), Tucson (city in Arizona), and the Kona (city on Hawaii's west coast). To be fair there have been other names like the Veracruz (Mexican city) and Creta (named for Crete in Greece). But the Venue is not geographical unlike all those names, and so has surprised many. Having said that, get used to that name as the car is expected to sell in large volumes, not just here in India but also in several other markets around the world.

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