We head for the hills in Hyundai’s new Venue

And we discover that the compact crossover is great for taking in the vistas

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The Venue is Hyundai's newest and smallest crossover/sport utility vehicle | Larry Edsall photos

Hyundai is promoting its newest — seventh, and smallest — crossover/sports utility vehicle, the Venue, as the ideal vehicle for “the urban adventurer.” 

“Small SUV. Big city hustle.” it says on the Venue’s page on hyundaiusa.com.

So, what did I do when one of the new 2020 Venues arrived for a test drive? Obviously, I headed for the hills. 

Urban Las Vegas is pretty much shut down these days. You know things are serious when the casinos are closed for business. 

But while so many businesses have sent their employees home, and while, just like everyone else, we’re encouraged to stay home, and to keep our distance from folks when we have to be out and about, at least we’re not under a California-style quarantine, which means the roads are open, and also delightfully free of the typical traffic.

Press the starter button on the Venue dashboard, back out of the driveway and off we go, west through a gap in the Spring Mountains to Pahrump, then north past Johnnie, officially a ghost town, and then back toward the east, passing through Indian Springs, where we see the eerie sight of drone flight practice taking place at the old air base.

I turned off U.S. 95 to climb from the desert floor to around 8,500 feet up on Mount Charleston, where there’s still enough snow that people were building snowmen in a meadow near the ski run. 

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Nevada roads 156, 158 and 157 form a nice “U” that takes you up, across and then down and back to U.S. 95 to continue the drive back to Las Vegas.

The Venue, with its two-tone paint and compact size, sort of looks like a Mini Countryman, though with a traditional rear hatch rather than French doors. The Venue has a very prominent grille that provides some visual heft to its stance. 

Empowering the Venue is Hyundai’a Smartstream Gamma 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. It can be linked to either a 6-speed manual or Smartstream IVT (Intelligent Variable Transmission). My test car had the IVT, though you can pull the shift selector lever toward you in Drive and take your choice of 8 steps, something we used on the downhill sections of the Mount Charleston segment of that long drive.

We’d done the same drive — except in the other direction — a few months ago in a Toyota 86 sports coupe equipped with a 6-speed manual and TRD tweaks. But where the 2.0-liter Subaru-sourced 4-cylinder in the 86 seemed to run out of breath above 7,500 feet, the Venue had no such problem. 

Hyundai says its Smartstream powertrain technology features dual-port fuel injection, high-tumble combustion with optimized port and valve shapes, maximized thermal efficiency, optimized cooling system, integrated thermal management and high-ignition energy. It adds that the IVT is a proprietary transmission. 

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Our real-world drive showed a 42.9-mpg average, way better than the 33 mpg combined fuel economy estimate. The car also showed spunk on city streets and urban freeways.

“Competent” is a word I wrote in my notebook midway through the drive, and from me that’s considerable praise.

I do, however, have one nit to pick: The CHMSL — center high-mounted stop light — is top dead center in the driver’s view out the crossover’s rearview mirror and blocked my view of whatever vehicle was behind me on the road. I found that unsettling.

And while not quite a nit, and while I like the two-tone color scheme, I don’t understand the white eyebrows above each of the wheel wells. 

Hyundai says it selected the name for its smallest crossover because a venue is a place where people like to be seen. “The vehicle embodies the characteristics of ‘the place to be,’ while reaching the final desired destination, wherever that may be. The Venue symbolizes a trendy, unique style… For first-time vehicle owners, Venue offers relaxation and protection with its standard safety features at an affordable price.”

Base price for the Venue is $16,350, though the SEL starts at $18,250 and the Denim version at $21,050.

2020 Hyundai Venue Denim Edition

Vehicle type: 5-passenger compact crossover, front-wheel drive

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Base price: $22,050 Price as tested: $23,305

Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, 121-horsepower @ 6,300 rpm, 113 pound-feet of torque @ 4,500 rpm Transmission: continuously variable transmission

Wheelbase: 99.2 inches Overall length/width: 159 inches / 69.7 inches

Curb weight: 2,732 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 30 city / 34 highway / 32 combined

Assembled in: Ulsan, South Korea

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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