- The 2021 Hyundai Venue is an ultra-compact SUV that starts at $18,750.
- Its highest trim, the Denim, starts at $22,050 and features denim-blue styling inside and out.
- The Denim pairs usability with perfect packaging — something not enough new economy cars provide.
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When Hyundai debuted its new compact SUV, the Venue, in 2019, I thought it was an ugly little thing. It felt like a big car squished into a little body, doomed to look squatty and angry until some new designer came along and gave it a makeover.
But when a 2021 Hyundai Venue Denim recently showed up at my door for a two-week test drive, I realized maybe the Denim wasn’t the ugly one. My attitude was.
The 2021 Venue: Big value in a tiny package
Hyundai debuted the $18,750 Venue at the 2019 New York Auto Show as the smallest member of its crossover-SUV lineup, offering buyers a step down from the $20,950 Kona in price and size.
It’s obvious why Hyundai added the Venue to its lineup: Crossovers and SUVs are dominating the American car market right now, with new-car buyers abandoning sedans and “small cars” for ones that ride higher and provide (or provide the illusion of) more space. The Venue is a way for Hyundai to reach buyers who don’t want the traditional “small car” but only have a small-car budget to spend.
The best way to describe the Venue Denim is with the question everyone asked me when they saw it: “It’s kind of like a big Mini Cooper, isn’t it?”
The Denim is 10 inches shorter than Mini’s biggest model, the Countryman, and echoes it from the outside — largely due to its shape and two-tone paint job. The Denim is the only Venue model currently offered with two-tone paint, and its blue body paired with a white roof scream, “I’m small and cute, and hey, so what if it looks like my designers copied off of Mini’s homework and changed it just enough that the teacher wouldn’t notice?”
But the Venue is on a tighter budget than any new Mini models. Its prices run at such:
- Hyundai Venue SE ($18,750): comes with 15-inch wheels, forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, and a driver-attention warning.
- Hyundai Venue SEL ($19,800): adds 17-inch wheels, blind-spot collision warning, and rear cross-traffic collision warning.
- Hyundai Venue Denim ($22,050): adds LED headlights as well as “Denim” appearance package with blue body, white roof, and blue interior.
Every version of the Venue comes with a 121-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission. Most car buyers won’t notice the difference between a CVT and a regular automatic transmission, so don’t stress over the words too much if you didn’t know what they meant before reading this.
With $155 carpeted floor mats and fees, our Venue Denim came to $23,390.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2021 Venue four out of five stars on three of its tests: overall, frontal crash, and rollover. In the final test, side crash, the Venue got five out of five. The 2021 Venue also won the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s second-highest safety award, receiving its highest ratings in every crash test.
Where it struggled was in headlight quality. The LED headlights on the $22,050 Denim trim and the Venue SEL with the optional Premium Package — a base price, together, of $22,150 — received the IIHS’ second-highest of four safety ratings, while all other Venue models got its second-lowest.
More details about those ratings and the Venue’s headlight visibility concerns can be found here.
What stands out: Funky design, affordable practicality
The Hyundai Venue Denim is perfectly packaged. Not a thing feels overlooked or out of place.
Open the doors of the Denim’s two-tone exterior and almost everything inside is blue. Blue seats. Blue wheel. Blue dashboard. Blue doors. Blue parking brake. Blue, blue, blue.
Woven in are bits of silver and light gray, both to break up the blue and to accent the Denim’s light-gray headliner — a common feature of economy cars, while more expensive ones often match the headliner to the color of the interior. Light-gray headliners can scream “cheap” if the rest of the interior is, say, entirely black, but weaving gray into the design can offset that completely.
But Hyundai didn’t stop at funky colors. The seats have a cute zig-zagged pattern, the infotainment system displays radio channel numbers like they’re vintage lightbulbs, the grayish-white contrast stitching guides your eye throughout the car — everything inside the Denim feels like it was put there or designed like that for a reason.
At $22,000, the Venue Denim is half the price of the average new car. It might not be a $15,000 new car, but it’s pretty close to the bottom of the market.
Yet it doesn’t feel thrown together, or like an ultra-economy car whose features get ripped out or tacked on depending on price (see the Nissan Kicks, which has an optional center armrest — without it, there’s just a gaping hole between the front seats).
Don’t read this thinking the Denim is a Cadillac Escalade, though. It’s not. If you knock or tap on all of the materials, they’ll feel cheap and plasticky.
It’s a cheap car! That’s expected. But the Denim is so cute you won’t want to do that, because honestly, it doesn’t matter that much anyway.
Even I, a newfound Hyundai Venue fangirl, didn’t realize just how beautiful the Denim’s
was until I pulled it into a gas station on a stormy Saturday night. Stepping out and seeing it under those blazing lights at the gas pump — some of the only lights around given that it was 1:30 a.m. and everything else was closed — I realized its dark-blue paint glows. It’s deep. It made me feel something.
I, unfortunately, also felt a deep desire to run in and use the restroom, so I didn’t think to grab a photo. Just take my word for it.
The Venue is a great road-trip car for the price. There’s a slight amount of wind noise and on rough patches, you can hear the road noise over a modest radio volume. But it’s more like white noise in the background instead of an invasive, grating soundtrack to your ears.
The Venue also doesn’t ride on cloud-like suspension, and you wouldn’t expect it to at the price. You can feel the road beneath you, but it’s perfectly comfortable for around-town driving or long stretches of highway.
Add front seat heaters (sorry, folks in the back), decent headroom in the rear because the car’s roof doesn’t slope backward, and an easy-to-work infotainment system, and no one has much to complain about in the Venue.
What falls short: Slow to get up to speed, quick to fill up with cargo
Look hard enough, though, and you can find some stuff to pick on.
The Venue Denim’s start-stop button feels like a plastic bottle cap. It doesn’t have a sunroof or moonroof. There are no vents or seat heaters in the back, let alone any kind of climate control. Back-seat passengers don’t get an armrest. Plus, the Venue arrived with a big stain on its light-gray headliner, so maybe try not to throw coffee on it or something.
Another major dirt trap in the Venue is its infotainment system, complete with a shiny touchscreen and a piano-black border. The button controls in the Venue allowed me to avoid riddling the touchscreen with fingerprints unless I was putting something in the navigation, but that didn’t stop an entire layer of dust and grime from building up anyway.
The good thing is that while many new cars slap shiny piano-black trim — perhaps the biggest grime magnet humanity has ever created — on every square inch available, the Venue doesn’t. It’s free of piano black outside of the infotainment screen and a couple of buttons, and that’s a good thing.
While the Venue might be a small car trying to mimic a big car, it’s still a small car. Where that shows the most is in its cargo space.
Open up the back and you’ll find a tiny cargo area, but I guess that’s a tradeoff you have to make if you want five seats and a car small enough to squeeze into the last little strip of street parking (which the Venue is very good at).
And although no one’s buying a $22,000 Venue to take to the drag strip, its 121-horsepower engine is both painfully slow and sounds like it’s in pain while trying to get up to speed. Step on the gas and you’re suddenly reminded of that guy at the gym, lifting too much weight for his own good and grunting louder than a tornado siren.
Our impressions: The perfect package for the perfect price
I didn’t get off to a great start with the Hyundai Venue, and that was my fault. As soon as I saw it in person, I knew I was wrong — and that I’d be proven even more wrong the longer I spent with the car.
In my two weeks with the Denim, it went from ugly duckling to the car equivalent of a Russell Stover heart-shaped box.
Both are, generally, one of your least expensive options for the occasion (buying a new car, Valentine’s Day), and there’s a reason why people default to the heart-shaped box: It comes in a nice, clean, festive package. It’s cute. Nobody cares that you only spent $10, because for the same price as a few candy bars, you got something that really cares about making a good impression.
That’s what the Denim teaches you: It isn’t about price, it’s about presentation. It’s also about giving a car the benefit of the doubt, because you’re never going to know how you feel until you see and drive it for yourself.
I’ll work on that next time.