The sport utility market seems to be at its breaking point when it comes to the sheer number of offerings that are available in the market today. From big to small, it’s apparent that the world’s automakers are trying to fill every possible niche in the battle for SUV dominance. The Hyundai Venue is one of those that are trying to make its mark in the compact SUV segment. But does the Venue still have what it takes to bring it to competitors looking to trounce it on value? And why does our tester look like a pair of blue jeans?
A Rolling Pair Of Levis
The first thing you might notice about the Venue Denim is that it has a passing resemblance to your favorite pair of jeans. The Denim is currently the range-topping Venue in the family. While the bulk of the exterior styling hasn’t changed, Hyundai designers chose to instead focus their efforts on making the Denim stand out by giving it a nice coat of Denim Blue paint contrasted with white contrast trim on the roof and mirror caps. The design is not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still a very playful aesthetic that works well with the Venue’s boxy shape. The front end has an excellent chrome grille design. The two-section headlight design features LED accents and allows the Venue to have a subtle link to the Kona while maintaining its distinct identity.
Unlike the curvier Kona, the Venue is still about as boxy as a package from FedEx, but the rounded wheel arches are a welcome shot of athletic design. In contrast, the Denim exclusive 17-inch alloy wheels are the right fit to help make the side profile pop even more. The rear of the Venus is a pure exercise in function and is still a love it or hate it affair, but the LED taillights and the nice crease that’s on the liftgate helps the Venue stay youthful, and the blue color helps accent that crease even more, when viewed from some angles. While the Nissan Kicks and some other rivals have styling that’s not as boxy, the Venue, we found ourselves gravitated to the Hyundai (we blame the slick color combination for that.)
Venue Denim Interior Reminds Us Of A Gremlin From The Past
The interior of the Venue Denim follows the Hyundai tradition of offering more for less, with our tester arriving with an impressive list of standard equipment. However, slip inside, and observant buyers that either owned an AMC Gremlin once in their lives or had parents that owned the 70’s econo-hatch will see some resemblance to the Gremlin Levi’s Edition. This particular Gremlin was offered in the 1970s and was meant to be a collaboration between AMC and the clothing maker. A key selling point was the interior which looked like the Gremlin was wearing stylish jeans. Granted, the blue-hued material on the seats was a synthetic material versus pure denim, but the copper buttons on the seatbacks and other Levi’s callbacks helped cement the point of the car.
Flash forward to 2021, and some of the same traits apply to the Venue. Like the fore-mentioned Gremlin, the Venue Denim does not have pure blue-jeans material on the seats, but the synthetic cloth substitute feels good on long journeys, and the seats themselves are also comfortable places to spend time in. Unlike the ergonomically compromised Gremlin, the squared-off look and the tall roof help make the Venue’s interior larger than it appears at first glance. The Venue is slightly smaller than the Kona, but the rear seats offer more headroom (even if the seatbacks only have one storage pocket), and the cabin still has plenty of space for all occupants to stretch out and relax. We also like the essential design elements that help tie everything together, including the large climate controls, the leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the clever storage solutions like the passenger side ledge for small items.
This impressive amount of space also extends to cargo space, with the Venue offering up to 31.9 cubic feet of space when the rear seat is folded down. We put that to the test during its stay with us by having the Venue haul a sizable tool bench back to the office. The expansive space allowed the bench to fit with minimal effort and the nearly flat load floor is a welcome rarity in its budget-priced segment.
However, the Venue also comes with some drawbacks that are partially due to its price point. For example, some of the critical touchpoints are hard scratchy plastic that lacks any form of padding. Also, you cannot get a sunroof in the Denim, which is a very interesting omission in a range-topping CUV.
City Focused Performance Makes Venue Denim Urban Stylish, Fizzles Out On The Highway
Like other compact CUV offerings, the Venue Denim relies on a small four-cylinder engine to help it get around town. In this instance, the honor goes to a 1.6 liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder that makes 121 hp. That figure ensures that the Venue will not be the sportiest CUV in the race, with a CVT being the only transmission choice available. However, the Venue does feel reasonably confident in urban driving, with our tester proving to be a perfect choice for snaking through narrow city streets and tight parking lots. Our tester even surprised us with its sprints from stoplights which revealed an excellent pool of low-end torque and good sensations from the steering wheel. The lone exception was bad pavement which caused our tester to feel a bit bouncy at times.
As mentioned, this isn’t a higher performance offering, and that fact of life makes itself very apparent when you take the Denim out onto the freeway. Here, the engine loses its confidence and transforms into a loud buzzy lump that made passing maneuvers a somewhat nerve-racking ordeal which was not helped with the light steering being about as numb as soaking your hand in a pool of novocaine when tasked with high-speed maneuvering.
But while our tester’s freeway manners leave plenty to be desired, The Venue makes up for this slightly by offering an impressive 31 mpg in combined driving. That green-tinged figure is right up there with some of its rivals, and it allows the Venue still to be a value-focused choice for specific customer segments. Whether you buy a Venue (Denim or otherwise) will depend on what slice of the consumer pie you fall into. If you need a boxy compact SUV that can handle urban driving and you live primarily in the city, then the Venue will be an excellent companion. For customers that have more freeway commutes to contend with, we suggest moving up to the Kona especially models equipped with the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
Pricing for the 2021 Hyundai Venue is perhaps one of the biggest trump cards that it has to offer customers. A base SE starts at $18,750, and while it may seem like a stark penalty box at first glance, Hyundai did include standard equipment such as Forward Collision-Avoidance, Lane-Keep Assist, and a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Moving up to the $19,800 SEL model adds Blind-Spot monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic alert, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The interior also gains automatic climate control for improved passenger comfort.
As for range-topping Denim models like our tester, they start at $22,050. Our tester arrived with virtually no optional extras, but the $1,185 destination charge did push the final sticker to just over $23,000. That pricing puts it in prime contention with rivals like the Honda HR-V, Toyota Corolla Cross, and the Chevrolet Trailblazer. It also faces stiff competition from its corporate rival, the Kia Soul, which is just as boxy as the Venue but makes up for it by offering more standard extras and can even be upgraded with a 201 hp version of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder.
While the 2021 Venue is far from perfect, it invites potential buyers to not look at its faults but rather at some of its potent strengths. The pricing makes it approachable to first-time buyers, while the impressive amount of standard equipment greatly enhances its long-term value. The Denim model is a nice nod to design, especially with its blue jeans-inspired styling and it should please owners looking for something distinctly different from the rest of the established CUV crowd.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.