JOHANNESBURG - It's been a good few months for consumers shopping in the sports utility playground.
First they had the Volkswagen T-Cross and now Hyundai have launched their latest offering in the form of the Venue as direct competition to the vee-dub, which has proven to be a hit since it went on sale a few months ago.
Hyundai launched a cheeky advertising campaign shortly after the VW launch advising people not to “cross their Ts just yet”.
So, if you’re one of those lucky people that still get a year-end bonus and are in this market, the decision has just been made more difficult, especially if you also throw Ford’s EcoSport into the mix.
The Venue, however, stands well on its own and I reckon it’s thrown the cat among the pigeons.
It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the Venue is a balanced and attractive package that is likely to resonate with buyers.
There are three specification levels available – the entry level Motion, midrange Fluid and then the Glide.
All are powered by a three-cylinder petrol engine pushing out 88kW and 172Nm of torque paired to a sixspeed manual in the Motion, a choice of either manual or seven-speed dual clutch transmission in the Fluid, while the range-topping Glide only gets the automatic box.
The appetite for SUVs is seemingly never ending and given the size of the Venue the designers have done a good job in making it an attractive option incorporating Hyundai’s design language, including the cascading grille also found on the Kona and Santa Fe.
From the front you’ll notice that they have separated the indicators and headlights, giving it a unique look that’s carried through to the tail lights.
The Fluid and Glide stand on 16-inch alloy wheels while the Motion is rounded off with 15-inch steelies. We’ve driven some cars that have been put together in India and the quality hasn’t always been brilliant, but we had a close look at the alignment of the Venue and couldn’t fault it.
The interior is also solid, albeit with hard plastics that will probably start to show scratches over time. It’s surprisingly roomy in the rear, although only the Glide gets the 60/40 rear split seatback.
The best-in-segment eight-inch (20cm) touchscreen infotainment system (including rearview monitor) dominates the dash of the Fluid and Glide, while the Motion is fitted with a 3.8-inch (10cm) mono LCD display.
The system is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
The steering wheel houses audio controls and in the Fluid and Glide also the cruise control buttons.
A nice touch is a cooling glovebox and rear aircon ventilation ducts in the middle and top of the range variations.
At the launch last week we got to drive the manual Fluid and auto Glide versions in Franschhoek, which has ideal roads to test the Venue.
I’m still not completely used to the vibrations of a three-pod motor and the Venue is no different with its unique almost motorbike-esque sound.
It is, however, one of the perkier engines we have tested and it doesn’t mind being thrashed close to the red line at all. It’s also delightfully responsive and gets going in a hurry.
Gear changes in the manual were swift and effortless with the steering direct and pretty much point and drive.
The McPherson struts with a stabiliser bar and coil springs upfront and a coupled torsion beam axle with coil springs at the back keep things civilised with only a slight tyre squeal during hard cornering.
The Glide has a much more leisurely appeal to it. The box changes smoothly but the driving experience is very different to the manual: a bit more refined and it doesn’t have the same urgency.
If that kind of thing isn’t a dealbreaker for you it’s perfect for the cluttered highways, but if you enjoy being a bit more involved behind the wheel, I’d opt for the manual Fluid.
Safety-wise you’re taken care of with six airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners with force limiters, ABS, electronic stability control, electronic brake force distribution and hill start assist.
The Motion comes with driver and passenger airbags.
The Venue enters a highly segment with some strong players, but the brand has gained a loyal following based on value-for-money reliability and after sales service.
It’s going to be interesting to watch the sales figures in the next few months.