Can the small New Zealand car market absorb yet another SUV? Hyundai New Zealand seems to think so, as we headed to the launch of their new compact SUV, the Venue. Unusual name aside, this model slots in under the Kona, making it Hyundai’s smallest SUV on sale.

After a quick reveal of the new car, Hyundai New Zealand gave us the latest low-down on the New Zealand market, and the Venue. Looking at the stats, passenger car sales are in a steady decline, and the reverse of this is sales of SUVs, climbing year on year. The SUV segment breakdown is interesting as well. As expected, Medium SUV is the biggest selling segment within SUVs, and for Hyundai that means the Tucson is the winner for them.

For the Compact SUV segment, it’s grown from just over 10,000 sales in 2016 to 18,000 year to date for 2019. Large SUV sales are declining, down 20% since 2016, with buyers moving into medium SUVs instead.

The Kona has 8.5% of the Compact SUV market, and sits in between the Nissan Qashqai and Honda HR-V. Within Compact SUV sales, 40% are to companies, and 60% private. It’s almost identical for light car buyers. Still in Compact SUV, genders are fairly equal with 59% female vs 41% male buyers.

We’re always going on about transmissions at DriveLife, and within Compact SUV, Hyundai gave us the break down, with 7% manual, CVT at 32%, and ‘normal’ automatic at 61%.

2019 HYUNDAI VENUE

Compared to the i20 hatch, the Venue is 40mm shorter, 35mm wider, and 90mm higher. It has 24 litres more boot space than the i20 hatch, which is a good amount more in such a small car.

There’s just two models of Venue; Entry and Elite. In some respects, Hyundai have gone hard out with the features even the standard car has. Safety features are high on the list, with both models having Hyundai’s SmartSense package, that includes Forward Collision Avoidance, Lane Keep Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Hill Start Assist, and automatic high beams.

Mechanically, there’s just the one engine, a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine, with a 6-speed automatic gearbox. Hyundai made it clear they did not want a CVT gearbox, purely for driveability reasons. The engine outputs 90Kw of power at 6,300rpm, and 151Nm of torque at 4,850rpm. They suggest a 0-100km/h time of 11.4 seconds, and fuel economy around 7.2L/100km.

There’s 11 colours available for the car, and a combination offering of up to 23 with a two-tone option at around $700, that is only available in the Elite models.

Love the two-tone option

The Venue is front-wheel drive only, but does have ‘Traction Mode’, that they suggest compensates for AWD grip by using electronic traction assistance. Along with three drive modes (Sport, Normal and Eco), there’s also some traction modes; Sand, Snow, and Mud.

We were told the target market for this car is young urban millennials. “Someone who is very energetic, determined to be successful, has lots of energy, explores what matters in their life, and love to perform their own role in multifarious fields.”

Gavin Young, Aftersales manager at Hyundai New Zealand, went through some of the other features of the new car.  There’s a three dimensional cascading grille at the front, and a fender garnish on the side. There’s also side character lines, coloured exterior highlights, a unique C pillar, and 17” alloy wheels on the Elite, while the Entry model gets 15” alloys. The rear has a wide stance and skid plate, to make it look and feel a bit tough.

On the inside, Gavin says that rear head room has been a key design feature for the car. There’s 6 airbags as standard, and the Elite model also gets Blind Spot Collision Warning. There’s an 8” central touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, dynamic guidelines for reversing, tyre pressure monitoring, and a 3.5” driver’s information display.

Air conditioning is manual in the Entry, and climate controlled in the Elite.

The Venue will work with Hyundai’s AutoLink Connect app, that allows you to lock or unlock the car, control the AC, start or stop the engine, check servicing, call roadside assist, check on driving stats and history, and check your vehicle status.

One omission is adaptive cruise control; both models are fitted only with ‘normal’ cruise control. The Elite model does have LED rear lights and Daytime Running Lights, rear traffic collision warning, and privacy glass.

The standard pricing for the Entry model is $29,990, and the Elite is $33,990. For a launch special, both models have been discounted, with the Entry at $27,990 and Elite at $31,990. There’s no indication yet on when the special will finish.

The car will be available in the first quarter of 2020.

DAY ONE

Presentation over, it was time to head to the cars to hit the road, initially to the headquarters for the 49ers 2019 World Yachting Championships being held not too far away, in Mission Bay.

Before we left, I went to my assigned car for today. It was in an Elite model, finished in Fiery Red, and it looked excellent in that colour. The front design is certainly unique, but still shows the Hyundai family look. It does look very Kona-ish at the front, and that front design sure makes the car look bigger than it is.

I hopped inside to check out how they’ve done with the interior. Thankfully, Hyundai have taken the hint and the central touchscreen display is now almost integrated into the dash. It looks so much better than their current cars that have that ‘tacked on’ look. The infotainment system is familiar to anyone who’s been in a Hyundai recently, with no changes. Clarity is there, too.

Something I missed in the briefing was that the Elite models have a heated steering wheel, which is a nice touch. There’s quite a lot hard, black plastic used in the cabin, with little attention to different textures or padding of any sort. Still, the interior is nice and light, and feels quite spacious for the size of car.

It was interesting to see that after being told the car is targeted at urbanites and city dwellers, that Hyundai have fitted the car with an old-school manual park brake. It doesn’t worry me, but it does seem out of place with targeted buyers.

At last we headed out into Auckland’s traffic. So nice to have an automatic gearbox, and not a CVT. It’s only a 6-speed, but it feels perfect for the car. It’s not a dual-clutch unit either, so starting off from a stop is very smooth. A few times when I gunned it when needed, that 1.6-litre motor got a little vocal, but it’s generally smooth – but I’d been keen to see how it goes on the open road.

The ride for a small, light car is a stand-out; very smooth, even over speed bumps. Apparently the Venues New Zealand will receive benefit from a comprehensive Australian-specific chassis tune, and that’s always welcome.

On the way to the yachting championship headquarters, we stopped at Achilles Point for a bit of a view for the overseas visitors attending this launch, and that gave us some time to look again at the design of the car. I quite like the front; it’s modern, and I love the full-ring LED DRLs that are fitted to the Elite models. The base model doesn’t have the chrome-plastic finish on the grille that the Elite does, and it doesn’t look anywhere near as good. I wonder how many people would bother with the base model, especially with those 15” alloy wheels, that seem far too small for the car. The 17” alloys on the Elite are an excellent design, and suit the car perfectly.

Around the back of the car, this is where it doesn’t seem to gel – for me at least. There doesn’t seem to be the same cohesion from the front to the rear of the car, with the rear looking a little boring. There are some nicely designed taillights, and I noticed that the angled lines on the taillights match up with the angle of the upline on the rear bumper. But it seems like the rear design of the car is not as modern at the front. Again, that’s just my view. The exception here would be the two-tone car on today’s run – it looks great from all angles.

We left Achilles Point, and went to lunch. We had planned to go out on a racing yacht, but Auckland’s weather forced us to look at other plans. We all wanted to drive these cars on the open road, and since we’d be on Waiheke Island for the night, this seemed like the perfect time. Plans made, we headed very slowly towards the Harbour Bridge, with seemingly endless roadworks to get through. At last we broke through though, and headed up Highway 1, turned off at Constellation Drive and heading to Fabric Café for a coffee.

Thoughts on the drive so far were mixed. Traffic was bad all the way, so we didn’t get a chance to get a good feel for the Venue. The engine can be very quiet on the motorway, and not so quiet when passing. It can feel a little lethargic at times; there’s 91kW of power, and at certain points you wish it had more. Steering is very light, and the quality of the ride is still impressive.

I tried out Sport mode, and this certainly makes the car more responsive. It does hold on to the gears for quite a while though, and others commented on this as well. Eco mode is still usable, as it doesn’t seem to dampen performance down to unacceptable levels.

Post coffee, we headed back down Highway 16 to Auckland City, and the car ferry. Lining up 13 Venues took a while, but luckily for us the weather was now quite good, meaning a much smoother trip to the island.

DAY TWO

A stunning day today on Waiheke Island, and after breakfast we all drove to EcoZip Adventures. I was now passenger in another Elite model, finished in Galactic Grey. At Eco Zip we’d do the three zip-line runs the owners have created, across a vineyard and then over native bush.

Venue finished in Galactic Grey

Half of the drive there would be over metal roads, with me as passenger. The car seemed to handle them well, with not too much shuddering over the rutted-out uphill corners. Those are a real test of a car, but the Venue seemed to do well.

Some social media influencers had joined us at this point, so it was a car park full of Venues, as everyone geared up and took the safety briefing. After doing zip lining over a part of the Grand Canyon in October, this actually felt faster, and maybe it was, as we hit 60km/h on the third and steepest run. It is an incredible adrenalin buzz, and highly recommended.

After zip lining, there’s a 25-minute walk through the bush to get back to the main building, and this in itself is a treat. It’s uphill at certain points, but maintained well and the gradient is never impossible. Just walking through the bush is excellent, as the shade helps keep you cool.

Stunning views from EcoZip Adventures

After this event, we headed to Man O’ War Winery for some lunch. The food was superb, and the view to die for. Waiheke Island showed itself to be a piece of paradise today, and it was a great time for the overseas guests.

Lunch over, it was time to head back to the car ferry, with me driving on the metal roads. While the Venue will be seen mainly as a city car, it does well on these roads. We did select the ‘Sand’ setting from the drive modes, although I’m not sure how much difference it made. With 13 Venues travelling together, there wasn’t much chance of letting the tail hang out a bit to test it.

A bunch of Venues lined up on Waiheke Island

After I got us lost, we made it back to the car ferry, and travelled back to Auckland City. Driving back to Hyundai’s head office, this is really where the Venue is at home. City streets, city traffic. It has good visibility all round, and feels fun to drive in town.

Now we wait for a test car to arrive, and see if it really has what it takes to do the Daily Drive for a week. Stay tuned.

Lined up for the ferry ride back to Auckland
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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