Behind the Wheel

2020 Hyundai Venue Review: You can do a lot worse than this subcompact crossover

The subcompact Hyundai Venue is a proper choice that doesn't feel like a compromise.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Jeremy Clarkson once pointed out that things sold by the gram are always more exciting than things sold by the pound. I don't think he was talking about small, Korean-built crossovers, but the 2020 Hyundai Venue is my test car this week and I was very impressed. It's not sold by the gram, but it is very small.

The Venue is the smallest SUV that Hyundai makes — a subcompact crossover in industry parlance — with a tiny 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine making 121 horsepower. That's not a lot, but then the Venue is not a lot of car.

2020 Hyundai Venue Two-tone versions of the model are available.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

This is a city car, aimed primarily at singletons and young couples. You know this because Hyundai uses the word "urban" about 8,200 times in its marketing and press materials for the car. A Chevy Suburban it isn't, but this might be a car for potential future Suburban buyers, before they move out of downtown and have three kids.

Being a tiny SUV, there isn't a ton of room in the backseat or the trunk, though it makes the most of the space. It has more storage than a small hatchback (like the Mazda 3 or the Toyota Corolla Hatchback, which might be cross-shopped against the Venue), largely because it's taller. With the 60/40 split-folding second-row seats folded down there's plenty of room for a fairly epic Costco run.

Up front, though, is where the Venue really shines. The interior is standard Hyundai fare, which is a compliment. If you opt for a higher trim package, you've got an 8.0-inch touchscreen sitting high atop the dashboard, compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Down the middle, there are large controls for the single-zone climate control, a hefty storage bin complete with 12-volt and double USB ports.

2020 Hyundai Venue The interior of the Venue is typically Hyundai - good.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Considering that I've written entire reviews hanging off the fact that I didn't have a good place to put my phone, I'll reiterate the fact that this bin is a great place for it — or for a bag of Skittles or whatever snack strikes your fancy.

There's a straightforward shift knob (PRND), a couple of cupholders, and a smallish covered bin that is also your armrest. Decent sized bins in the doors complete your storage ensemble. It's not as well-designed inside as a Volvo XC40, which includes a small trash bin fore of the center console, but it's close — and half the price.

For a small, inexpensive city car (my nearly-fully loaded test unit priced out at $23,405), it comes with a raft of useful features including a power sunroof, LED head- and taillights (if you get the Premium Package), and a whole host of safety features.

The Venue comes with Hyundai's excellent safety suite with one notable exception. There's automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, a driver attention warning system and Hyundai's terrific lane-keeping assist system that can do a bit of steering for you on the highway. But it's missing adaptive cruise control, which is supremely disappointing.

2020 Hyundai Venue Most Venue models have an automatic transmission though a limited number of manuals are available.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Venue buyers do get an awful lot of car for their money, but this is a particularly disappointing miss — and it's odd that the car would feature active lane keeping (you can even take your hand off the wheel for a few seconds and it'll steer for you) but not the more common adaptive cruise.

As a primer, adaptive cruise is perhaps the most useful feature on any new car today. It allows you to set a cruise control speed, but uses a combination of radar and cameras to detect vehicles directly in front of you and will lower your car's speed to match. In other words, if you're in traffic, you can set it and forget it — your car will automatically slow down to meet the speed of the car in front of you. Some systems will even bring your car to a complete stop. It makes traffic considerably less frustrating to sit in, and once you have it, you'll never buy another car without.

2020 Hyundai Venue The Venue, as tested, comes with an 8.0-inch infotainment touch screen.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

But, it's not the end of the world. If you're on the market for a small crossover or first new car or something fuel efficient (32 mpg combined), you can do a lot worse than the excellent (inside and out) Hyundai Venue.

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A new robot is helping with customer service at one Hyundai store in South Korea as part of a trial program.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

You're probably familiar with Wall-E. Now, meet DAL-e, a robot that is currently being tested as a customer service representative at a Hyundai Motor showroom in southern Seoul.

DAL-e is a acronym for "Drive you, Assist you, Link with you-experience." The robot uses artificial intelligence technology for facial recognition as well as an automatic communication system based on a language-comprehension platform to assist clients.

"The DAL-e is a next-generation service platform that can offer automated customer services anytime. It is expected to become a messenger capable of delivering consistent messages to customers in a more intimate and personal way than conventional robots," said Dong Jin Hyun, Vice President and Head of the Robotics Lab at Hyundai Motor Group.

Hyundai Motor Group's DAL-E robot

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

"With continuous updates and improvements, the DAL-e will provide fresh, pleasant experiences to our valued customers in a contact-free environment. Our objective is to enable the DAL-e to engage in a smooth and entertaining communication with customers and present valuable services to them."

The robot has a truncated yet humanoid body that is designed to have a welcoming appeal to customers. It measures 1,160 x 600 x 600 millimeters and weighs jut 80 kilograms.

Engineers have given DAL-e "emotive physical features" and the ability to engage in "smooth dialogue" utilizing both speech and touch screen commands. Additionally, DAL-e can move freely throughout the store and even guide customers to designated spots using its four-wheel capability.

Customers learn from the robot as well as be entertained by it DAL-e is able to wirelessly connect to a large display screen at the back of the store and encourages visitors to take photos with it by providing gestured feedbacks with its movable arms. In the event that a customer enters the showroom without wearing a mask, the android recognizes it and advises the customer to wear one.

Hyundai Motor Group plans to continuously update the DAL-e based on data from pilot operations, perfecting its operational capabilities as an advanced android robot.

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The Mercedes-Benz GLA was redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz GLA was completely redesigned for the 2021 model year, taking it from a mundane tuna can-like hatchback to a zippy, more traditional small SUV. Everything about it fits into the modern Mercedes SUV lineup. It's a mini Merc. It's formulaic and perfectly fine but it's just not that nice compared to what else you can get for around $40,000 (starting price is just over $36,000)

Mercedes sells the GLA in three variants with another on the way. There's the traditional GLA 250 and GLA 250 4MATIC, and the AMG GLA 35. A more high-performance version of the model, the AMG GLA 45 is coming soon. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available on most models. A variety of drive modes allow the driver to choose how much torque they want to allocate to what wheels and additional setup options for suspension and dynamics are available on pricier GLAs.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 The car's infotainment and driver information screens are housed together as one unit.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

As tested, the GLA 250 was powered by the standard 2.0-liter turbo-four that is paired with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It delivers 221 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV had trouble off the line during daily driving. The GLA's turbo lag added together with low-end gearing confusion to make the mundane drive from stop sign to stop sign in a neighborhood a comfortable creep followed by a robust burst of energy. Once out of the neighborhood and up to full speed on the highway, the powertrain performed far better, however, there was nothing elegant about it.

The model's steering is numb, which is typical for its class. It's steering circle isn't as tight as is optimal.

Any promise of a tranquil ride that you would think would be relatively standard with a Mercedes is not something the GLA possesses. However, for as much road noise that permeates the cabin, it's still less than the awful rattling the previous generation GLA allowed in. For that we can all be thankful.

The added height of the GLA gives the vehicle a more SUV-like seating position than its crossover predecessor. Ingress and egress is easy, as it should be with a model of these proportions. Head- and legroom for front passengers is fantastic for a vehicle of the GLA's size.

Seats in the GLA are not uncomfortable, and certainly not the worst that Mercedes offers.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes wins points for the GLA's tech, which is easy to use, responsive, and pleasing to the eye. The GLA comes standard with the Mercedes-Benz two screens, in one large housing. Its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) operating system runs two 7.0-inch screens. The centrally located screen, which controls the infotainment system, reacts to touch and can also be operated by a touchpad controller on the center console. The list of standard equipment also includes four USB ports, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.

Buyers can upgrade their model to include a 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen, 12-speaker Burmester audio system, wireless device charging, a Wi-Fi hot spot, head-up display, and navigation.

Mercedes gives every GLA a reasonable amount of active safety features. The list includes a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, vehicle exit warning, automatic emergency braking, driver drowsiness monitoring, and crosswind assist. To get the most desirable safety features, GLA buyers need to add on two packages, which drive up the price $2,800.

The SUV has ample space in the second row for adults.Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The GLA's interior materials, cabin noise, and unrefined powertrain make it seem like a less-than premium SUV. The car's tech offerings give it a boost, but other models offer a longer list of standard and available safety technology.

Buyers who are savvy and looking to get the most bang for their buck will want to test drive similarly sized models like the 2020 Buick Encore GX, Jaguar E-Pace (it was refreshed for the 2021 model year with major changes), and Mazda CX-30 before committing to the GLA. They have interiors that are just as nice and offer price tags that are more wallet-friendly.

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