Hyundai’s Venue takes on Mazda’s established CX-3

It's a battle for small SUV supremacy as Hyundai’s Venue takes on Mazda’s established CX-3

Twin Test Main Jpg

The Hyundai Venue has a lot to offer a small SUV at an attractive price point. But is that enough to sway customers away from the popular CX-3? Let’s find out.

Equipment and Value

Hyundai offers three FWD variants (Go, Active and Elite), with prices starting at $19,990 and topping out at $25,490. We’re driving the mid-spec Active, which is $23,490 when optioned with the $2000 auto. In a big tick for the price point, all Venues come with AEB, high-beam assist and lane-keeping assist as standard. The Elite adds aesthetic upgrades like 17-inch alloys and a ‘funky’ two-tone colour option. Hyundai is offering a seven-year warranty over the usual five.

Four model grades are available (Neo Sport, Maxx Sport, sTouring and Akari). Prices kick off at $23,990 and rise to a lofty $40,490. Unlike the Venue, the CX-3 can be had with all-wheel drive (the Venue has three traction modes). Blindspot monitoring and sat-nav are standard on the Maxx Sport AWD tested, while both cars have tilt and reach adjustment for the steering wheel. The CX-3 is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

WINNER: Hyundai Venue

Space and comfort

With a sub-$20K starting price, corners have clearly been cut inside yet the Venue’s cheap and cheerful nature delivers, with a clean design highlighted by the 8.0-inch touchscreen for the infotainment. Hard plastics abound, but the fit and finish is generally solid. Headroom is generous thanks to the tall body. Outward vision is refreshingly abundant and the 355L boot is big for a small SUV. Rear legroom is tightish and there are no rear air vents.

Yes, the CX-3 is the more expensive, but it looks and feels it in design and material quality. The only area in which the Mazda is let down compared to the Hyundai is its older MZD Connect infotainment system and 7.0-inch (non touchscreen) display. While the Mazda has a tad more rear legroom, it feels more hemmed in with its lower roofline and slot rear windows. The AWD CX-3 has a significantly smaller boot at 264L, and it too lacks rear air vents.

WINNER: Hyundai Venue

Ride and Handling

Thanks to an Aussie-specific suspension tune (MacPherson struts front, torsion beam rear), the Venue’s ride quality is comfortable and composed. The chunky sidewalls of the 15-inch alloys no doubt help (and return little road noise). Dynamically the Venue’s a bit of a surprise packet, although you’re never going overly fast as the six-speed auto hunts for grunt the 1.6-litre engine doesn’t have. The steering is engaging and NVH levels well suppressed.

The CX-3 has the edge in overall agility with its lower centre of gravity providing a distinct advantage in regards to pitch and roll. It also uses MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear-end, but Mazda has gone for a slightly firmer set-up with a greater emphasis on dynamics. The steering is sharp and nicely weighted, while the six-speed auto ties in well with the 2.0-litre engine. Tyre roar from the 16-inch hoops and NVH levels are on par with the Venue.

WINNER: Mazda CX-3

Performance and Economy

The naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder is the Venue’s weakest link. It’s not the seemingly meagre outputs of 90kW/151Nm (the Active weighs 1225kg), because the tiny SUV shifts along well enough at commuter speeds. No, it’s the coarse nature of the engine under provocation that is off-putting. And it’s slow – 0-100km/h in 11.4 seconds slow. It’s also less fuel efficient than the CX-3 at 7.2L/100km. A small-capacity turbo engine would work a treat here.

The benefits of the Mazda’s almost half-a-litre advantage over the Hyundai are particularly clear when overtaking. That’s not to say the 110kW/195Nm 2.0-litre four-pot is a cracker, because it isn’t. And given it also develops its power high in the rev range, it too can sound and act strained. Overall, the CX-3’s engine feels less stressed, mainly due to its extra torque, and it isn’t as frenzied when asked to perform. At 6.3L/100km, it’s also more fuel efficient.

WINNER: Mazda CX-3

Verdict: Mazda's CX-3 arrives at a happy place

There’s an honesty about the Hyundai Venue that you have to admire – it does exactly what it says on the packet. In pure metal for money, it stacks up very well here. However, the Mazda CX-3 endears itself more as an ownership proposition with solidity and class. Yes, it comes with a premium price in this shootout by a $6000 margin, but the Mazda would still have won if the requested $25,990 Neo Sport FWD had been the variant on test. Is it heart over head? Not quite. The Venue’s positive attributes extend further than just being cheap, but it’s outclassed by a fancier establishment...


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