Subcompacts are all the rage right now. We compare the stylish Hyundai Venue with the refined Buick Encore to find out which crossover is worth your money.
Millennials aren’t buying sedans. Given the “utility” and “ruggedness” of crossovers, the traditional four-door city car is on its way out. Detroit’s Big Three have been shedding sedans from their lineups in favor of the now ubiquitous crossover/SUV. But in the haste of this market conversion, car buyers haven’t stopped needing smaller economy vehicles to get them from A to B (they just want those vehicles to have a higher riding position and poorer driving dynamics). Enter the Hyundai Venue and Buick Encore, two sides of the same subcompact coin.
2020 Hyundai Venue – hyundaiusa.com | Shop Hyundai Venue on Carsforsale.com
The Venue and the Encore represent the smallest and most affordable offerings from their respective companies. The Venue is one step down in size from the already modest Hyundai Kona (an excellent subcompact in its own right) and positioned to fill out that budget city car niche vacated by the sedan.
2020 Buick Encore – buick.com | Shop Buick Encore on Carsforsale.com
The Encore borrows its visual cues from the larger Envision and Enclave and, taking its roundness into consideration, a jellybean. Buick sits in an odd place as GM’s second-tier luxury brand, nice, but not, in theory at least, as nice as Cadillac. Then again, we’re fans of making nice things fiscally accessible, a long time Buick strong suit.
Neither the Hyundai Venue nor the Buick Encore are quick, but neither are they intended to be. Both are city cars and the amount of power they possess is requisite to the task of navigating traffic. No more, no less.
The Buick Encore comes with a 1.4-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine making 138hp and 148lb.-ft. of torque paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. As with most vehicles of this size, the Encore gets decent gas mileage at 25 city and 30 highway mpg for the front-wheel drive version and 24 city/ 29 highway for the all-wheel drive version. Cargo room in the Encore is 19 cu. ft. in back and 31.9 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded down.
The Hyundai Venue packs a similarly small engine, with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder making 121hp and 113lb.-ft. of torque. There are options for either a 6-speed manual transmission or a CVT (an IVT or “intelligent variable transmission” as Hyundai calls it). The manual gets 27 city/ 35 highway mpg, while the CVT gets 30 city and 34 highway mpg. The Venue comes in front-wheel drive only. Cargo is almost identical to the Buick, with 18.7 cu. ft. in back and 31.9 cu. ft. with the rear seats down.
A quick comment on the cargo space in these vehicles. The 18-19 cu. ft. in back isn’t as practically useful as the smaller total cubic feet you get from comparable sedans. That’s because so much of that space is vertical in a crossover, forcing you to obscure the driver’s vision when packing to capacity.
The practical compromise comes down to more space for larger items with the seats folded down, sans passengers, versus space for both passengers and their luggage, as one might need on a family trip. This is why larger crossovers, or dare we say sedans, are better suited for the needs of families, while subcompact crossovers like the Venue and Encore work just fine for childless Millennials and empty nester Boomers.
The Buick Encore comes with a typically Buick ride, that is to say just as smooth and forgiving as always. In fact, the comfortable ride of a Buick has long been its best “luxury” oriented characteristic. But as well damped as the ride is, the high seating position of the small crossover inevitably produces lean around corners. Steering is accurate and evenly weighted to a refreshingly Goldilocks middle ground. So, while not exciting, the Encore’s driving experience is notable for its extreme inoffensiveness.
The Hyundai Venue is also fairly comfortable in the front, with nice, well-cushioned seats and a forgiving suspension. It’s too bad that this doesn’t carry over to the back, where the ride gets noticeably rougher. The Venue is also rather slothful and likes to rev out noisily when you mash on the throttle, which you will find yourself doing in passing situations. Steering is decently responsive in the Venue without being overly exciting.
In terms of driving, the winner depends on your desired level of engagement. The Buick feels much more of a set-it-and-forget-it experience. Whereas the Venue’s optional manual does provide a semblance of connectivity to the vehicle. Though, if this is really a goal of yours, we’d encourage you to consider Hyundai’s delightful Veloster hatchback for a similarly priced and sized vehicle.
The exteriors of the Venue and the Encore are a sort of take your pick between a pint-sized Enclave and a pint-sized Palisade, but the interiors are a different story, and where the differences in price between these two vehicles plays out most obviously.
The Encore borrows much from its larger siblings in the Enclave and Envision, and their relative sophistication translates well to the smaller stage. Hard plastics are present but used in moderation, with most touch points having been graced with soft materials. There’s a standard 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a WiFi hotspot, and Bluetooth.
The Venue’s interior is a mixed bag. We liked the optional denim seats, the color matching stitching, and accenting. Even at the lower end of Hyundai’s lineup there’s still an attention to details and personality we appreciate. And yet, that lower price point is reflected in the abundance of hard plastics in use here. The standard 8-inch touchscreen looks tacked on to the dash rather than fully integrated into the overall design. We did like the use of large and easily accessed knobs for both the HVAC controls and the radio, though the latter’s tuning knob suffered from a noticeable lag.
The Venue and Encore function on a continuum in price from one of the lower priced options in the segment to one flirting with luxury pricing on the high end. And, depending on your preferences and budget, either can prove a great deal.
The Venue starts at $17,350 with the SE trim. It comes with a good assortment of driver assistance features like lane keep assist, pedestrian detection, and forward collision warning. As we mentioned above, there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay that come with the standard 8-inch infotainment display.
The top Denim trim starts at $22,050 and comes with, you guessed it, denim and synthetic leather upholstery. You also get push-button start, navigation, and additional safety features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
The Buick Encore starts where the Venue leaves off in price at $23,300 for the 1SV base trim. Buick has been rather generous with their base offerings here, with keyless entry, six-way power driver’s seat, and cloth seats.
All the way at the top of the line for the Encore sits the Essence trim at $29,300. This features a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, leather upholstery, and a safety package that includes blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alerts. Items like the optional moonroof, navigation, and additional safety features like lane departure warning and forward collision warning will drive the price up beyond $30,000. In that territory the Encore starts competing with the lower trim levels of serious luxury competitors like the BMW X1 and Volvo XC40.
Despite ostensibly residing in the same segment, the Hyundai Venue and the Buick Encore are geared to similar yet different demographics. The Venue, with it’s accenting, large chrome grille, and two-tone roof is pitched to young urban professionals looking for a bargain in a small crossover. The Encore on the other hand is geared toward those people’s parents. A refined ride, sedate (or sedated) driving experience, and high quality interior all seek to replicate what buyers have appreciated about the brand for decades, albeit in the modern guise of a subcompact crossover.
For the money, the base level Venue is a good budget option, but not great. At the mid-point, the Venue’s top trim and the Buick’s base, we’d probably opt for the Buick. As we noted in a previous article, the question of high trim budget cars versus low trim luxury is a complicated one, but often even the entry-levels of pricier nameplates provide enough value to justify the jump up the price ladder.
In the same vein, the top trim Encore, starting at $29,300 before adding some important and desirable options means buyers should start to consider other luxury brands (to which the Buick might not compare so favorably).
With that said, we’ll reiterate our endorsement of the Buick Encore if you’re in that mid-$20,000 price range. It is quieter (thanks to Buick’s QuietTuning) and it’s more comfortable than the Hyundai. But if you’re trying to keep your sticker price down, the Hyundai Venue is a viable, and stylish, option.
2020 Buick Encore – buick.com | Shop Buick Encore on Carsforsale.com