Hyundai Venue vs Mahindra XUV300 vs Tata Nexon vs Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza vs Ford EcoSport
Every time a new car comes around, it moves the goalposts forward for the others in its segment, and for what potential customers expect from those cars. So, while the sporty Ford EcoSport kick-started the compact SUV segment six years back, the competition has moved the game onwards. The Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza quickly cornered the market with its do-it-all-well-enough philosophy, while Tata's Nexon offered great value, with Mahindra's XUV300 being surprisingly good dynamically, but dropping the ball in terms of pricing. Though, with the Venue's launch and cut-throat pricing, everyone kind of did a double take and revised their own prices. With all that in mind, can the Hyundai Venue prove to be the proverbial game-changer?
It looks like the split headlight look is here to stay, on Hyundai SUVs at least. And while I'm not the biggest fan of the general look, or the theory behind it (lower the headlights, less glare for oncoming traffic, but also less visibility down the road for the driver), on the Venue it works. Presumably because of it, the Venue has a fairly high hood which helps its SUV credibility, furthered by the super-flared wheel arches, short overhangs and most upright windscreen of all the SUVs here, perhaps even more upright than the Brezza.
I would pick the Venue for its neat, yet cool, styling, over the too familiar Brezza, though our borrowed test car had every dealer accessory possible on it, in the hopes of freshening things up. It's still a good, safe design, much like the handsome and masculine XUV300, which unfortunately has a slightly awkward looking rear end. The EcoSport and the Nexon also tend to the sporty end, with the EcoSport being my second choice, over the slightly louder design of the Nexon. The EcoSport doesn't have the SUV-must-have plastic cladding over the wheel arches, but the spare wheel on the tailgate makes up for it. In a way, choosing the best looker is unfair, but in an impromptu office poll, three out of six chose the Venue, with a vote each for the EcoSport, the XUV300 and the Brezza.
Dimensionally, they're mostly even, with the XUV300 boasting the longest wheelbase within the constraints of the sub-4m design. Despite the similarities on paper, the Venue appears the most compact thanks to its tidy design, though its road presence doesn't suffer as much courtesy its huge grille and novelty factor. Speaking of novelty, the XUV300 has the most distinctive set of DRLs, running from the top of the headlights down through the bumpers, which makes it look quite sinister when you see it in your rearview mirror. Of course, for those wondering, that also means more things that will go 'crunch' in a fender bender. Now, all these compact SUVs have fairly complex bumpers with several elements, but the Hyundai's headlights are probably the most vulnerable.
When it comes to the cabins of these sub-4m SUVs, things couldn't get any more varied. Starting from the decidedly upmarket feeling you get from the Venue, which looks and feels very well finished despite not really having vastly more premium materials than the others. We think it's down to the use of more matte-finished plastics than some of the shiny, scratchy plastics used in the others. The XUV's cabin feels airy, and well made, but the busy central console laughs in the face of ergonomics with tough to locate buttons for basic functionality.
The Brezza fares far better in terms of ergonomics, but again is a safe, plain design which now feels like it's there to just get the job done. The EcoSport and Nexon offer more flair, and are significantly funkier looking, though that doesn't necessarily translate into a better ambience, especially with the Nexon's strange seat-to-steering height. The EcoSport is the only one to offer adjustment at the wheel for both, rake and reach.
Unfortunately, there appears to be a trade-off between how a cabin looks versus how much space you have, and you will have to prioritise. For this test, we've given more weightage in points to how a cabin feels and what features it offers, balancing it out with overall space and practicality, since most of these SUVs will likely be solo driven for majority of the time.
Speaking of features, the Venue goes the whole hog, introducing connected car tech to not only the segment but the Indian car buyer in general. So, while some of the voice command features are merely neat party tricks, the ability to remotely cool the car will be an important distinction. All get the expected standards of connectivity on the top-end models, for both Apple and Android phones. All also get keyless entry, climate control, powered ORVMs and multiple charging points. Though, the Venue being the newest is also the most future-proof with wireless charging capabilities, as well as three USB charging points, compared to either one or two for the others!
The audio systems on all are adequate, but for a long drive, we reckon you'd like the Nexon's 8-speaker system tuned by Harman Kardon the most for its detailed, clear and well-rounded sound. The Venue's 8-speaker audio is amazingly crisp, with a wider soundstage but is a little more clinical sounding, while the Brezza also offers a playful thump to its playback, something we're sure more people would appreciate.
Venue doesn't have the roomiest rear bench, but it's not a big jump to the most spacious one here...
XUV300 has the most comfortable angle of recline, and feels the widest, though the Nexon and Brezza also feel fairly similar
Disappointingly, the Venue's rear bench doesn't feel as spacious for three, with Tuhin and I squashing shoulders with Vivek, our producer, to fit. The tastefully finished cabin of the EcoSport is similarly cramped at the rear, while the Brezza with its somber/sporty all-black cabin impresses with general fit and space, but just doesn't excite. The XUV300 and the Nexon easily have the most spacious rear benches for three, with the Nexon being more comfortable thanks to better seat cushioning, and separate blower controls for the rear AC vents, while the XUV misses out on rear AC vents altogether.
Boot capacity on the Venue rated at 350 litres, and took in two medium trolleys, two small trolleys, a couple of backpacks and our picnic basket which unfortunately wasn't filled with refreshments
Space to spare in the Brezza's 328-litre boot, with the same amount of luggage packed in - making it the largest boot of the bunch
Quickly becoming an important consideration for this class of buyers, the Nexon stands out as being the only car here to earn a 5-star Global NCAP rating, though it only offers two airbags, which leads to its lower specific 'safety feature' rating in our scoring, in case you were wondering. The extra airbags help prevent secondary injuries after impact, and we have no doubt the extra airbags are important. The Brezza and EcoSport, both score four stars in the Global NCAP tests, but again the Brezza scores lower in our comparison since it offers a maximum of two airbags compared to the EcoSport's six airbags. The XUV300 on the other hand offers the most airbags at seven, and is also the only one to give the middle passenger in the rear bench proper 3-point seat belts and an adjustable headrest. The Venue, EcoSport and XUV can automatically dial emergency services if the car senses an airbag has been deployed, further adding peace of mind to the package.
Engine, performance and efficiency
The newer generation of diesels do far better at refinement, obviously. The XUV300, EcoSport and Venue feel refined at idle and slow engine speeds, while the Brezza and Nexon come to life with the typical diesel clatter. All get vocal towards the mid and top of their rev range, but in terms of engine character, the Mahindra, Tata and Ford have the most likeable power delivery from an enthusiast's viewpoint, asking for revs and then doling out waves of torque once the turbos light up. In the city, the slight torque steer of the XUV300 won't be to everyone's taste, and here the Brezza with its metered out delivery and the Venue with its linear build-up come to the fore.
On paper, it's the XUV300 with its 1.5-litre diesel engine that has an edge over the others, including the similar capacity EcoSport. In reality, thanks to the revs being limited when stationary, the XUV300 doesn't post the quickest 0-100kmph times, a distinction won by the lighter Brezza. The Nexon and EcoSport post respectable times, while the Venue is hobbled by the need to shift into fourth to cross 100kmph, posting the slowest time of the lot. It's a slightly different story in the drivability section, where the XUV300's peaky delivery comes into its own. The Venue with its linear delivery proved to be out of its powerband in the gears that our tests specified, but in lower gears performs well enough.
In our real-world fuel efficiency testing, the Venue posted disappointing city figures but fantastic highway figures, so its overall efficiency at 15.7kmpl isn't as poor as the last-placed EcoSport at 14kmpl. Unsurprisingly the Brezza proved to be the most frugal, at 20.1kmpl overall, followed by the Nexon at 17.9kmpl and the XUV300 at 16.1kmpl.
Ride and handling
This is a tricky one to call ride quality is pretty objective, because a car either isolates passengers from the road well; or it doesn't. But the handling is a little more nuanced, since some prefer a light, and agile feel to a heavier, more stable feel, and getting that balance right is tough, especially for mass-market SUVs. When it comes to ride quality, the XUV300 and the Nexon are very close at the top, proving to absorb bumps well, smother road undulations and keep the cabin largely level over bad roads even at higher speeds. The Mahindra just about edges out the Nexon, which flounders sometimes and results in a bouncy, noisy ride.
The Venue is tied for second place with the Nexon and EcoSport for the next most compliant ride, beating the Brezza which feels solid but doesn't filter out as much of the road as we'd like. The top-end EcoSport S rides on 17-inch wheels, with the lowest profile tyres here, and feels a little more brittle over bad roads, forcing you to lower your speed. Notably, the XUV300 also rides on 17-inch wheels, but with marginally taller tyres and the whole suspension package does come together quite nicely.
On to what will be a controversial call the handling. Personally, I like the assuredness of the way the XUV300 handles corners, predictably tipping in with just the right amount of lean, compared to the Venue's body roll which some would consider excessive. The XUV's steering comes with modes that increase its heft, and it feels the best weighted and closest to natural in Normal or Sport, while the Venue's steering is easily the best on any Hyundai so far, but still a little artificial feeling. Though, it must be said that the overall feel from every XUV we've tested so far has been slightly different, with some cars feeling flighty at speed. The Nexon feels light and playful, but tends to lean too heavily on its outside tyres, making the rear end feel light, which not everyone would appreciate and it also suffers from a light and inconsistent steering feel. The Brezza is an old favourite in the handling department, but we've seen its suspension start getting noisy and soft with age, and our tester with over 16,000km on the clock just didn't feel as tightly put together, and fun to drive, as we remember. The EcoSport, again, a long-time favourite for its tight body control is let down by an over-assisted and lifeless steering (and the squealy understeery Bridgestone Ecopia rubber), which only gets better the closer you get to its limits, which is something that's too much to ask for on public roads.
In our braking tests with five on board, the Nexon stopped in the shortest distance, a good 3 metre (a huge distance) shorter than the others, only being beaten in the time it took to come to a halt from 100kmph by the Venue. Unfortunately for the Nexon, the feel from the brakes isn't the most confidence inspiring, with far more modulation and bite coming from the brakes on the Venue and EcoSport. The only car here with disc brakes on all four wheels, the XUV300, posts the longest braking distances with possibly the most inconsistent feel from the brakes to boot.
It's testament to how good the older compact SUVs still are, despite the newer ones adding more polish, that the points are so close between them all. The Brezza is a bestseller for a reason it does most things reasonably well, and will go the furthest on every litre of fuel. The EcoSport has benefitted from a host of updates, but there's no hiding the fact that it's getting on in years, and is expensive for a fully kitted out variant. The Nexon will fit the bill for most people looking for a good deal, except for those with OCD about quality, since it doesn't seem to age very well. The XUV300 has been a surprise in this test, versus our earlier test car which didn't feel as stable, sure-footed or sporty. This inconsistent quality makes it hard to recommend it at its current price point, not to mention that despite it having the most spacious interiors, the feel from the cabin is a little too 90s for our liking.
That makes the Venue the new best all-rounder, which does everything most reasonably well, but with the extra polish that the Brezza is lacking. Not to mention the fact that it offers far more compared to the two SUVs considered value kings, and more even against the two more expensive options. Now if only Hyundai could fix its less than ideal fuel efficiency, the Venue would truly tick all the boxes for everyone.
Also see: Hyundai Venue Compact SUV Unveiled In India First Look Video
Also see: Mahindra XUV 300 First Drive Video
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