Soul Vs Venue: Which Small South Korean Hatch Is Best?

Let’s get one thing clear: Kia Motors is owned by the Hyundai Group. Although their product lines follow different formulas, much of what the two brands sell happens to be closely related. For example, the Kia Stinger and the Genesis G70 are based on the same platform but are tuned very differently. The subjects of this comparison, the similar-sized Kia Soul and Hyundai Venue, are not based on the same platform. This is a problem for the Hyundai, trust me.

Underneath, the Kia Soul is, well, a Kia Soul, and it was a MotorTrend Car of the Year finalist last year because it was good. Very good. But what two automakers do with a shared platform can yield very different results—especially if the use cases are different.

Normally, when comparing cars from related automakers, we’d be splitting hairs and fixating on the finest details to try to come away with a winner. Not so this time. The only areas where these two South Korean mini-SUVs get competitive are price and fuel economy. This might be enough to sway some buyers, but in the end the Soul is the better car in almost every way.

Kia Soul vs. Hyundai Venue: Which Is the Better Value?

The Venue is the less expensive car here. Starting at $18,470, but optioned up to $23,405 for our purposes, the Venue undercuts the Soul’s base price of $18,610 and its as-tested price of $25,455. For that money both cars get peppy four-cylinder engines—though the engine in the Venue is the smaller of the two, at just 1.6 liters to the Soul’s 2.0-liter mill. Both are mated to continuously variable transmissions and are front-wheel drive.

According to the EPA, both cars will get at least 30 miles to the gallon on the combined cycle. The Soul with its 2.0-liter gets 27/33/30 mpg, but the Venue is a bit more efficient. The little 1.6-liter four-cylinder under its teeny hood earns an EPA estimated 30/34/32 mpg. That said, all fuel-sippers are not created equal, and the 2.0-liter in the Soul feels like a much stronger and smoother powertrain despite giving up 2 mpg to the Venue. The real winner here on your purchase priorities.

The Hyundai’s 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque feels adequate until you try to merge onto a freeway or take it up a steep grade. Then it runs out of puff entirely, and you’re flogging the poor thing to accrue any speed whatsoever. Full-throttle demands make the Venue feel asthmatic.

Despite only having an extra 26 hp and 19 lb-ft of twist, the engine in the Soul is much more up to the job of motivating the little hamster-mobile. It also sounds less grainy; at full throttle the engine doesn’t sound like a food processor filled with gravel. It pulls smoothly into the far reaches of its rev range, and the CVT doesn’t transmit nearly as much whine into the cabin as the Venue’s.

Kia Soul vs. Hyundai Venue: Which Is Better to Drive?

The Soul is the easier car to drive in almost any situation. The engine won’t scream at you as you trundle up steep hills and on-ramps. The whole powertrain feels less strained, and passing requires less planning; merging into gaps in traffic is a much simpler affair in the Soul. That said, their tested acceleration numbers are nearly identical (unimpressively so). Either will get you where you need to go.

As you’re scything your way through rush hour traffic you’ll no doubt notice how comfortable and stable the Soul is, too. It feels rock solid in both the way it’s built and in the way it glides across the road. The ride in the Kia is buttery smooth for a small car, and it’s much quieter at speed than its South Koran counterpart.

The Venue, on the other hand, walks around on the highway and requires a concerning amount of jockeying at the wheel to keep it tracking straight. That’s partly due to the fact that it weighs next to nothing—just 2,699 pounds soaking wet.

Kia Soul vs. Hyundai Venue: Which Has the Better Interior?

Why is it so light? Well, there’s a lot of lightweight plastic inside. The Venue clearly has the most spartan interior in its class. It also feels as though it was built to satisfy a price point and not a quality standard. The dash is one giant slab of plastic that creaks as you thump the car over small bumps or drive up inclined surfaces. The entire interior is a mishmash of gray and black polypropylene, and there isn’t a single piece of soft-touch material anywhere.

The Venue’s lack of interior quality is more obvious (or, perhaps more egregious) when it comes to padding for the driver’s elbows. It would be understandable if Hyundai threw together a plastic interior and added softer materials to the driver’s touchpoints—the steering wheel, gear selector, armrests, and so on. You know, the important bits. But even those areas are left bare. Not adding elbow pads isn’t just an exercise in obvious cost-cutting, it’s straight up mean.

There are decent storage solutions in both cars, but the Soul’s back seat is both roomier and a more comfortable place to be. That’s where the Soul’s 3.2 additional inches of wheelbase pays off. Plus, the longer wheelbase delivers a better ride, meaning passengers won’t be knocked around as often. For your stuff, the Soul delivers 23.4. cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up, compared to the Venue’s 18.7 cubes.

They may both be small cars, but those couple extra inches here and there can make a huge difference. But the difference gets much bigger if you can fold the rear seats down. With the second row folded, the Venue offers 31.9 cubic feet to play with, whereas the Soul offers nearly double that at 62.1 cubic feet.

Because the Soul we used for this test was an EX model and not the base car, it has a fold-out center armrest in the rear. The Venue doesn’t offer one on any of its trims—but the Soul LX, S, and X-line versions don’t have one, either.

The Venue and Soul share the Hyundai group’s now-ubiquitous infotainment setup, adapted to different screen sizes. It’s in everything from the luxurious Genesis G70 to the Kia Telluride, and it appears in both the Soul and the Venue. The unit is clear, easy to use, snappy, and supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. This part of the comparison is a draw, but there’s no going wrong either way when it comes to interior tech.

In every other regard, though, life is much better inside the Soul. The interior is dressed up with much nicer materials, and the hard plastics are hidden away, below your beltline and out of view. Where they do exist, they’re better executed in the Kia. And yes, it does indeed have a padded elbow rest on the driver’s side door. The Soul also has more room for all your junk.

Despite hailing from automakers that are very closely related, these cars are worlds apart. They’re closely matched when it comes to infotainment, efficiency, and their convenient packaging, but the Soul has, well, soul. The Venue is purpose-built entry-level transportation. The Venue stumbles because it doesn’t seem to be as well thought out or well built as the Soul.

Kia Soul vs. Hyundai Venue: Which One Should You Buy?

Although the two cars’ base prices are nearly equivalent, the as-tested Venue is more than two grand cheaper than the Soul. Divided up over five years of car payments, that $2,040 becomes an extra $34 a month (without interest) to get into the Soul. If you were to point-blank ask me, “Is the Kia Soul a few trips to Starbucks per month better than the Hyundai Venue?” my answer would be, without hesitation, yes.

However, most folks buy their first cars and (hopefully) migrate upward in short order. So if you’re just starting out in your career and figure you’ll own your Venue or Soul for just three years, then the monthly price gap grows to $65 a month. And for someone just starting out, that could be enough to swerve your decision to the less expensive Venue.

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