2023 Best Small SUV Under $25K: Hyundai Venue

It's still possible – just – to buy a brand-new SUV for less than $25,000. Of the slim budget offerings around, it's a Hyundai that stands out.

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Finding anything under $25,000 RRP is a much bigger ask than it used to be. And when it’s the hot-selling SUV segment, well, it’s even harder.

Our quest for the best budget SUV focuses not just on price. While that’s a good place to start, a quick delve into the entry-level models of these ranges reveals a very skinny safety checklist, or too much penny-pinching when you compare it to the next model up. In some cases that ejected the brand altogether (Suzuki, we’re looking at you).

We also had to skip the Mazda CX-3. While you can get the Neo Sport for under $25,000, it’s not an auto – and, given the sheer number of autos bought, a manual just wouldn’t be true to the spirit of this comparison.

That left us with a just a trio of models to realistically consider.

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Hyundai Venue

The Venue rolled into the market a little late in mid 2019 – although not as late as its cousin, the Stonic – and immediately impressed with its boxy Minecraft vibe and cool interior.

What we liked

  • Good ride and handling
  • Decent interior space
  • Unique styling

Not so much...

  • Engine refinement when pushed
  • Fairly slow acceleration
  • Plastic steering wheel

It costs from $24,000 in auto form before on-roads (or save a bit of cash by opting for a manual gearbox).

There are a couple of nice touches here, such as matching wireless smartphone integration with wireless charging (the latter new for 2023), but it’s an otherwise fairly basic specification, right down to the small wheels and less-than-grippy tyres. It looks alright, though, and the small wheels don’t look as silly as you might expect on an upright vehicle like the Venue.

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A 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder provides the power and the six-speed automatic is one of the few hold-outs for torque converter autos left in the current Hyundai range.

With 90kW and 151Nm to move less than 1200kg of car, it’s sprightly off the mark but fairly slow beyond that. The last time we drove a Venue, we registered an average 7.9L/100km against an official 7.2L/100km result, which is a touch high for such a small car.

Handling is tidy and the ride for front seat passengers more than acceptable while the rear is fine until the road gets a bit messy.

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It’s a tiny car at just over four metres, so its interior space is a little surprising.

An 180cm adult can fit comfortably behind their own driving position, and there are two USB-C ports to keep a couple of devices charged. Nothing else, though.

The boot is also more useful than expected. It will swallow 355 litres of cargo and has tie-down points, a cargo cover, a single bag hook, and a decent loading aperture. It also has a movable floor so you can either hide things under it or lower it for taller loads.

You can purchase servicing for the Venue up front for three years ($857), four years ($1316) or five years ($1575). It’s not the cheapest but it’s not terribly expensive, either.

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2023 Hyundai Venue features
15-inch alloysCruise controlWireless Apple CarPlay
Wireless Android Auto8.0-inch touchscreenFour speaker stereo
Cloth interiorWireless chargingUSB-A and USB-C ports
Air-conditioningReversing camera
Hyundai Venue Safety - 4 star (ANCAP, 2019)
Six airbagsABSStability & traction controls
Forward AEBLane keep assistAuto high beam
Hyundai Venue Ownership
WarrantyFive years/unlimited km
Servicing interval12 months/15,000km
5 years servicing cost$1575 ($315 per year)

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Kia Stonic S

The Stonic is based on the slightly cheaper but better-equipped Rio S that looks remarkably similar despite Kia telling us the panels are all different.

What we liked

  • Good ride and handling
  • Comfortable interior
  • Long warranty

Not so much...

  • Tiny boot
  • Weedy, coarse engine
  • Too much scratchy plastic

As with the Venue, you can buy a manual to save the most money but here we’re focused on the S auto that costs $23,790 before on-road charges are added.

Steel wheels with dodgy-looking hubcaps aren’t a terrific start, but the Stonic is a bit more than that. The specification is a partial cut and paste of the Venue, which speaks to the two companies’ very close relationship, though the Kia runs with a slightly smaller, 1.4-litre engine – with performance politely described as adequate.

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It does ride nicely enough and the handling contains no surprises. The torsion beam rear end is pretty standard down at this end of the market but is well-tuned for all but the worst of urban surfaces.

Occupant space is pretty good for a car just over four metres long. Front-seat passengers have plenty of storage and two cupholders, while the rear seat passengers have to fight over a USB-A port and perhaps bring a box as an armrest because there isn’t one.

The boot is also tiddly at 332 litres. While not the smallest in its class or on this page, there’s not much space in there for anything more than a weekly shop.

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The five-star safety rating was applied 2017 so is going to expire at the end of next year (2024). The Rio and Stonic are so similar they share the ANCAP score.

Servicing averages out at $413 per year, which is not at all cheap for a car like this when Toyota does it for not much over half for just about anything it sells. The seven-year warranty is a winner, though.

2023 Kia Stonic S features
15-inch steel wheelsCruise controlWireless Apple CarPlay
Wireless Android Auto8.0-inch touchscreenFour speaker stereo
Cloth interiorAir-conditioningReversing camera
2023 Kia Stonic S Safety - 5 star (ANCAP, 2017)
Six airbagsABSStability & traction controls
Forward AEBLane keep assistAuto high beam
2023 Kia Stonic S Ownership
Warranty7 year/unlimited km warranty
Service interval12 months/15,000km
7-year servicing cost$2895 ($413 per year)

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MG ZS Excite

The ZS is not the last word in style, safety or refinement, but MG’s smallest SUV is the roomiest car here by a large margin.

What we liked

  • Really, really roomy inside
  • Good value proposition
  • Long 7-year warranty

Not so much...

  • Safety seems lacking
  • The drive is spongy and wayward
  • Service scheduling at 10,000km

What you’re getting for your $23,990 drive-away spend is space – enough to comfortably fit four adults. The interior design is derivative but quite classy.

We’d recommend seat covers during the hotter months because the synthetic leather is basically vinyl, and you’ll need patience with the media screen that is some way short of amazing and lacks Android Auto.
This is another SUV that has less boot space than a Volkswagen Golf, even if the ZS’s 359 litres can claim highest luggage capacity among our trio of contenders.

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There are many buyers at this price point who will be content with the limited performance of the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine and four-speed auto, best applied in city driving.

The driving experience is spoilt mostly by poor damping and springing, which upsets ride comfort and brings lots of body roll in cornering.

But from an ownership point of view, the ZS is cheap to buy, reasonably cheap to run (7.1L/100km on the combined cycle), and it has a long seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

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2023 MG ZS EV interior

Service pricing is capped for seven visits, which are a little too close together at 12 months (normal) or 10,000km (less normal), so again the value is in low-mileage.

An ageing ANCAP rating is one star below the maximum, and ZS buyers also have to forsake any advanced safety gear.

2023 MG ZS Excite features
17-inch alloysCruise controlApple CarPlay
Synthetic leather trim8.0-inch touchscreenSix speaker stereo
Rear parking sensorsWireless chargingUSB-A and USB-C ports
Air-conditioningReversing camera
2023 MG ZS Excite Safety - 4 stars (ANCAP, 2017)
Six airbagsABSStability & traction controls
2023 MG ZS Excite Ownership
Warranty7 year/unlimited km warranty
Service interval12 months/10,000km
7-year servicing cost$2082 ($297 average)

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2023 Best small SUV: Hyundai Venue

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There’s better value-for-money to be found above $25,000, but if you have no more to spend and are fixed on getting a brand new SUV, then our pick is the Hyundai Venue – just ahead of the Stonic.

The Stonic has the longer warranty, but the Venue edges it with lower servicing costs, extra spec including a slightly bigger engine, and more interior space.

The MG is out of the running for victory here through a combination of disappointing dynamics and a shortage of safety features.

If the Chinese small SUV appeals visually, then see if you can stretch your budget to the higher-spec ZST.

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