Automakers literally have been striving for years to fit a square peg - America's enduring love of crossover wagons and sport-utility vehicles - into the very much smaller round hole of urban living. Hyundai has come closer than most with its newest model, the Venue.

The Venue is a subcompact crossover that seats five, hauls 18.7 cubic feet of cargo with the back seat upright, and delivers fuel economy shockingly higher than the EPA-estimated 30 mpg city, 34 highway. We exceeded 40 mpg on rural highways in Connecticut and upstate New York, while averaging 34 to 36 mpg on interstate highways where we drove at higher speeds.

In its driving characteristics, the Venue most reminded us of an older Honda CR-V. Like the CR-V, it's quick off the line but fairly lethargic at high speeds. Also like the CR-V, it handles quite crisply If anything, the Venue is smoother and quieter on the highway. Both cars are ill at ease on broken pavement. In the Venue's case, this quality was a little puzzling, since the car seems to have been targeted for urban drivers, not long-distance highway cruisers.

The Venue is cleverly designed in a number of respects. For example, it has decent leg room in front and back, and its maximum 31.9-cubic-foot cargo deck is perfectly flat. Visibility out of the rear quarters is excellent. The cargo cover can easily be slid into matching channels behind the rear seatbacks, so it doesn't have to be removed to accommodate tall items. The car also has useful standard technology, such as forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, and lane-keeping assist. Other desirable safety features, including blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, come with the $1,150 Convenience Package.

Pricing reflects a familiar Hyundai trait - maximum value for the lowest possible price. The base SE starts at $18,470, including freight charges. Our SEL had a sticker price of $23,405, with options and freight charge. Among its standard features were an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, automatic climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise controls on the hub, and remote keyless entry.

The continuously variable transmission set off a howl when complying with the driver's cruise-control settings on mildly steep hills, but was otherwise unobtrusive. Hyundai also offers a feature most other automakers seem eager to abandon: a 6-speed stick shift.

Like the functionally similar Kia Soul, the Venue is not available with all-wheel drive. But the driver can select normal, sport and snow. While the car's 6.7-inch ground clearance suggests mild off-road capability, most drivers wouldn't try that without all-wheel drive.

More Information

2020 Hyundai Venue SEL

Price: $23,405

Engine: 1.6-liter inline Four, 121 horsepower, 113 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: intelligent variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Ground clearance: 6.7 in.

Curb weight: 2,612 lb.

Wheels: 17-in. alloy

Tires: 205/55R17 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 18.7 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 31.9 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 11.9 gal.

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 34 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Built in South Korea, the Venue competes with the Soul, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, Subaru Crosstrek and Toyota C-HR - as well as Hyundai’s subcompact Kona and Veloster. As a practical matter, the Venue also competes with compact crossovers and SUVs - for example, the Hyundai Tucson - that deliver more room, refinement and off-road capability than any of the subcompacts.

The Venue hasn’t been crash-tested yet, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety lists the slightly larger Hyundai Kona as a Top Safety Pick.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.