Kia Venga EcoDynamics - review

1 February 2011

Kia Venga EcoDymanics side view

I do like to make my test drives as thorough as possible, but I hadn’t planned on making the slow-speed, congested-roads section of my Kia Venga EcoDynamics review quite so exhaustive.

I set off an hour behind schedule, which meant I got snarled in the Friday-night, get-out-of-London exodus. It took me a full two hours to crawl the 11 miles from Hoxton to Chiswick, which gave me ample time to determine two things with absolute certainty.

First: the iPod integration that comes with the Venga’s “2” or “3” trim levels is definitely worth having. A varied selection of calming music was the only thing that kept me from becoming another road-rage statistic during my 5.5mph torture test.

Second: the stop-start system in the this eco edition really is very reliable and predictable. It will kill the engine, once warmed up, whenever you slow to a halt, select neutral, and step off the clutch. You can then hold your eerily silent Venga on the footbrake or handbrake for as long as you like, a reassuring green reminder glowing on the dash. Touch the clutch pedal again, though, and the engine will jolt awake from this dormant state with an instant burst of mechanical defibrillation. Select first and off you go without pause.

Kia Venga from the rear

The automatic start will also stir into life if you coast forward at anything more than walking pace, or if you dip the clutch after you’ve just stalled the engine. Neither of which I ever do, heavens no.

Of course if you end up crawling along a choked artery for hours on end, then stop-start won’t always help. The system won’t keep switching the engine off and starting it again, in a sensible attempt to avoid a flat battery. You will have to get beyond walking pace between stops to reanimate the system.

Eventually I did manage to creep my way onto the M4 to escape the logjam, quitting the capital like a cork leaving a cava bottle.

After putting a few high-speed miles under the Venga’s pretty 16-inch alloys, I finally felt like sitting back and counting off the car’s good points. Comfortable, high-set seats. A commanding view of the traffic ahead (your eyeline is not quite up there with Range-Rover pilots, but it’s on a par with black cabbies and significantly above the hoi polloi). And an airy cabin – particularly in this top-spec EcoDynamics 3 model, which comes with a huge tilt-and-slide glass roof.

Kia Venga dashboard

The dashboard is pleasant too – unyielding to the touch but nicely designed and well put together. Switchgear is logically placed, with the noticeable exception of the trip computer that is integrated into the audio display, and all the buttons have a smooth and tactile action.

There’s good all-round visibility courtesy of a generously proportioned glasshouse, while vision at junctions is better than in many cars with double A-pillars, partly because of the raised eyeline. There are lots of places to stow your bits and bobs, including big bottle bins in all four of the doors. I found two 12v sockets up front and one in the boot.

The rear is a two-deck affair, with a space-saver spare wheel at the bottom. Luggage capacity is a relatively spacious 440 litres with the seats up. As well as folding forward, the split rear bench also slides fore and aft by a few centimetres, allowing you to trade legroom for luggage space.

While practicality is high, refinement is a more varied picture. On the move, at moderate speeds, you mostly notice the growls of the 1.4-litre CRDi diesel engine. With peaks of 89bhp and 162lb-ft this unit can summon up reasonable acceleration from a standstill – feeling more sprightly than its 14-second 0-62mph score might suggest – and can tug the car along at middle-lane speeds in sixth without complaint. But it’s never quiet. Conversely, vibration is remarkably well contained. I felt the odd shimmy though pedal and wheel, but never found a harsh spot capable of making a body panel thrum in sympathy. Maybe the glass roof helps – a tin-top might resonate under acceleration like many of the other eco diesels I’ve tried.

Kia Venga front view

Rutted roads expose the Venga’s principal weakness - poorly sorted suspension. While the excellent Kia C’eed I tested last year was marred by an incongrously firm ride, this car has the opposite problem. It feels soft, verging on bouncy. At least it copes well with urban potholes.

I did try a little back-road blasting on some lovely Somerset B-roads, but it quickly became apparent that twisting, undulating roads really aren’t the Venga’s happy place. My brief back-road foray did underscore the excellence of the six-speed gearbox, though, which felt very clean and precise. You would need to possess fists of pure ham to end up in the wrong slot.

As part of the Venga’s green car package there’s an unobtrusive gearshift indicator built into the dashboard, but sadly it’s as slow-witted as most I’ve seen, suggesting I might explore sixth at 35mph up a steep hill, for example. Nice try, no cigar.

The six-cog box does allow the Venga EcoDynamics to serve up a 117g/km CO2 score, good enough for a £30 Band C tax disc, without resort to silly gearing. Around town, you’ll find yourself in the gear you’d expect rather than one adrift. The official combined cycle economy is 62.8mpg; I managed an indicated 52mpg over a few hundred miles of mixed motoring.

The CO2 figure might sound underwhelming these days, when you can choose among umpteen sub-100g/km cars, but it is nonetheless impressive given the substantial frontal area that has to be shoved through the air. That light, spacious cabin and commanding eyeline comes courtesy of a car significantly taller than the norm for a hatchback of this footprint – it’s a full 12cm taller than a Ford Fiesta, for example.

In fact the nearest other car we could find to mirror the Kia’s unusual short-yet-tall proportions (aside from its Hyundai clone brother, the ix20) is the Citroen C3 Picasso.

While the Citroen is sold as a versatile MPV, the Venga is served up simply as a spacious five-door hatch. Kia says a credible MPV needs an adaptable interior with clever folding seats, which the Venga just can’t muster.

What the Kia can offer is a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, decent standard kit, and very competitive pricing. The most basic Venga EcoDymanics costs from £13,050 on the road, rides on steel wheels, and boasts most of the things you actually need. The car I tested was the EcoDynamics 3, starting from £15,705 with alloys, glass roof, iPod hookup and lots of other items as standard.

In summary, Kia’s Venga is definitely worth a look if you like an elevated view but don’t want a 4x4 and don’t need a people carrier.

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