Only good if you’ve got an auto-only driving licence, or limited mobility in your left leg

What is it?

A rather odd, expensive and undesirable version of the new Kia Venga mini-MPV – and one that shows exactly how much ground this up-and-coming Korean brand still has to make up on certain better-established European car makers.

The 1.6-litre petrol version of the Venga is the most powerful in the range. Conventional wisdom would dictate that it should also be the range-topper, therefore, and in other European markets it will be, offered with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes.

Here in the UK, though, you’ll only be able to get a 1.6-litre Venga with a four-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox, and only in mid-spec ‘Venga 2’ guise. Kia estimates that less than 10 per cent of Venga buyers will opt for the car, which equates to fewer than 200 customers a year. We’d describe that as an optimistic gambit.

What’s it like?

Waterproof teabags? A soluble lifeboat? In a car like the Venga, a four-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox is of marginally more use than the above, but not much.

That’s because, compared with the latest self-shifting transmissions, this gearbox feels slow and outmoded, and does little to flatter this car’s willing and reasonably refined petrol engine.

Truth be told, if you’re prepared to stroke this car along gently, it makes a compact and easy-to-drive supermini for use in the city, with good all-round visibility, a roomy cabin and boot, and a reasonably contemporary and rich-looking interior.

That will make it quite attractive to a certain type of driver who spends the majority of time bumbling around town, and who demands nothing more of their car than for it to be an inexpensive, reliable, spacious, undemanding and pleasant means of getting from A (almost certainly a pebble-dashed suburban bungalow) to B (the local post office, garden centre or bingo hall, we’d guess).

For those of us who make greater demands on the performance of our cars, however, the Venga 1.6 seems something of an under-deliverer.

Although that gearbox allows you to make acceptable progress in town, it limits the performance of the car’s 123bhp engine to the extent that this car feels slower than both 1.4-litre versions of the Venga out on the open road.

It’s less refined than the smaller petrol too, because in order to motivate it to move anything other than sedately you’ll spend more of your time beyond 4000rpm than you would in the five-speed 1.4. Overtaking on the motorway is much a noisier and slower process than you might expect it to be.

And on our test route, the old-tech torque converter in this car hobbled its economy as well as its performance. On a mainly urban and quite congested route our Venga auto returned an average 26.5mpg. Its return would have been better had we spent longer out of town, but we’re not sure how much better.

Should I buy one?

Perhaps – if you’re in love with the Kia Venga, but you’ve got an auto-only driving licence, or limited motility in your left leg. Otherwise, both of the cheaper versions of the Venga are significantly better and represent much better value for money than this car, the 1.4 petrol particularly so. It’s got an unusually slick and satisfying manual gearchange for a supermini, too.

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As for other, more modern and efficient two-pedal superminis like the DSG version of the new VW Polo – well, they rather suggest that small torque-converter automatic cars like the Venga 1.6 won’t be with us for very much longer. And this tester doesn’t think many of us will miss them.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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gregor60 2 January 2010

Re: Kia Venga 1.6 Auto

I've got no direct experience of the Astra or Insignia. We did have a Corsa hire car when the Nissan was being repaired (bump, not mechanical fault). I'll concede that it seemed a world away from our Corsa. The latter's chief failing was a horrible "Easytronic" gearbox. It was also beset with electrical niggles when we first got it, but these were gradually eliminated.

I think it's an example of budget brands forcing everyone else to raise the bar quality-wise, and the rest of the world forcing the budget brands to improve dynamically. My ideal car would be an Alfa with the reliability of a Honda. I'm also interested to see what the outcome of the Renault / Nissan partnership is. I've always admired the innovation and style (at least they dare to be different, even if the result is sometimes awful) of Renault, but have been afraid of their reputation.

It would be great for Kia or Hyundai if they actually did produce something as striking as the concept HyundaiSmoke's post linked to. Their current products are fairly derivative. Now, I can live with derivative if it gets me to work and back without fail, but it would be nice if there was a bit of "something for the weekend" about their products too.

Overdrive 2 January 2010

Re: Kia Venga 1.6 Auto

gregor60 wrote:

I ran a Kia at the same time as my wife had a Vauxhall, then a Nissan. It was streets ahead of the Vauxhall in terms of build quality and on a par with the Nissan.

Vauxhall have produced their share of duds over the years, no doubt, but I'll take the build quality of the latest Insignia and Astra over the Korean competition any day.

Adam the Great! 31 December 2009

Re: Kia Venga 1.6 Auto

Hyundai Smoke I'm not sure if you have noticed but it is not a Hyundai US speculation thread and few people would be interested on a car that will not be sold in the uk.