2009 Toyota Venza Expert Review:Autoblog
The wagons we all know, love and grew up with gradually fell out of favor as the minivan took hold in the '80s. Led by Chrysler's practical little boxes, the van became the king of Mt. People Mover, only to be usurped by the SUV, which took the wagon formula and added a heaping dose of machismo. The wagons have all but vanished, and today, both SUVs and minivans resemble Hollywood stars whose salad days are clearly behind them.
The so-called "crossover" is the new king, at least according to marketers who coined the maddeningly broad term, which now applies to everything from large, car-based pseudo-SUVs to what are – by all rights – traditional wagons, albeit with tall roofs and occasionally all-wheel drive. When Toyota elected to make the Highlander a substantially larger vehicle with three rows of seating, it left a void in its line-up for people seeking a utilitarian five-seater. The lack of a Camry wagon, which has been dead for ages, meant there was an opportunity for Toyota to fill-in the blank with something to compete against the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and rest of the CUV set. And so we have the Venza.
All photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.
Surprisingly stylish, particularly for a Toyota, the Venza is essentially the new Camry Wagon. It's derived from the bread-and-butter sedan's architecture and uses its familiar 3.5-liter V6 in its top level trim (a four-cylinder is also offered, and truth be told, we tried to acquire one as a tester. No dice – only sixes were available). Toyota's designers were obviously trying to stay away from the traditional Lego-brick wagon profile, and it looks as if they may have had a little fun carving out the Venza. The car's face features an ornate chrome grille that comes across as being a bit Edgy in a Ford sort of way. It's sure to polarize, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Either way, it's not like the other visual sleeping pills that Toyota has pumped out as of late.
In profile, the Venza's slick wagonoid shape is ornamented with bulging wheel arches in front and powerful, rear-drive-looking haunches in back. There's a pronounced indent along the lower portion of the door panels that adds a veneer of muscle to the sheetmetal and keeps the Venza from looking overly slab-sided. The same goes for the wheel package: 20-inchers wrapped in 50-series rubber are standard equipment on the V6. Visually, this makes the Venza look like something you just ripped out of a Hot Wheels blister pack. While the dubs admittedly work well within the overall styling theme, they're certainly not a practical choice for a family capsule. Unassuming buyers will be in for a surprise when it comes time to replace the tires, as 20-inch rubber doesn't come cheap (the four-cylinder buyers are in a similar boat – they get 19-inch hoops standard).
Working toward the rear of the car, the angled D-pillar flows down into the rear fender flare, which grabs light and adds some visual interest before terminating at the car's barbed taillamp. Dual polished exhaust tips are both the finishing touch and the visual telltale that there's a bent-six underhood. It's got a great stance overall, but there seems to be one small price to pay for the handsome sheetmetal: it might be hard to keep clean. During its stay with us, the Venza's bodywork excelled at collecting winter road grime on its various undulating surfaces.
Inside, the tarted-up Venza tries to play the Lexus-lite card. The tan leather seats are accented with dark, contrast piping; the black instrument panel has a soft-touch "give" to it; and driver instrumentation is very straightforward. The other interior plastics are simply okay. Most of the important spots look and feel fine, but some elements – the little change drawer above the driver's left leg comes to mind – smack of chintz. Secondary info (trip computer, climate settings, etc.) is found within a bright, legible LCD screen mounted high on the dash. Since our tester was loaded, the audio system added a second multifunction nav/phone/radio touchscreen.
All of the other important controls are mounted within arm's reach on the center stack. The shifter sits to the left and the climate controls sit immediately to its right. One nitpick: we kept reaching for the oversized main temperature dial, thinking it was the audio system's volume control. Ultimately, we overcame this habit by forcing ourselves to use the steering-wheel controls for the audio system whenever possible. Still, the temp dial's size and placement in the center stack really makes it look like a volume control, particularly at night.
Below the HVAC interface, you'll find a spring-loaded device holder designed to secure your MP3 player or phone. There's a rudimentary cable-management system included, which allows you to run a basic auxiliary lead from the device to the jack located in the capacious center console storage bin without cluttering up the console area. Be advised: it's just a basic AUX jack – no USB – so if you run your iPod, you'll still have to manage song selection from the device.
We found that our Blackberry Curve fit nicely in the cubby, but there was one occasion when it spontaneously launched itself from the holder and clattered into the passenger footwell. The car's Bluetooth connection meant it didn't make a difference, but it was annoying nonetheless. The entire center console surface, cupholders and all, slides back to allow access into the aforementioned storage compartment and there's a second bin under the armrest. In short, you can stow a lot of junk in the space between the front seats.
Piloting the Venza is a tale in Camriffic inoffensiveness. Road imperfections are soaked up with subdued thumps that might have been even less obtrusive if the wheel/tire package didn't hail from Dub City. The 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 propels the AWD Venza's two-ton mass without breaking a sweat. Power delivery isn't a problem, and the corporate six is smooth enough. You can manually shift the Venza's six-speed auto, but doing so doesn't appreciably spice things up and feels out-of-character for this vehicle. Steering effort is predictably low, yet the Venza still responds to inputs quickly. It makes for a pleasant, if unexciting, drive and a little less Novocaine would make it better still.
We took the car out in some pretty sloppy, snowy Connecticut weather, and it handled the rotten conditions with aplomb. That said, the traction-control electro-nanny isn't shy about making her presence known, and when the going gets slippery, she likes to blink angrily at you with her shame-on-you light in the gauge cluster. On dry pavement, the Venza behaves itself just as you'd expect. Push it in the corners, you find a helping of body roll and understeer. Trundle about town hitting the grocery store and returning the kids' books to the library, and it's the teacher's pet. It's a Toyota – you know what you're getting here. Prospective Venza mommies hoping to unleash their inner Danicas should look elsewhere.
Seating up front is plush, if not especially supportive. Backseat passengers have comfortable legroom and bright surroundings – especially with the pricey, optional panoramic roof option, which parks a second, fixed glass panel overhead. As for hauling duties, you can pack a little over 34 cubic feet of groceries and whatnot behind the rear seats. Bulkier stuff, like large boxes, will likely force you to fold down at least one part of the split second row – an exercise made exceptionally simple thanks to doorhandle-style releases mounted on the sides of the cargo bay. With the second row flattened out, interior cargo volume jumps to a little over 70 cubic feet which, according to a Venza commercial we saw on TV, appears to easily accommodate a pair of beautifully-groomed golden retrievers.
Our all-wheel-drive V6 Venza started at $29,250 and got expensive in a hurry. It was loaded: fancy panoramic roof, leather, JBL premium audio, navigation, etc. All of that kit worked out to a rather off-putting $38,493 bottom line. (A copy of the Monroney is in the accompanying photo gallery.) As you're probably aware, that kind of scratch can put you into something bigger and/or more practical if those are your priorities. You can also just as easily spend less and get similar to equal utility.
Admittedly, our Venza's option packages were very pricey – $4,345 for the Premium Package, another $2,590 for the upgraded audio and navigation system, and yet another $1,050 for the panoramic roof. The Venza's a classy, good-looking, and enjoyable wagon, but our car's lofty as-tested price simply makes it tough to swallow. Is it worthy of your consideration? Absolutely – if you can exercise enough restraint to keep the options in check. Otherwise, once you get to the higher end of the scale, you run into some solid competitors. This makes the Venza less of a slam dunk and more like a pretty lay-up.
All photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.
Earlier this spring, our own Alex Nunez reviewed Toyota's latest crossover type thingy, the Venza, and came away rather impressed. I do a fair bit of traveling for my day job, which usually entails schlepping a sizable amount of video equipment around. Typically we pack up our A/V gear and FedEx it to a location since airlines charge so much for extra baggage and won't guarantee arrival times. For one of our recent trips, however, we decided to hit the road and venture from our Ann Arbor offices down to western South Carolina. As it happened, a Venza was available for duty and appeared to be well-suited to the task at hand.
We loaded up cameras, tripods, microphones and other miscellanea before heading due south on US-23 for Ohio and parts beyond. Our Venza was finished in a unique Sunset Bronze Mica color with the same ivory leather interior that we sampled previously. Under the hood was also the same 3.5-liter V6 engine that we've enjoyed in numerous Lexus and Toyota vehicles with torque going to all four wheels via Toyota's all-wheel-drive system.
As Nunez described, the Venza doesn't really fit in the typical crossover category because it's taller than a typical wagon yet shorter than vehicles like the Ford Edge or Chevrolet Equinox. It's more like a tall Camry wagon than anything else – which, at least in theory – is just ducky by us. Find out how the Venza fared on our road trip odyssey after the jump.
As a jacked-up wagon, the Venza features similar elevated seating to what you would find in a Ford Flex or Lincoln MKT, but not as high as in Toyota's own Highlander or a Chevrolet Traverse. That makes getting in and out of the Venza easy, without a perceptible step up or drop down to negotiate. The shape of the seats also aids ingress and egress because the squabs are relatively flat. Unfortunately, this also means they provide minimal lateral support – something that would prove to be a problem. In spite of having an inflatable lumbar support and power adjustments for height and backrest angle, we didn't find the Venza's thrones to be very comfortable or supportive over the long haul. In fact, after only about an hour on the road, we were continuously adjusting our seating positions to alleviate irritation on our spines. I've been on numerous cross-country excursions before and don't have a bad back, yet still wound up feeling sore after several hours on the road, which was an uncomfortable first.
It's particularly unfortunate the seats are so inhospitable because many other elements of the Venza are so good. As we moved south into the hills and mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, the Venza's 268-horsepower V6 never felt strained and its six-speed automatic transmission was a model of certainty, never hunting around for the right ratio. The driveline seemed utterly relaxed at all times, and pulling out to dispatch semi-trucks on long inclines was never an issue.
After hanging a left at Knoxville, Interstate 40 gets surprisingly twisty as it passes through the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee. Sure, it's nothing like the canyons of Malibu, California, but it gives more chances to assess a vehicle's dynamic behavior far more than most of America's flat and featureless interstates. While keeping a watchful eye for our friends from the Tennessee and North Carolina highway patrol, we traversed the mountains at similar speeds to those we used in Michigan and Ohio.
Unlike the last Highlander we drove, our Venza had a pleasantly thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel. More importantly, the effort to turn the wheel was not excessively light – and it offered more feedback than we have typically come to expect from Toyota products. We admittedly didn't try to hustle the Venza on any truly tight country roads (several thousand dollars worth of camera equipment kept our inner-hoon in check), but the curves we did encounter were handled confidently and with a bare minimum of drama.
The distinctly competent dynamics of the Venza are also accompanied by surprisingly good fuel economy. Our test subject arrived with all-wheel drive and loaded to the gills with goodies. Despite the added weight of the traction and toys, the Toyota managed to cover 25 miles for every gallon of regular gas we bought over the course of 1,500 miles. That's better than the 23 mpg we observed with a Highlander Hybrid last year. Of course, all of that kit comes at a price – while a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder Venza starts at just under $26,000, our model priced out at a hefty $38,400 thanks to the addition of a premium package that included an (outrageously overpriced) navigation system and a nice panoramic moonroof.
There is one other issue with our particular Venza that we must address. While its as-tested MSRP was not out of line for its segment, at this price point, you might reasonably expect high build quality. Fortunately, the Venza exhibited exactly zero squeaks or rattles, nor did it betray any signs of chassis flex. However, when you spend the better part of 12 hours sitting in any vehicle, you tend to glance at the dashboard in front of you from time to time. During one of these stretches, our companion noted that the plastic trim around the vent at the base of the passenger-side A-pillar was seriously misaligned. This caused us to look more closely at the rest of the cabin's fitment. It quickly became apparent that there were quite a few visible fit-and-finish issues. The faux wood trim on our model's center console had an almost matte finish, yet the "matching" parts on the armrests were rendered in a comparatively high-gloss finish. The audio/navigation head unit was also slightly misaligned, as were other visible trim pieces. Other nits to pick? Well, if you happen to wear polarized sunglasses, you'll find the Venza's navigation screen becomes all but invisible. At their core, none of these issues truly dented our enjoyment of the Venza's functionality and essential goodness, but for nearly $40 grand, we've been raised to expect better attention-to-detail.
Having said all that, aside from a few assembly question marks, the only aspect that keeps the Venza from earning the status of a truly great road tripper are its mediocre seats. Update the thrones and we'll be happy to have it in the Autoblog Garage for another few thousand miles.
There's a workout regimen called Crossfit that aims to increase one's abilities in eight different areas. Crossfit doesn't reward the specialist, it rewards the well-rounded; it doesn't create marathoners, it creates decathletes. The point of Crossfit is to allow you to enter any situation with the confidence that you have things like the agility, strength and conditioning to do well. The Toyota Venza has the same ethos: pitched as 70-percent car, 30-percent SUV, the Venza wants to do everything well. And when we say "well", we mean it wants to do everything better than the competition: 10,000 people were leaving Toyota every year to get into something between the Camry and the Highlander, things that ended up being the Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7 and Infiniti FX. The Venza is Toyota's request to those buyers to "Come back to papa." Follow the jump to find out whether you should heed the call.
Photos copyright ©2008 Jonathon Ramsey/Weblogs, Inc.
Toyota calls the Venza "the car, optimized." What occurred to us when we saw it in person is "jacked-up wagon." We won't christen it a JUW because we really don't need any more acronyms for a crossover. Still, that's what we think.
And the reason we think this is because the Venza, unlike some rounder crossovers like the Edge and FX, is more long and narrow than full-bodied. To us, it's closer to the spirit of the Volvo V70 and Audi Allroad than it is to its direct competition. It is also a much better looking vehicle in person than it is in photos, because it is in person that you reap the benefit of all of the car's lines, many of which are simply ironed out in when represented in pixels. And the Venza's rather low height combined with the body's aesthetic 'purpose' allows it to sit on 20s (on the V6 model) like it means it.
In Toyota-speak, the design language is called "Vibrant Clarity". (On a side note, we were told the new Prius and the Venza are the two cars leading the Vibrant Clarity charge.) We don't know exactly what that means, but for us and the Venza, it represents a fair bit of subtle dimension given to the body, and much of it actually works. Up front, there are two short swage lines emanating from the Toyota badge in the hood that you're unlikely to notice until you're standing over them and can see their effect on a reflection. Out back, the rear-quarter area is a herd of lines and angles. The busyness of it, compared to the rest of the car, signals "We've got things going on back here," but it's never raucous, comes together well, and nicely breaks up what might otherwise be a sensation of pure girth.
We're still not the biggest fans of Toyota's I'm-coming-out-at-ya! light design, either front or rear. But in a sign of the brand's commitment to staying true to the concept, the arc of the taillights is called a "hand-drawn line," and it took the engineers a few steaming sessions to figure out how to manufacture it without costing a fortune.
Based on the FT-SX concept at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, the Venza is the first Toyota to be conceived, designed, developed and engineered entirely in America. The car will be assembled in Kentucky, in the same factory as the Camry, apparently because those guys have got the quality thing down.
Having been custom-created by and for the North American market, it will also only be sold in this quadrant of the world, namely the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
Yet for all of the Zesty Lucidity on the outside, the interior and the driving experience are where the story is. Let us, though, first spare a moment for the story of the Venza's name: it is a combination of the word "venture," indicative of the relentlessly seeking habits of the car's intended buyer, and "Monza," the Formula 1 circuit in Italy, indicative of the car's sporting inclinations. We have no further comment, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. It is for you to decide how it shall be judged.
To the interior: the Venza is something like the iPhone and AppStore of CUVs; whatever you want to do, short of stow a side of beef in a walk-in fridge, it's probably in there. The Venza is a little longer (189 inches) and higher (63.4 inches) than a Camry, while slightly lower and shorter than a Highlander. Its platform has three sources: the front is Highlander, the middle is Camry and the rear is Venza-specific.
A car-like entry feeling is created by lower rocker panels that are almost even with the interior floor, and narrow door sills. Interior roominess – especially in the plenty-of-room rear – is created by having concave door panels that arc away from passengers. The sightline is higher than a Camry's, but the rear load-in height is lower.
There are four Big Gulp-sized cupholders and six bottle holders in the car. The center tunnel console area offers a ludicrous number of different positions, and the caverns inside appear to go all the way to the ground. The wire-concealment setup for the auxiliary cable means you can hide the iPod and the cable even while it's hooked up. The high beams detect oncoming vehicles via a sensor in the rearview mirror and automatically switch to low-beam. You can lock and unlock all four doors and the rear hatch by placing your finger on two hash marks on either front door handle. A panoramic roof with power tilt/slide function and a separate fixed glass panel over the rear seats fills the car with all the Let There Be Light you could wish for. The information display on the dash, above the center console, can be customized to adjust the font size and content. The rear seats are 1-touch fold-down, and there's a remote rear seat fold-down latch just in front of the rear hatch. There are also three 12-volt outlets. The navigation voice instructions are available in Spanish, French or English. The seating options are a nice cloth, and a pinstriped leather that, frankly, is above the car's pay grade. And finally finally finally: power windows have an auto up/down function for all four doors. And if you get the tow package, you can pull 3,500 lbs. behind you. If it isn't in there, you really might want to think about whether you need it.
Under the hood is a new 2.7-liter 4-cylinder that drops 182 hp at 5,800 rpm and 182 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Those might seem like high rpm numbers, but there is plenty of power to handle everyday situations lower down in the rev range, and even when the 4-cylinder has to grab its hammer and go to work, it works quietly. The optional 3.5-liter V6 gets 268 hp at 6,200 rpm and 246 lb-ft at 4,700 rpm. Both of them send their efforts to either the front wheels or all wheels through a 6-speed, sequential-shift, electronically-controlled automatic transmission.
The twists and turns of the western Pennsylvania countryside were numerous, and we missed a few of the ones we were meant to take because we were taking them all so quickly. The suspension is adept at equalizing the ruthless topographies of uneven, cracked, re-tarred and potholed roads. The steering offers a resistance that is un-Toyota-like: even on the firm side leaning well over into sporting. Road noise simply wasn't a factor, and that was before you got to work on the 13-speaker JBL audio system.
The engines have dispensed with the "good" option and stuck with "better" and "best." The ULEV-II, Tier 2, SULEV-II, California-rated PZEV 4-cylinder pulls the truck up no-laughing-matter grades, even at highway speeds, and does not roar at you about the effort. It will kick down as it needs through any of its six gears, and will keep you on your appointed rounds at your appointed speeds. According to Toyota, if you don't spend all of your time scaling Matterhorn grades, you'll return 20/28 mpg in the AWD version. It's a meaty lump.
The 6-cylinder gets you your meat and a bit of fat for flavor. Eighty-four more horsepower and 64 more lb-ft simply gives you more notes to play when it comes to tapping on the accelerator. Power delivery comes early enough and quietly enough not to call attention to itself. All it will cost you is a little fuel – 18/25 for the 6-cylinder AWD – but it won't send you to the poorhouse. Much like the Camry, both the four and six would be fine choices, and the questions to ask before you make your decision have nothing to do with performance: how much do you want to spend, and who are you trying to impress?
This is what stuck with us most about the Venza drive: it was utterly forgettable. That might appear to be an insult, but it isn't. Getting into an SUV that doesn't feel like you're piloting a quarter of the Earth's mass, that doesn't have the sensory dynamics of a Weeble Wobble, that doesn't make you search for the brake pedal before every tight turn... an SUV that, in fact, lets you drive much like you would drive a car, is a compliment.
Of course, there were reminders of the Venza's SUV id beneath the station wagon's ego – or, the Hulk lying within the smaller Bruce Banner – and they came at three interludes: any time you're around an actual car, any time you looked in the rear view mirror, and any time you had to suddenly brake. The first are simple: have a look at those folks down there at normal height, and you remember you're in a Venza; have a look at all that empty space behind you, and you remember you're in a Venza.
The last one was the one that made us go, "Oh, that's right... this is an SUV." The Venza's weight, depending on engine and driveline, ranges from 3,760 to 4,045. That's not exorbitant; the AWD Ford Escape is 223 pounds lighter. But the Venza doesn't have a beefy set of stoppers, which is why you feel it. There's nothing wrong with them, they simply fall into the 30-percent SUV side of the Venza. It helps to remember to brake like you're in an SUV, not a car, which takes a bit of mental memory after having had such a car-like driving experience.
None of which takes away from the Venza; rather, that's just a Get To Know Me aspect of it. Once we were used it, we'd get back to not remembering a thing about it. And that's the point: the Venza says "When you want XX feature, it's here, and when you don't need it, don't even think about it." Is it for you? If you want shockingly thorough think-nothing-of-it capability, you should have a serious look. The Venza's stuffed with abilities and features and doodads, and in a topsy-turvy world, it's not such a bad thing not to think about them once in a while.
Photos copyright ©2008 Jonathon Ramsey/Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new wagon is 70-percent car, 30-percent truck.
The all-new 2009 Toyota Venza is spacious, like a minivan. It rides and handles like a sporty sedan. And it has premium equipment and attributes normally associated with SUVs. Yet it's smaller and lower than an SUV. And far more utilitarian than an ordinary passenger car.
So what is it?
The Toyota Venza is built on the Camry platform, and made in the same plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. But it would be unfair to say the Venza is just an upscale, contemporary rendition of a Camry station wagon. The Venza is more original than that, and more functional, loaded with a mix of highly evolved features and fresh design ideas.
We might be tempted to call it a smaller, nimbler minivan, but it's a five-passenger vehicle, and emotionally, much hipper than any minivan we know. If it's a minivan, it's one Dad won't be afraid to be seen in. And if it's a compact SUV, the Venza would be by far the quickest, slickest, hauler out there.
Truth is, it's really none of the above, but with attributes of all three. In simplest terms, the Venza is an upscale car, with a roomy, cleverly designed interior, that can handle lots of the tasks SUV owners might have become accustomed to. It's a family car, a good daily runabout that's easy to drive and park. And it's highly useful, for moving people, pets and grocery-getting. We found it spacious and comfortable.
That's why Toyota expects many Venza buyers will turn out to be people moving down from SUVs. Other than the ability to tow loads heavier than 3500 pounds, SUV owners won't give up much by getting into a Venza.
Venza is available with either a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V6, both backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. It's available in all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive configurations.
The standard engine is the 2.7-liter four-cylinder that makes 182 hp at 5800 rpm, and 182 pound-feet of torque at 4200 rpm. It is matched with a six-speed electronic transmission and, according to preliminary estimates, can deliver mileage as high as 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The optional engine for the 2009 Venza is the 3.5-liter V-6, which makes 268 hp at 6200 rpm, and 246 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm.
On the road, the Venza feels like a car. It rides smoothly and quietly and steers easily. We were impressed with its stability on slippery roads, whether equipped with all-wheel drive or not. Although there are some SUV attributes, such as the higher seat height and a high degree of cargo versatility, from the driver's seat you'd swear you were in a four-door sedan.
The 2009 Toyota Venza comes in one trim level. It comes with a choice of four-cylinder engine ($25,975) or V6 ($27,800). All-Wheel-Drive ($1450) is available for either model.
Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery; dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter and second row seat vents; cruise control; six-disc CD changer with roof-mounted XM satellite radio antenna; AM/FM audio with MP3/WMA playback and six speakers; tilt/telescopic adjustable steering wheel with integrated audio controls; vanity mirror; power windows with auto up/down function and jam protection on all four doors; cargo tonneau cover; rear personal overhead lamps; dual exhaust; 14-degree rear seat recline; rear spoiler; integrated fog lamps; HomeLink; rear windshield wiper; electrochromic rearview mirror with compass; and cargo area one-touch forward-fold seat levers. It comes standard with 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Also standard are multi-projector-beam headlamps with auto on-off; integrated fog lamps; power outside mirrors; chrome exhaust tips; UV reduction glass windshield, privacy glass on two rear side windows and back window; variable intermittent windshield wipers; rear window intermittent wiper; remote keyless entry system; carbon fiber interior trim; overhead console with map lights; center console with sliding cover and armrest; rear seat personal reading lamp; 12-volt auxiliary power outlets (two front, one cargo area).
Options are available in eight packages with four stand-alone options. Stand-alone options for the 2009 Toyota Venza include navigation system ($2590); JBL Premium Audio ($1090); a panoramic roof ($1050); rear-seat entertainment ($1680); and Blizzard Pearl paint ($220).
The Leather Package ($1600) includes leather-trimmed seats, shift knob, steering wheel with satin-mahogany wood-grain style trim; the Security Package ($570) features backup camera and anti-theft alarm; the Convenience Package ($860) adds a power rear lift gate and Smart Key; the Lighting Package ($815) adds HID headlights and automatic high beams; the Tow Prep Package ($220) includes engine oil cooler, heavy duty fan, larger alternator. The Comfort Package ($2100) combines the Leather Package with heated seats and mirrors. These packages can be combined and bundled. Accessories include racks, cargo nets, floor mats, wheel locks, and an extensive assortment of pet travel products. Safety equipment is comprehensive, and includes seven air bags; Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC); active headrests (front). Also standard in all models is Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) systems with a cutoff switch, plus Antilock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. A tire-pressure monitor system and child protector rear door locks are standard.
Smooth, fluid lines and aerodynamic sculpting characterize the Toyota Venza, which is slightly shorter and lower overall than most crossovers we've been in.
Viewed from the front, a high, wide grille that flows into flame-shaped headlamps functions to accentuate the overall wide stance of the car. The combination of lamp types combined in the headlamps, and the use of fog lamps, create a crisp, technical feeling.
In profile, the Venza appears sleek and contemporary, thanks to low rocker panels and narrow doorsills, much more like a car than a SUV. In keeping with the FT-SX concept vehicle that inspired the design, the wheels are placed out at the corners of the body, snugly positioned in the wheelwells, and there is minimal overhang on either end. The 20-inch wheels become especially prominent in the V6 versions, suggesting something surefooted in everyday driving, even sporty on a winding road.
At the rear, S-shaped tail lamps contribute to the sporty feeling. The end result is to convey the impression of a smart, modern, and practical car. Most of all, the car conveys Toyota's long-view DNA, a way of saying that none of the Venza's design elements are cliches likely to quickly become dated or out of style during the life of the car.
The Toyota Venza is intended to be a refined, potentially luxurious alternative to a five-passenger sedan. And to offer more cargo and passenger space in the process. So the interior has been endowed with an unusual mix of qualities, selected to combine easy-to-drive attributes of a premium car with high-utility flexibility of an SUV.
Keyless entry allowed us to just walk up to the Venza and hop in; all five doors unlock at one touch. The Venza is easy to get into, because the step-in height is quite low, same as a Camry, but the higher roofline makes entry easier for taller people. Once in the seat, we pressed the Start button and the instrument panel comes to life. While the gauges are brightly lit and highly visible, the car is very quiet at idle.
Seat quality is appropriate for a car that might convey a family and their pets on long-distance drives. The cushion length and seat back width are designed for comfort, and there is just enough side bolstering to allow for side-to-side support when the driving is more spirited. The seating position is a tad higher than the average car, more like a minivan, which affords easier visibility of the road ahead. The power seats have a nice range of adjustment, easily accommodating our average frame, and the steering wheel telescopes and adjusts about an inch and a half, each way. It takes only a moment to adjust for legroom and seat angle, set the mirrors, and select Drive.
From the inside, the feeling is of spaciousness, especially in the front row. The front dash layout uses a cleverly arched console and centrally mounted information pod to make it appear as though 60 percent of the front space is devoted to each side.
There is not much difference in quality between the leather interior and the cloth. Both include a nicely textured dash; the cloth interior makes use of carbon-fiber accents for a high-tech appearance, while the leather interior has wood-grain accents to achieve a clean, modern take on classical materials. Both convey the look and feel of quality. The shift lever is canted slightly to the driver's side. There are two interior colors: ivory or light gray.
The instrument cluster prioritizes an oversized speedometer, which is at the center of the cluster, with a slightly smaller tachometer to the left. Semi-circular fuel and temperature gauges are smaller and located to the right. The shift position indicator is a modest LED display at center. The instruments look good, are bright enough even when the sun hits them directly, and pleasing at night.
Twisting stalks for lights, wipers and washers, and cruise control are mounted on the steering wheel.
The center console is designed to be simple, clean, and uncluttered. It contains low-relief, soft-touch controls for the information center, the audio system and the HVAC (heating/air conditioning) system. The console has a soft armrest cover over an unusually deep storage area, which is highly organized. There is a built-in MP3 player cubby designed to hold players such as iPods securely. The Auxiliary plug is located out of the way, under a retracting lid that houses cup holders, and the wire can be run so that it is hidden while in use, providing near-perfect integration of the iPod into the Venza's interior. There is also a covered slot that made a perfect place to put our Razor cell phone. The doors have bottle holders and a map slot.
The back row seats are surprisingly accommodating. With the driver's seat adjusted for a 6-foot person, we easily had enough legroom to be comfortable for long trips. While the Venza is wider and taller overall than the Camry, it shares the same wheelbase, and the same overall length. These dimensions make the Venza appear wider and lower, more powerful, and permit increased hip room, head room and a higher seating height. Interestingly enough, legroom is actually slightly reduced compared to the Camry, even though interior volume is greater.
The Venza is thoughtfully designed for people with pets. Among the available accessories are a selection of pet products, including a travel harness, rear pet barrier, a pet tent for smaller dogs, and seat cover for the rear bench seat. The harness, dog fence and tent add greatly to safety because the forces involved in a flying dog can be deadly to both dog and humans.
We drove the Toyota Venza on mostly two-lane roads in and around the Farmington, Pennsylvania, area, a town about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh. It was raining and the roads were slick with rain and wet, fallen leaves. The terrain in the area is hilly, and the steeper climbs and curving downhills gave us a chance to test the Venza's driveability and grip under somewhat unusual circumstances.
On the road, the Venza feels very much like a car, and not much like a truck. In ordinary driving it rides smoothly and quietly, just like a car, steers easily, and seems as quiet as a Camry. We drove smoothly from place to place, wipers and headlights on, observing speed limits between 35 and 55 mph, with minimal need to concentrate. At those speeds, cornering was achieved with minimal body roll (lean), and steering was light and accurate. The Venza sits a little higher off the ground than a Camry, so there is a bit more body lean in the corners, but suspension travel is more like a car than an SUV, so the car transitions from side to side cleanly and easily.
We were impressed with the stability of the Venza on steep, curving roads covered with wet leaves. We never felt a wiggle in these slippery conditions, under throttle or braking, all day long. As the day wore on, we tried out both four-cylinder and V6 models, and all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive versions, and drove the now-familiar roads harder, occasionally hitting speeds up to 70 mph. We still never got into the traction control, or the anti-lock brakes, which speaks well for the tires and the wide stance of the Venza.
The brakes respond to pressure with a nice, easy-to-control mix of pedal assist and firm feedback.
The Venza is not designed to be an off-road vehicle, although it does have 8.1 inches of ground clearance, comparable to compact SUVs. The all-wheel-drive system (also used on the RAV4) can bias torque equally on a 50/50 basis, front to rear. With that kind of flexibility, the AWD Venza has the capability to be an especially sure-footed, all-weather transport, and that includes snow.
The new Toyota Venza combines the virtues of cars and SUVs resulting in a vehicle that's nice to drive and easy to live with. The Venza seats five, can carry cargo, and should work well for hauling dogs around. It's roomy and comfortable and climbing in and out is easy. It offers good, smooth performance and handles well in slippery conditions.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Farmington, Pennsylvania.
Toyota Venza four cylinder FWD ($25,975); V6 FWD $27,800; four-cylinder AWD ($27,425); V6 AWD ($29,250).
Options As Tested
Premium Package #1 ($3845) includes leather seating surfaces, four-way power front passenger seat with lumbar support, satin mahogany wood-grain-style interior trim; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, High Intensity Discharge headlamps with automatic high beam feature; power rear door with jam protection; Smart Key System with Push Button Start; backup camera; anti-theft system.
2009 Toyota Venza AWD V-6 ($29,250).
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