Many of you may not remember it, but the Toyota Venza arrived for 2009, as sort of a replacement for the Camry wagon, while also trying to cash in on the emerging SUV trend. Well, not building a big fan base from either camp, it disappeared from the lineup in 2015. Well, the Venza is back, and with a more defined mission.
For 2021, the Venza returns to the Toyota lineup; now fully embracing the SUV mission, at least when it comes to marketing. Now, you may have the same thought as us, with so many utilities already under the Toyota brand, one even about the same size as Venza, what does it add?
Well, for starters, it brings a Lexus-like approach to Toyota in both style and features; much like the Toyota Avalon. It’s not quite over the top luxurious; but has a general feel and presence that puts it closer to Lexus than your typical Toyota appliance.
Just 2-rows of seating here in Venza; the fronts are wide and comfortable, with available heating and cooling, and it’s not just a fan blowing air, but true A/C. Rear seat room is akin to the RAV4, on which the Venza is based.
Something you’ll find nowhere else in the Toyota lineup, is the Star Gaze fixed panoramic glass roof. As a $1,400 standalone option, it’s a bit pricey, but certainly adds a wow factor, being able to switch it from frosted to clear with just the touch of a button.
Our Limited tester features a wide 12.3-inch touchscreen mounted up high in front of the dash rather than recessed into it, putting it both within easy reach and in your line of sight. Lesser trims come with an 8.0-inch version.
The start button is mounted low beneath the control panel, making a quick trip from there to the shifter for the standard CVT transmission; yes, there’s an actual shifter, no buttons or toggles. Thank goodness!
Limited also comes with 9-speaker premium JBL audio with navigation; and depending on trim, gauges will have either a 4-inch or 7-inch Multi-Information Display.
Other upscale amenities for the Venza include a digital camera rearview mirror, and 10-inch color head up display.
The Venza’s wheelbase and suspension hardware are identical to the RAV4, but tuning is noticeably softer, and there’s a Lexus-like quiet not found in the RAV.
That made for a fair amount of body roll through our handling course, but nothing extreme. While we really had to work the wheel to get through here cleanly, overall, it felt solid and capable. Active Cornering Assist uses nearly invisible selective braking to reduce understeer and help the car rotate; and it seemed to work, as our test drivers made no mention of excessive front plow.
Now, we’ve made it this far without mentioning what’s under the Venza’s hood. And, it’s a testament to Toyota’s Hybrid System II powertrain that you won’t really notice what’s under there either.
Yes, all Venzas are hybrids, and the plentiful power and smooth operation will leave you largely clueless of that fact. Same as the RAV4 Hybrid, 2.5-liter I4-based; with a combined output of 219-horsepower.
In addition, all Venzas are standard all-wheel-drive. The Electronic On-Demand system works with strictly an electric motor for powering the rears; a proven system that has been in place in the Highlander Hybrid and other Toyota products for years now.
In normal driving the rear motor only kicks in when the front wheels slip. And while it is capable of modest off-road tasks, with the Venza’s 7.8–inches of ground clearance, it will mostly pay off in all-weather capabilities. There is, however, also added grip when launching from a standstill, where the hybrid system primes the rear axle motor for near instant torque delivery.
And indeed it leaps off the line strongly. But, from there, the engine’s comparatively low output, and the CVT conspire against you to achieve a relatively slow 7.8-second 0-60, and a ¼-mile time of 16.0-seconds flat at 87 miles-per-hour.
The Venza is available in typical Toyota trims; the base LE starting at $34,070, top Limited at $41,400, with XLE in between.
Sure, Toyota could have just called this a Highlander Sport, RAV4 XL, or even Prius MAX to capitalize on those highly successful nameplates instead of resurrecting the Venza. But, its combination of standard all-wheel-drive, all-hybrid powertrain, and Lexus-like take on style and amenities, makes the 2021 Toyota Venza something unlike anything else in their lineup, and totally worthy of a name all its own.
Engine: 2.5L I4
0-60 mph: 7.8 seconds
1/4 Mile: 16s @ 87 mph