2014 Toyota Venza Review

2014 Toyota Venza - Utilitarian and functional, but nowhere near boring.

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Let's face it, Toyota has made its fair share of boring vehicles. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But if you're looking for boring, the 2014 Toyota Venza with a 3.5-liter V-6 is not for you.

While the exterior of this vehicle screams "Soccer mom" (as one of my Twitter followers kindly pointed out), the interior is comfortable and roomy, and the ride and handling is downright sexy. For a crossover type.

It's been a couple years since I've driven the Venza, and I liked it the first time. I thoroughly loved it this time.

The biggest selling point: The 3.5-liter V-6 engine. It was a total surprise. I've gotten used to Toyota's no-fun drivetrain and almost giggled the first time I merged on the highway in the test car and punched the accelerator. I know I definitely gasped out loud. The 268 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque are perfectly suited to this compact crossover. Even better, the fuel efficiency trade off isn't that much between the V-6 and the 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder engine. In fact, you're looking at 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway for the 4-cylinder with front-wheel drive (FWD), while the V-6 FWD model gets 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

With numbers like that, I have no idea why you'd opt for the 4 banger, especially since it only delivers 181 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque.

Well, unless you're looking at price. The base LE with the 4-cylinder, FWD powertrain starts at $27,950. Upgrading to the V-6 adds $2K to the bottom line. But I totally think it's worth it for the 87 extra horses.

The test vehicle was a mid-level XLE model with all-wheel-drive. It was really well stocked with the XLE Premium Package ($1,850) that included features such a panoramic glass roof, navigation, Entune App Suite, backup camera, Bluetooth, HD radio and iTunes tagging. The as-tested price with destination was $37,790. Sure, that's a far cry from the base LE, but it comes standard with touch sensor lock/unlock door handles, push-button start, leather seats, heated front seats and a power liftgate.

A small rant about the liftgate: I couldn't get it to work. And, apparently, it was because I didn't hold the button long enough.

But once you got that liftgate up - power or otherwise - there is a huge storage capacity. Cargo volume with the rear-seats up is a very nice 36.2 cubic-feet. Drop the second-row, and you're looking at 70.2 cubic-feet. What do those numbers mean exactly? Well, with the rear seats up, I was able to fit a golf bag in a canvas travel case, 2 backpacks and a roller board. The golf bag alone should have your eyes goggling. Those things are huge!

The Bluetooth sync worked pretty easily in the Venza, though you did have to go through a couple screens to get the pairing to begin. But once the phone and car were synced, the hands-free calling worked fairly easily. My one concern: When you make a hands-free call, the system doesn't ask if it got it right before dialing. So, I had visions of saying "Call Mom and Dad" and having the system say: "Call <insert name of an ex-friend I forgot to delete from my phonebook>. Dialing." And after I realize it's calling the wrong person but before my scrambled brain (that's focusing on driving, by the way) can find the hang-up button on the steering wheel, I hear a "Hello." Luckily that didn't happen. But the thought alone had me dialing through my phone address book rather than using voice commands.

The biggest problem I had with the Venza was the Entune App Suite included in the XLE Premium Package. I thought it was a good idea, but it was way too difficult to put into use. Rather than being able to sync your phone with the car and then utilize the apps through the App screen, Toyota makes you go one step further. You have to download the Entune app and register your VIN, sync your apps to the Entune app on a computer (no mobile devices please), and then use your apps through the app through the car. Confused? Exactly. I managed to register the Entune app and sync all my apps (such as Pandora and Open Table). But they still wouldn't work through the car. One solution I've heard is to plug your phone into the USB port to get the apps to work. How 2011.

 I like Chevrolet's answer better, download the app (like Pandora), sync your phone to the car, and voila! The app works through your car.

But enough with what I didn't like. What I liked most about the Venza is that it drives small. The compact driver's area and the low-step in height make this crossover seem very carlike, and the tight ride and handling give it a little more sport and a little less cushy snore.

My petite mother is in the market for a new car, and she's thrown me into a scavenger hunt for vehicles with adjustable pedals. Because that's what her current car has, and she can't imagine not having them. No, the Venza doesn't have adjustable pedals, but unlike a lot of crossovers on the market, I really don't think you need them in the Venza. I'm just shy of 5-feet tall, and I found a perfect driving position that had me close enough to the pedals but, thanks to a telescoping wheel, far enough away from the airbags. The driver's seat itself was comfortable with good lumbar support for the petite drivers among us, and I had excellent visibility out all windows. Even the headrests were tolerable. And that's no mean feat these days.

So, yes, Mom, I think you should put this on your must-test list.

Actually, anyone who's looking for a 5-passenger family vehicle should put this on their list. From the comfort to the storage capability to the easy ride and handling, the Venza is a really fun and functional vehicle.



Jill Ciminillo

After more than a decade of writing car reviews, Jill is still considered relative newcomer to the auto review scene. But with her "fresh" perspective, she represents the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And, since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun- Times and the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. As a marathon runner, Jill also serves on the Active Lifestyle Vehicle jury, judging the cars she drives for how well they fit in to a weekend warrior athlete's lifestyle. Jill is currently the automotive editor for the Auto Matters section hosted by Sinclair Broadcast Group and the senior vice president for the Midwest Auto Motive Media Association.

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