The Venza nameplate is back and on a completely new vehicle. We last saw the Toyota Venza in 2015 as a 5-passenger wagon/crossover with a lower and longer stance. All-new for 2021 is a more luxurious 5-passenger mid-size crossover with a more traditional crossover profile offered exclusively with a hybrid powertrain and electronic on-demand all-wheel drive. The hybrid system pairs a 2.5L DOHC four-cylinder engine with three electric motors to deliver 219 horsepower and an estimated EPA rating of 39 combined MPG. The transitions are seamless and the ride is impressively smooth. It won't win any races or autocross events, but it does offer a comfortable, composed ride that absorbs Chicagoland road imperfections. Competition includes vehicles such as the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano, and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. Only the Sant Fe and Sorento are offered with a hybrid variant.
The Venza is available in three trims known as the LE, XLE or Limited. Base LE models start at $32,670 and come with 18" two-tone machine finished wheels, wireless charging, 8" touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto integration, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. XLE models will substitute in 19" chrome alloys, add a smart key assist system, heated front seats, LED lights, parking assist, and roof rails for $36,200. And top tier Limited models start at $40,000 and add 19" multi-spoke super chrome wheels, ventilated seats, available Star Gaze fixed panoramic roof, digital rearview mirror, bird's eye view camera, heated steering wheel, available 10" color head-up display, and a 12.3" touchscreen among other features. After a week behind the wheel in a Venza Limited, here's what stood out...
Everything about the Venza comes together to create premium feeling interior and exterior that exudes refinement. The quality of craftsmanship is at Lexus levels with tight fittings, soft touch materials, and a general premium vibe. Standard on all models are LED lights up front and in back that compliment the elegant, contemporary styling. With a sophisticated stance, minimal gaps and a subdued, but classy color pallet, the Venza will cater to a very different buyer than the RAV4. Available features inside include a 10" head up display, Star Gaze panoramic roof, and very comfortable seats. Combine all of these features with a smooth, quiet ride and the Venza makes for a very refined highway cruiser.
All-Wheel Drive (+)
Standard on all Venza's is Toyota's electronic on-demand all-wheel drive which pairs nicely with the hybrid powertrain. The system takes all of the guess work from the driver and engages when needed. I took the Venza camping on some uneven wet gravel terrain and had no troubles. The system utilizes a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when it detects slippage or the need. While I was generally on dry terrain, this will be a nice feature during Chicago winters.
Fuel Economy (+)
Offered exclusively with a hybrid powertrain, all Venzas have better than average MPG estimates for its size. When it arrived with a full 14.5-gallon tank, it offered a range of approximately 520 miles. EPA estimates are 40/37/39 MPG city/highway/combined. After a week of driving primarily suburban roads, I averaged 38.5 MPG. Comparatively, the similarly sized Nissan Murano is rated at 23 MPG combined, Ford Edge at 21 MPG, Honda Passport at 21 MPG, and Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV at 33 MPG.
Exterior Style (+)
The Venza offers something different from the rest of the Toyota line-up with a more contemporary smooth styling compared to the rugged looks we've seen in recent SUVs. Up front the nose juts out to the front with a wide lower fascia. A chrome strip underlines the signature LED lights and also at the bottom of the fascia to add some elegance. The profile is sleek with an integrated rear spoiler and a third window that comes to a point in the c-pillar. A sculpted body line runs at the bottom of the doors to create some movement without distraction. The flattened wheel arches give some dimension and are filled by either 18 or 19-inches wheels that are appropriately styled for this vehicle. Around back a solid lighting strip stretches across with the Toyota emblem at the center. The rear styling has a bit more edginess than the rest of the vehicle, but still works well with the overall proportions.
Star Gaze Panoramic Roof (+/-)
Toyota has given the Venza an available full panoramic fixed glass roof that features electrochromatic glass technology that allows drivers to switch from transparent to frosted modes utilizing an on/off switch. The frosted mode still allows light in the cabin for a more open, airy vibe while reducing direct sunlight. This is a nice feature for longer trips when you may want to the brightness, but not the glare. The downside of this feature is that it is fixed and there is no option for the fresh air that comes with a sliding moonroof.
Interior Layout (-)
Despite its premium feel and comfortable seats, the overall layout was a bit of a letdown. The dash layout is very segmented with a traditional cluster behind the steering wheel and an available 12.3 infotainment touch screen that sits on its own at the center of the dash. Below the touchscreen are touch-sensitive buttons for climate and audio controls...there are no knobs for either. Further embedded to the center of the dash/center console is the push-button start just behind the traditional gear selector. The gear selector is placed in the center of the console with two cup holders in front of it. Unlike vehicles like the Highlander or the RAV4, there is no great place to set your mobile device and the general placement of things feels slightly off. There is an available wireless charger tucked deep in the console behind the gear selector, but its awkward and didn't easily accommodate my iPhone 12 Pro. Another odd placement is a row of controls to the left of the steering wheel that are out of sight to the driver for the hatch release, camera view, and heated steering wheel. The overall focus of the interior is definitely on style over functionality.
Interior Comfort (+)
The Venza offers a good amount of comfortable passenger space for five. The black and java two-tone softex leather seats are very supportive and comfortable for long trips. It's easy to get in and out of as the driver's seat automatically moved to the furthest back position upon entering/exiting and returns to its previous position when the vehicle is started. Available heated and cooling seats can be adjusted in up to 8-ways. Rear seats comfortably accommodated all three of my kids, although I imagine the middle seat would be tighter for an adult.
There is a lot to like about the technology features in the Venza. The available 12.3-inch touchscreen display sits prominently at the center of the dash and integrates with both Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Toyota's Entune system is user-friendly and fairly easy to navigate. Everything must be controlled via the touchscreen or steering wheel controls as there are no physical buttons. You're required to tap on the screen repeatedly to adjust both volume and climate which not only seems to take more effort than a quick turn of a dial, but leaves even more finger prints on the glass. And while the screen is large, the primary display only takes up approximately two thirds with the last section available for a variety of displays that you can scroll through.
Also offered is a digital rear-view mirror which utilizes a camera in the back of the car to show unobstructed video in the "mirror." This feature takes some getting used to, but ultimately provides a better view of what is behind the Venza. Directly in front of the driver is an available 10-inch color head-up display that projects a good amount of information on the windshield including speed, hybrid system indicator, driver assist alerts, and more. And finally, there are cameras everywhere including standard backup camera with projected path and gridlines. Step up to Limited models and you'll also get a bird's eye view camera with perimeter scan that will highlight the vehicle's surroundings.
Standard Safety (+)
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 comes standard on all trim levels which adds to the overall value and reassurance that comes with purchasing a new Venza. The comprehensive list of features includes the following:
* Pre-Collision System with Daytime/Low-Light Vehicle and Pedestrian Detection, plus Daytime Bicyclist Detection
* Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
* Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist
* Automatic High Beams
* Lane Tracing Assist
* Road Sign Assist
The Venza also scored well in overall IIHS safety ratings and earned five starts in an overall rating from NHTSA.
The Venza does a lot of things well, but it doesn't standout in one particular area which could lead to consumers overlooking it. Toyota built a very refined vehicle that is on par with its Lexus brand. While it is stylishly compelling and different, there are some functional improvements that would make it even better. Bottom line, it's a non-offensive crossover that will offer a very comfortable driving experience and will save you some money at the pump.
First Impression Summary:
Test Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited
* Exterior Color: Titanium Glow
* Interior Color: Black & Java Softex
* Notable Options: Advanced Technology Package ($725) and Star Gaze Fixed Panoramic Roof ($1,400)
* Price as tested: $43,100 (with destination charge)