I spent a week with Toyota’s Venza. Once I started paying attention, I noticed just how many Venzas there are rolling around on our streets. I was surprised – they are everywhere! Let’s have a closer look and see what all these buyers are going for.
The base 4-cylinder front-wheel drive Venza starts CDN $28,690, whereas the V6 all-wheel drive version with the Touring package like my review car rings in at CDN $38,300.
Exterior/Under the Hood
What you’ve got here is a modern wagon. Simple as that. It’s not a small car, but the lines are clean and smooth. The front end sports a quite vertical snout and has a nice integrated grille that looks like it means business, especially with the aggressive sabre-toothed LED driving lights. My review car came in a lovely metallic brown colour – Sunset Bronze Mica, they call it. When I first saw this colour, I thought “That’s pretty cool. Who on earth is going to buy that?” Well, there are plenty of Venzas around, and plenty of them are in this colour. Go figure. The brown car lives!
Integrated foglights, wrap-around headlights and tail lights look great, as does the rear spoiler and the 5-spoke 20″ rims. The rear liftgate has an exaggerated slant to it, which makes the car look less bulky than it is. The absence of any sharp creases give it a flowing stance, and I quite like the looks.
Toyota’s venerable 3.5-Liter V-6 sits under the hood. Here it makes 268 HP at 6200 RPM, and 246 lb.ft of torque at 4700 RPM. Fuel economy isn’t fantastic, but remains competitive in this class, and considering the engine is pushing 4045 pounds around. The all-wheel drive system costs you a bit of fuel too. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic and the gas tank has a 67 Liter capacity. The Venza is rated at 11.4 L/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 7.9 L/100 km (30 mpg) on the highway. During my city driving, I averaged 13.1 L/100 km (18 mpg) and that improved to only 9.8 L/100 km (24 mpg) on an extended highway trip – roughly 250 kilometers traveling at about 120 km/h.
The space in the Venza is great – headroom is good, even with the two sunroofs, and you’re never cramped. Materials are nice – plenty of soft-touch plastics, leather with piping, and interesting organic textures. Seating position is quite high – almost chair-like, which means a commanding view of the road. The power, heated seats themselves are quite comfortable, but lack bolstering. The driver’s seat has 2-position memory. The steering wheel has controls for handsfree, phone and media functions and sits in front of an easy-to-read gauge cluster.
Up top, in the center of the dash, you’ll find a monochrome screen displaying the time, temperature, climate control temperature and variable trip/fuel economy information. Below that sits a small-ish touch-screen and some hard buttons, handling audio, phone and navigation functions. It isn’t the nicest looking interface, but everything works pretty well. Under that, you’ll find a dual-zone automatic climate control to the right, and the shift lever to the left.
The audio system feeds off of any imaginable source and sounds pretty good. Everything is powered, including doors, windows and mirrors.
The reclining rear seats are very comfortable (but offer no bolstering whatsoever) and roomy – headroom, legroom and footroom are spectacular. You get three seats, three seatbelts and three headrests. The outboard seats are plenty comfortable – the middle one is narrow and not meant for adults – at least not for long drives. We got all three kids back there very nicely, and there are 2 sets of LATCH anchors for their seats. The floor is relatively flat and other than adjustable reading lights, air vents and map pockets, it’s quite spartan back there. The middle seatback does fold down to become an armrest with cupholders.
Storage-wise, the Venza has some lovely innovations. There is a sizable glove box, and a large compartment under the armrest lid. In front of that sits an area with cupholders and a lidded storage slot – but there’s a small tab you can pull, which allows you to slide that entire plane back to access yet another deep storage well in the front of the console – you’ll also find USB, auxiliary and 12V plugs in there. There’s a nice pop-out bin on the left underside of the dash and OK door bins.
The trunk is quite large at 30.7 cubic feet (870 Liters), and the floor is at a comfortable height. You’ll find under-floor storage, a 12v plug and a retractable tonneau cover for visual security. The rear seats can be released via handles in the trunk and fold down in a 60/40 split to offer a significantly increased cargo space – a mammoth 70.1 cubic feet (1985 Liters)!!!
From a power perspective, the Venza is a satisfying car to drive. There’s no hesitation off the line and around town, and it has plenty of passing power on the highway too. The transmission is very smooth and quite intelligent, but on the highway, it takes a second or two to downshift into the powerband when you want to pass.
Head for the curves though, and you’ll find that the Venza hates fun. The steering is very numb, there’s plenty of body roll during cornering and the car just seems to sternly shake its head at you. The lame, overboosted and numb steering that irritated me while driving certainly made parking this thing as easy as pie. The handling is actually quite competent and not totally sloppy when push comes to shove, but you feel as though you’re paying the price for trying to have some fun. The car is a big softie all the way around, and you’ll notice it even when you’re coming to a stop – the front end dives notably toward the pavement when you step on the brakes. Those brakes, by the way, are spongy and although they do the job, never feel accurate or linear to me.
The ride is fantastic, and everything is remarkably quiet around town. Engine, road and wind noise are well-damped, but at high speeds I noticed the wind noise picked up quite a bit. The all-wheel drive system is lovely and completely unobtrusive on dry roads. Visibility is great, except for shoulder checking which is somewhat hampered by the large rear pillars.
Stick to everyday cruising, be it in the city or on the highway, and this car is an excellent partner. Though snow was nowhere to be seen, I’m guessing this would be quite a capable winter car with the all-wheel drive.
I found that the main touchscreen was highly susceptible to glare, often being completely washed out by the sun.
At the base of the center stack is small flip-up lid – it exposes a slot with a spring-loaded backing – perfect for quickly and easily standing up your smart phone and keeping it in place. To make it even better, the bottom is open, and it allows you to feed a plug into that cool hidden compartment below, accessing USB, aux or 12V plugs and turning this into a functional dock. Brilliant! I loved this smart phone slot and used it all the time.
The steering wheel has a MUTE button. Thank you, Toyota! Why doesn’t everyone do this?!
I found the trunk cargo space to be very richly carpeted – that might sound stupid, but I’m not kidding. It felt thick and plush and luxurious. Probably the nicest carpet I’ve found in any trunk area.
When using MP3 sources from Bluetooth streaming or USB sticks, etc, the stereo provides all the metatagging information as well as shows the cover art on the screen. Nice touch.
The Venza is a premium-feeling vehicle, and will be the answer to the question a lot of people are asking. The fit and finish is excellent, there are nice touches throughout and it is a smart vehicle in terms of comfort and utility. Reliability, of course, is a given with Toyota.
I give this modern interpretation of the wagon a 7 out of 10. I liked much about it, but it was a vehicle I just couldn’t get excited about. I liked the styling (I’m a wagon kinda guy) and there’s no arguing that this might be one of the best road-trip vehicles out there (other than the wind noise). But when I buy a vehicle, I need a ride that can offer me some fun when I want to throw it around a bit, and I never felt the Venza wanted to play in any way.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is very, very high. She absolutely loved how this car drove (I LOLd a bit at how much we differ here) and found that it was easy to maneuver and park, even considering its relatively big size. She loved the styling and the color, she loved the power liftgate, and she really liked how the interior looked and felt. It was one of her most resounding positive reviews and it’s one of the few vehicles she says she’d trade her beloved Honda Odyssey in for.
If you’re looking for a well-built, cushy, comfortable wagon/crossover that provides ample space and utility front and back, good straight-line performance, decent but not great fuel economy and high reliability, the Venza might be just what you’re looking for. Just keep in mind that it won’t be happy if you want to have some fun with it, and you’ll be seeing your vehicle driving by you quite often.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
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