A brand-new Venza hits the streets.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens.
There are always more photos at the end of my reviews.
Do you remember the original Venza? Toyota launched an interesting take on a modern wagon – complete with a powerful V6, available all-wheel drive and unique styling. It ended up doing pretty well for them, and there are still plenty of them on the streets.
This Venza is something completely different. It’s a 2-row crossover, somewhere between a compact and mid-size. And it’s only available as a hybrid.
Pricing: 2021 Toyota Venza
Base price (Limited trim): $47,690
Options: $255 Premium Paint
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $49,885
Toyota told us a few years ago that there will never be a boring Toyota again. In their defence, they have followed through, for better or for worse. The Venza is certainly an interesting vehicle to look at. It is very sculpted and deeply scalloped, particularly around the front and rear fascias, yet it is never offensive or overboard.
I think the white Blizzard Pearl paint of my review unit suits the Venza well – it’s clean and modern.
All the exterior lighting is LED, including LED projector headlights, fascinating signature driving lights and a full-width LED tail light bar.
Nice 19-inch wheels with 225/55-sized tires fill the wheel wells.
The interior is a fresh direction in terms of styling, and comes off as relatively modern, if not very sleek. Materials are very nice and basically anything you touch is soft-touch. It’s a combination of soft plastics and for the most part, nicely upholstered panels on the dash and doors. I liked some of the nice added touches like the ambient lighting, LED illuminated scuff plates on the door sills and the faux wood. Another interesting thing is the three-tone interior – it is a combination of black, grey and brown.
The heated steering wheel is power-adjustable. It’s interesting to find Softex-upholstered (read: vinyl) seats in a top-tier Limited trim vehicle – it’s getting harder and harder to find real leather these days. That said, the perforated-material seats are heated and ventilated, power adjustable, comfortable, and very well bolstered. And they are lovely to look at.
A HUGE 12.3″ touchscreen dominates the dash. The interface splits the screen into different sections (4 zones by default) which works well because there is plenty of room to go around. The system is relatively intuitive and the screen is very responsive. I wish there were more hard buttons though – basically everything is screen-based, and I especially missed the volume knob. This is a lesson that Honda learned and I am wondering if Toyota will bring it back as well.
Tunes are handled courtesy of the premium 9-speaker JBL audio system which is excellent, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are integrated nicely.
The centre stack houses the dual-zone automatic climate control system – temperatures are adjusted via capacitive touch buttons, so much like the audio system, you will need to take your eyes off the road to make these adjustments. The look is very clean without real buttons, but it’s not very practical.
There’s a boatload of driver assistance technology to be found in the Venza – all of which worked very well for us. It has a crisp heads-up display, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, pre-collision system, pedestrian and bicycle detection, adaptive cruise control, a bird’s eye view backup camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and braking as well as parking sensors.
While there are three seats in the back, I found headroom to be somewhat limited. I’m 5’10” and had about one inch to spare over my head. However leg and foot room is substantial – I had over 4 inches to spare. There’s a slight floor tunnel the middle passenger would have to straddle.
Rear passengers get two USB plugs and adjustable air vents. The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with two cupholders, and the huge sunroof makes things airier than the otherwise dark materials would allow for.
There’s a wireless charging mat situated at the bottom of the centre stack. Not an ergonomic best practice for sure – your phone, although I guess you shouldn’t be picking it up regularly while you’re driving, is stuck between the gear selector and a giant tube that sticks out, housing the push start ignition button. Quite strange actually and visually, I dislike the bulbous protrusion of the ignition button. It feels very much like an afterthought. Anyway, there are also 2 USB-A plugs there, along with an auxiliary port.
Under the armrest lid is an organizational tray and a carpeted bin with a 12V plug.
The trunk is accessed via power liftgate with a kick sensor that honestly didn’t work very consistently for me. Truth is, I never have much luck with these hands-free liftgates. It’s a nice usable size at 816L trunk although the load floor is quite high. I appreciate that Toyota has put some extra effort into making the trunk look and feel premium with some added aluminum scuff plates and a stitched pull tab.
Toyota doesn’t disclose how much cargo space folding down the 60/40-split second row nets you, but it’s quite large.
Under the Hood
The only available powertrain is a hybrid using a 2.5L 4-cylinder combined with an electric motor. The transmission is continuously variable the drivetrain is on-demand all-wheel drive.
As usual, Toyota is coy with the numbers, giving only a net horsepower number of 219 – no torque figures are disclosed. And as usual, you can expect stellar fuel economy from this drivetrain – it’s rated at 5.9/6.4 L/100km (city/highway) and we ended up with a very impressive average of 6 L/100 km making absolutely no effort to drive economically or save fuel.
While the numbers aren’t exciting, the powertrain does a fine job at moving the Venza smartly off the line. If you put the hammer down, it is actually very impressive in terms of acceleration. Passing is fine, although it won’t come across as a particularly powerful vehicle. We did find some notable coarseness in the powertrain when the gas engine is running, especially at lower speeds.
You can choose EV-only mode, which is a bit silly since this isn’t a plug-in hybrid, and running on electric power only is done automatically. I’ve never understood why Toyota adds the option to use EV exclusively since it doesn’t last long regardless of how gently you try to drive. Just let the system do its thing.
The CVT does a fine job at bumping up the revs quickly when needed and dropping them as soon as they’re not. You can put the transmission in Sport mode which does enhance the responsiveness notably, and you can “shift” the non-existent gears using the gear selector if that’s your thing. There are also driving modes – Normal, Sport and Eco – that the driver can choose from.
At slower speeds, the Venza feels heavy and it kind of lumbers around corners, feeling quite top-heavy. Interestingly, the powertrain and chassis seems to come alive as you pick up the pace, and it starts feeling more competent and agile as you speed up. It’s not fun to drive, and you’ll never be fooled into thinking it’s athletic, but it’s quite good.
The Venza’s ride is very comfortable. We did find a noticeable amount of road noise coming through but only on some surfaces, so I blame the tires for that, as it was dead quiet on other roads.
I felt like this needed to be in a special section, because it is so cool. Overhead is a panoramic glass roof which Toyota named StarGaze. It acts as a normal transparent sunroof but at the press of a button, it instantly frosts over, becoming somewhere between translucent and opaque.
Not only is this ridiculously fun, it also serves the purpose of blocking some of the brighter light from the sun, or if you just want a dreamy, frosty sky overhead.
Our kids loved this feature – is it gimmicky? Of course! But everyone loved it.
There are also puddle lamps that welcome you when you approach the vehicle – they paint the Venza logo on the pavement, which is neat.
WAF (Wife Approval Factor) was surprisingly high. She liked the unique styling, how easy it was to drive and the fresh take on the interior.
The Venza is a new direction for Toyota crossovers. It’s a slightly smaller, premium crossover and it is only available in a hybrid. The pricing is higher than the notably bigger RAV4 with the same powertrain – Toyota is banking on a demographic that will place more value on style, inside and out, and premium finishes. It’s a great daily driver that provides plenty of upgrades and nifty touches, all the technology you could ask for and enough utility to be competitive.
But if you want the best bang for your buck, you can just walk to the other side of the showroom and pick up a hybrid RAV4 Limited that has about 95% of the same content and the same powertrain for about $4,500 less. Either way, you’ll get a great vehicle and astounding fuel economy.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.