It is day 265 of the year 2021 A.D. and I just sat down to write about the twelfth crossover to end up in my driveway this year. I am trying to stay positive, but at first glance this Toyota Venza looked a bit like the last one, it was even the same color. However, I have a job to do, so I will soldier on. Besides, I always liked the Venza, and the name is a portmanteau of “Venture” and “Monza”. So if this Toyota crossover is anything like this season’s crazy F1 Italian Grand Prix race at Monza, it’ll be quite the experience. It’s even called the “Harrier” in Japan, which is badass. However, expectations are metered. #crossoverlife
While this is a new vehicle in the Toyota lineup, the Venza actually dates back to 2009. Based on the same platform as the sixth generation Camry, it was also platform-mates with the 3rd gen Lexus RX. You get all that? First gen Venza, Sixth gen Camry, average those and you get third gen RX. Actually, you’d get 3.5th generation RX, sorry I suck at math. Let’s move on.
The first generation Venza made it up to the 2015 model year before it got canned. Toyota reportedly cited “customer preference, competitiveness within the segment, and deteriorating sales”. So basically, people didn’t like it, so it wasn’t competitive, and it didn’t sell. That’s really, like, one thing. The final year of the first generation was not a rousing success, Toyota sold 21,351 according to GCBC.
Things seem on an upswing for the 2021 Venza though, with 46,269 sales already logged this year. So apparently the second generation of Toyota’s five-passenger midsize crossover might be preferred by customers and competitive in the segment. Actually, crossovers are so popular, there have to be sub-segments. This must be the coupe-like rear five-passenger midsize subsegment.
The Venza lineup is pretty straightforward, you have LE, XLE, and Limited (our test spec).
You can have any engine in a 2021 Venza you want, as long as it’s a 219 horsepower 2.5-Liter Dynamic Force 4-Cylinder Engine with DOHC 16-Valve with D-4S Dual-Injection and Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). That’s 176 horsepower from the gas engine and (clicks calculator…) 43 horsepower from the electric motor.
As you can see from the monroney above, the Limited starts at just under $40,000 and with $725 Technology Package (HUD with rain sensing wipers, an interesting combo), and $1,400 for the absolutely magical “Star Gaze Fixed Panoramic Roof (oh and $425 for “paint”) it’ll cost you $43,525 for this Venza, according to the bottom of the window sticker.
Let’s see if it’s any good.
Inside and Out
The coupe-roofed SUV is real, you see the design element perpetuated across just about every automaker. While it’s less practical (that means less cargo area technically) I get the appeal. There are lots of people who want a sportier look for their people carrier. While the overall style is similar to the OG Venza it’s actually a tad bit smaller. The outgoing 2015 model year Venza was 189 inches long, whereas the 2021 is 186.6 inches long. The last iteration was 75 inches wide, this one is 73 inches. Same goes for the wheelbase (109.3 inches for 2015 vs. 105.9 inches for 2021). The only numbers that favor the newer Venza are height (65.9 inches vs. 63.4 inches) and curb weight 3,913 pounds (vs. 4,045 pounds).
That means that, with a few exceptions, the newer Venza is smaller on the inside as well. Both seat five people, but other than front leg room, the passenger and cargo numbers all favor the elder Venza. However, this is more about where the Venza fits into the current Toyota lineup. It slots in with regard to size and price between the RAV4 and the Highlander.
On the inside, the Venza has a funky-cool design with the light colored wood and almost nautical center console that flows up to the center stack. The started button threw me, admittedly I sat there pushing the wrong button in the dark one night. But it’s pod-like mount is kinda neat looking. Materials are solid, better than some other recent Toyotas I’ve been in. The turn stalk makes sort of a cheap “clink” sound, but I rarely noticed it. I didn’t really like that there was no volume button, which has a bit of an “OK boomer” sound to it, but when a good song came on, I wasn’t able to crank up the music very quickly. Instead it was “click, click, click, click, click”…you get the picture.
The frosted roof is pretty fantastic. Push a button and it just goes opaque, a great feature for a hot summer day. Plus it was fun to hear the kids say “Dad, can you please unfrost the roof”. lol
Not much else to report from an interior and exterior perspective. My eldest son’s AirPods fell between seat and he found them easily, guess that’s a small item but it ranked well from a 17 year old’s perspective.
Out on the road, the Venza drives like pretty much any other SUV. The hybrid engine isn’t necessarily powerful, but the sub 4,000 pound SUV gets moving without much drama. However, its the near 40 mpg from a decent sized vehicle is really what will draw in buyers.
I’m not sure what the point of the EV-mode is, I clicked the button and attempted a rapid green light take-off and it immediately swapped to petrol power. I guess I’ve been driving too many actual EVs, not sure what I expected. The auto-braking system is a bit touchy. I was pulling up behind someone in a parking lot as they were leaving. They system panic braked and then actually wouldn’t let me go anywhere for a few seconds. It was a strange experience, but one that I’ve had with other non-Toyotas.
Ergonomics are hard, and even an automaker like Toyota can have some hiccups. Within about 20 minutes of an hour-long trip my knee started to really hurt. I sometimes lean it against the center stack and while the material looks nice and rubbery, it’s actually pretty hard. That was about my only complaint out on the road, the Venza would make for a nice daily driver, depending on where you want your knee to rest.
If the SUV is a go-to option for those who don’t want a minivan, the Venza may be the SUV for those who don’t really want an SUV. It’s $32K to $40K starting price should resonate with some buyers who want something larger than a RAV, but smaller than a Highlander. That’s a pretty impressive price range for a content-rich up-to-date SUV with some extra added style. Toyota made an interesting choice making it hybrid-only, but again, that’ll do well in showrooms.
Plus, will we see a Venza TRD? Probably.