Toyota introduced the Venza nameplate in North America back in 2009, discontinued it a few years later. With the rising interest in crossovers, the Japanese automaker revived the Venza when they revealed it online in May 2020. This second-generation is available exclusively with an all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain. There couldn't be a better moment for this vehicle to thrive with the current higher gas prices. Our test vehicle had an MSRP of $44,490 and was manufactured in Toyota City (Takaoka plant) in Japan.
The Toyota Venza takes the spot between the adventurous Rav4 and the more family-oriented Highlander. Design-wise, the Venza has different aesthetics with fewer angles more flowy lines to appeal to buyers who want to differentiate themselves with something more upscale but don't need a seven-seater. The Titanium glow colour is reminiscent of the classic Camrys and Corollas that people have loved for many years. The design is conservative and modern, with a LED bar in the back and a subtle front bumper. The side profile reminds us a lot of the Lexus RX.
The cabin feels more upscale. Most materials used for the dashboard are soft touch. It sure feels a lot nicer for a mid-trim than other models in the same price range. Our taller driver had his head almost rubbing on the roof of the vehicle; a sunroof would've helped. On the other hand, there's plenty of room for your knees, and small drivers will easily find a comfortable seating position. The same is true for rear passengers; four adults can be seated comfortably.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has physical buttons, which are easy to use. On the cluster, you will find the speedometer and a hybrid tachometer; it will indicate when you are recharging the battery or the usage of the engine if you are in eco, or even power if you are flooring it. Once again, straightforward and effective gauges are the best for gasoline and hybrid cars. You will find a 7" screen between them that displays most of the information you need except a map. The display is easily configurable with the buttons on the steering wheel.
In the middle, you will have the 12.3" infotainment system, which includes the climate controls. A quick word on the climate controls; we're not fans of the haptic feedback buttons; they aren't proper buttons and were not practical in the evening. We also anticipate complications in the winter. Either go full screen or use real buttons. The screen displays, on one side, Apple Carplay with the map, for example, and on the other, the typical climate controls such as the temperature and the airflow. Since there is no screen dedicated to those controls, you can switch them from left to right with the touch of a button. Your passenger can also adjust the temperature; there are arrows on the left side of the screen to bring those controls back on the driver's side so you can easily adjust your temperature. You will find the controls for the heated/ventilated seats, a media screen, information about the energy monitor, the trip, and other similar small features in a blue section of the screen. Finishing with the infotainment system, the lack of wireless Apple Carplay or Android Auto is disappointing. And there is also a slight delay when you switch from one menu to another. The JBL sound system produces a clear and crisp sound from the 9-speakers unit.
The Power button to start the car is located underneath the climate controls, tucked on the left side. It's just there, a big blue button, not at all hidden, whereas on other models of the same brand, it's located on the panel next to the steering wheel. Under it, you will find the wireless charging pad and gear lever, and other helpful driving functions. This panel is wrapped in a soft leather-like material that is nice and bodes well with the rest of the interior. The back seats have ISOFIX points, but they aren't as easy to reach as we would expect. Also, the trunk is roomy enough; we found the loading floor is relatively high because of the placement of the battery, thus taking away a bit of cargo room. You can lower the back seats if you need extra cargo.
Moving on to the driving dynamics, it isn't the strongest suit of the Venza. As we said earlier, all Venzas are only available with a hybrid powertrain. The combination is a 2.5L Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder, three small electric engines coupled to a 0.9 kWh battery pack, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As a whole, this unit produces a hefty 219 hp, and 0-100km/h takes around 7 seconds. But it isn't the point, here the focus is on fuel economy, and the Venza is very good at it. At the end of our week, the average was about 5.6L/100km, 5.3 on the highway and 5.9 in the city. These are solid figures for a midsize SUV.
The Venza is smooth and absorbs the imperfections that we encountered with ease and comfort on the road. The direction is light and lacks a bit of responsiveness. The accelerator also lacks responsiveness, even in Sport mode but will be appropriate for the targeted buyer of this crossover. Our biggest complaint would be the brake pedal feel. The pedal feels short and unable to break gradually. On a twisty road, the vehicle isn't as stable as other vehicles in this segment but isn't dangerous by any means. In a nutshell, the Venza mainly focuses on two characteristics: luxury and fuel-efficient, and it excels at both of these.
It could've had a Lexus badge, and no one would've batted an eye. The styling, driving experience, and interior quality target a very different type of buyer. We recommend it over the RAV4, for example, if you are looking for something more refined. Also, with every vehicle with the Toyota badge on it, you bet you can keep the car for an extended time hassle-free with a spotless record on quality and reliability.