The Toyota Venza appears at a time when we’re inundated by CUV’s (Crossover Utility Vehicles) of all shapes and sizes.
So it begs the question: Do we need another CUV in an already crowded market?
After a week with it.. I’d say…. Yes – there is definitely a place for the Venza, and yes this is one that you should definitely put on your shopping list!
I’ve liked the Venza from the moment I saw it… months ago. It’s not unlike similar vehicles from Acura (MDX, RDX), Mazda (CX7, CX9), Ford (Edge), Subaru (Forester), Dodge (Journey) and many many more that I could go on about. It’s design is now common around the motoring landscape – an SUV-looking, five-seater with plenty of cargo room and based on a cars platform instead of a truck. A CUV is basically a morphing of a minivan, a station wagon, a car and an SUV, all wrapped up in one package – and the Toyota Venza is exactly that.
What differentiates one vehicle from another is how each manufacturer executes the details while adding their own unique version of the basic box design. My only question when it comes to the Venza is: Why would you spend an addition $20,000 or more to buy a Lexus when you can get one of these for such a reasonable price?
Is it good enough to be compared to a Lexus? Believe it or not, I think it is.
From the moment I climbed behind the wheel I was impressed by the look and feel of the interior. It helped that we had the leather interior, but other things like switches, the design and materials used throughout the cabin put the Venza very high on the quality scale. I had a rough idea of what the Venza costs, but it wasn’t until I had a chance to get into it and drive it that I found out the actual price of this particular vehicle. Fully loaded with a huge panorama sunroof that spans the entire roof, along with All-Wheel Drive – and the price is….$37,385 Cdn!
Really? Seriously? That seems too good to be true – what’s wrong with it? My favourite CUV at the moment is the Ford Edge Sport. A fantastic vehicle with big honking tires and all the latest toys and a huge moonroof, it comes in at around $46,529 Cdn. There’s no way the Toyota can compare – can it?
Using the keyless “Smart Key System” – you put your hand behind the door handle to open it, touch a spot on the top to lock it (way better than BMW’s version BTW) – I jump behind the wheel and have a quick look around. It looks odd having the gear selector so high and close to the driver, but it works very well in everyday use. The climate controls are easy to understand and use – way too often it is overly complicated. The big button is for the driver and the smaller one near the passenger is for them. The dual zone automatic climate controls work well, but for some strange reason they don’t light up at night, so you have to fumble around in the dark to make your adjustments. The outside and inside temperature is clearly visible on the screen that sits high on the dash out by the window. That screen also doubles for the backup camera when the Venza is put into reverse – a boon for the amount of parking in shopping centers that we did the week we had it.
Adjusting the multi-way leather seats was easy and the leather-wrapped tilt/telescope wheel made it very easy to get into the right position. I really liked the grain on the leather seating – each section was a little different and it added a sense of style along with the contrasting piping. Getting in and out is better than most cars and certainly better than many CUV/SUV’s as the seat is at a perfect height.
Heading out into traffic, the Venza felt quite heavy – possible because we’d just got out of the smaller and lighter Mazda5. Weighing in at 1,835 kg, the Venza isn’t exactly light, but according to the fuel numbers it shouldn’t be an issue since the consumption rate compares closely to the actual numbers of the Mazda5.
The electric steering is perfectly weighted with just enough heaviness to give you decent feedback. With the large 245/50R20 tires, road imperfections are swallowed up with aplomb and cornering was pretty good too. I expected the Venza to be somewhat soft and floaty, but it was far sportier than anticipated – it’s really going toe-to-toe with the Edge Sport! The seats are firm enough to keep you planted, but not so hard that you ache after a short time – they are very comfortable over long distances. In fact I think these seats are better than some found in vehicles costing upwards of $80,000!!
Out on the roads, the Venza is composed and extremely quiet. Power from the V-6 engine is more than adequate, but a little more would be nice. On one occasion I changed lanes on the highway to get around a moving chicane in the left lane only to be hung out to dry: I floored the throttle – nothing, nothing, nothing – off we went. The guy in the middle lane just about ran into me it took so long to get a response from the throttle. Yet when over taking on two-lane roads, the Venza was more than up to the task, just blasting past the moving speed bumps.
With the panorama glass roof – the front opens, the rear is fixed; the cabin is very bright and airy giving you a feeling of space. The rear seats are adjustable for rake and offers literally endless space for the longest legs. You shouldn’t hear one complaint from those relegated to the second row. Although there is plenty of room for three back there, it’s always going to be more comfortable with two so they can adjust the seat back and lower the arm rest.
My wife and I loved the Venza’s abundance of storage compartments. The centre console that divides the front occupants contain holes for charger cords and mp3 players/iPod/mobile phone wires so that they can be connected and you can hide all the mess out of sight. For instance, there’s small slot next to the shift lever that can be used to hold a cell phone or music player, but its charging cord is fed through a slot underneath it to a hidden storage bin where the 12-volt charger and auxiliary jack are – very ingenious and well executed! There are numerous other storage areas; under the padded sliding centre armrest (another nicely designed piece), the reasonably sized glove box, generous-size door pockets and a handy flip-down coin tray near the door.
The audio system consists of an AM/FM/ XM Satellite radio with a 6-disc CD player/changer that plays MP3/WMA discs and an auxiliary jack located under the centre console for connecting portable players. There is an optional JBL system, but for the majority of people the base unit is more than adequate.
Lowering the rear seats to load cargo is as simple as pulling a lever in the rear compartment – you can also flip it forward from the rear door area too. The seats fold perfectly flat for maximum storage, but unfortunately the front passenger seat doesn’t fold forward to allow long items to be transported (I can’t believe Toyota missed that one!).
The rear cargo area is large and square making it very useful for transporting cargo. There’s even a cargo net for grocery bags and a cargo cover to hide your stuff from prying eyes. I measured 1,016 mm long x 1,219 mm wide and 76 2mm high (40” x 48” 30”) with the seats up, and 1,956 mm long x 1,219 mm wide and 76 2mm high (77” x 48” x 30”) with the seats folded for maximum capacity. The struts take up a bit of room in the middle, reducing the maximum width to 1,067 mm (42”) at that point.
The longer I had the Venza, the more I loved it. Considering we’ll be in the market for a vehicle in this category in the next few months, this was more than just a weekly road test – it was a purchasing test drive. We have definitely put this to the top of our Next Vehicle list. I can’t think of any other vehicle at the moment that is this well-priced with the standard and optional items included.
Could be mistaken for a Lexus if you blind-folded someone.
Extremely well equipped
Excellent price for the amenities
Abundance of good storage compartments
No folding front passenger seat for increased cargo length
Stereo system doesn’t have a hard drive or USB connection
Immediate Competition: Ford Edge, Honda Crosstour, Mazda CX7, Toyota Highlander