2009 Toyota Venza Review

The cool side of Camry

2009 Toyota Venza Review

It’s hard to believe the Venza is based on the same platform as the Toyota Camry, but that’s what makes it so attractive. And we don’t just mean attractive in a pleasing to the eyes way (it does that all on its own), but attractive in a way that when you examine all the factors, this is a vehicle that suits your needs at the right price.

FAST FACTS

1. Power comes from a 182hp four-cylinder or an optional Camry-sourced 268hp V6.

2. Standard safety equipment includes seven airbags including one for the driver’s knee.

3. The Venza delivers what you would expect of a Camry-based crossover, including a raised ride-height, more (and more useable) cargo space, and the option of all-wheel drive.

When compared to the Camry the Venza isn’t actually all that different. It has a few advantages over the tremendously popular family sedan, and just one drawback.

Let’s take a closer look.

SURPRISINGLY MODERN AND ATTRACTIVE DESIGN

For starters, there’s the design. While the latest Camry (unlike previous iterations of the family sedan) actually does have style, the Venza has a distinctive curb appeal.

To be honest, I’m still not overly fond of the front grille and think that with some tweaks it could be vastly improved – although maybe I’m just not used to a Toyota with so much personality. As for the crossover’s silhouette… it’s stunning. And helping to give the car some serious road presence are a set of 20-inch wheels (19s are standard on four-cylinder models).

My only complaint about those rims would be a few years from now when you have to replace the four slabs of 245/50/20 rubber.

A MORE FUNCTIONALY CAMRY

So the Venza has it’s own great look. But what else does it have over a Camry? Well, as you can tell by the design, it’s a crossover, and so it has extra ground clearance, more useable cargo space, a more commanding view of the road and… it’s offered in AWD.

As for that cargo space, the Venza provides 34.4 cubic feet behind the second row, or a total of 70.1 cu.-ft. with the second row seats folded flat – which they do quite easily thanks to handles located on the sides of the cargo area. The abundance of space is due, in part, to Toyota’s decision to keep the Venza a five-seater and not add another row.

As for that all-wheel drive system, Toyota obviously saw the importance of offering it in this segment, even though most will never have need for it. Toyota also saw fit to offer it on both the top-level V6 and base four-cylinder models.

The Venza has the opportunity to bring over buyers from other brands, who in the past didn’t feel the Toyota lineup had anything to offer them. Then again, it might also steal away some sales from the Camry. That isn’t likely to upset the folks at Toyota, however, as they have more than enough Camry owners to spare. Besides, with a slightly higher retail price, Toyota would probably promote up-selling customers into the crossover.

SINGULAR DRAWBACK: FUEL ECONOMY

The one drawback of the Venza is, expectedly, the reality that a crossover won’t have as high a fuel-economy rating as a sedan. Our test vehicle, an AWD V6 model, is rated at 18/25 mpg (city/highway) with a slightly better 19/26 mpg for front-wheel drive models. The most fuel-efficient option is the FWD four-cylinder with 21/29 mpg.

As for that V6 engine, it is the same 3.5-liter unit found in the Camry and makes identical power with 268hp and 246 ft-lbs of torque. The 4-cyl is larger than the Camry’s 2.4, however, and boasts 2.7-liters of displacement with 182hp and 182 ft-lbs of torque. Both engines get a six-speed automatic gearbox with manual shifting.

The V6 has an abundance of power and so we suggest taking the four-cylinder out for a test to see if it meets your needs.

CAR-LIKE DRIVE, BUT NOT “SPORTY”

The Venza may look like a departure from the standard for Toyota, but from behind the wheel everything is status quo, which has both its advantages and drawbacks. On the plus side, the ride is comfortable but not excessively cushy, while the steering is sedan-like.

In true Toyota fashion, however, it’s not an engaging drive and is less exciting than it looks. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The word “sporty” isn’t easily found in the Toyota corporate dictionary and while it might make for good marketing material the “fun-to-drive” criteria isn’t likely at the top of most people’s lists when shopping for what is essentially a glorified urban utility vehicle.

Overall the Venza is easy to drive and comfortable for those who will spend a lot of time behind the wheel.

ODDLY ARTISTIC INTERIOR

Inside the Venza is as highly stylized as the exterior – to a fault. While we like the sporty and ergonomic layout of the dash and center console with the gearshifter located halfway up the center stack, the details are overkill. The plastics have a strange faux-wood grain look and feel to them and the optional wood grain accents look both cheap and out of place.

With such a modern interior design, we’d stick to the standard interior trim, which has a faux-carbon fiber look to it.

The real problem, however, might be that the Venza is a victim of its exterior design. It looks like it should be priced far higher than it is and so you expect more in certain areas. The reality, however, is that you’re getting a luxury crossover look at what almost amounts to a mid-sized sedan price.

SEVEN AIRBAGS STANDARD

Standard interior equipment includes air conditioning, climate control, power locks and remote keyless entry, power windows with auto up/down, cruise control, two front and one trunk 12V outlet, an AM/FM 6-disc CD changer with integrated satellite radio and MP3/WMA playback capability and six-speakers, a 3.5-inch multi-function screen, tinted side and rear windows and that carbon fiber-style trim we already mentioned.

Standard safety equipment includes the usual: Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. The Venza also has the LATCH child restrain system and a tire pressure monitoring system.

One important point is that the crossover actually gets seven airbags, including front and side airbags for driver and passenger, side curtain airbags for all occupants and a driver’s knee airbag.

As for options, out tester came with plenty of them. For an additional $5,109, you can equip the Venza with a long list of add-ons including the Convenience Package with a SmartKey System, push-button ignition and power rear door; the Comfort Package with leather seats, 4-way power front seats with lumbar support and multi-stage heating, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, body-matched heated and foldable side mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer and, unfortunately, that faux-wood trim; the Security Package with a backup camera; a Tow Prep Package than enables a 3,500 lb towing capacity; a JBL Synthesis audio system with 13-speakers, Bluetooth compatibility and more.

Thankfully Toyota offers almost all of its packages individually, making getting what you want simple and cost effective.

THE VERDICT

In total our tester came out to $35,109 including $750 for delivery, which is a just a few thousand more than a comparably equipped Camry.

As for a starting price, the Venza is again just a few thousand higher than the Camry with an MSRP of $21,975 ($28,270 CDN) compared to 19,145 ($24,650 CDN). This brings me back to one of my original points.

The Venza is exactly what you would expect for a crossover based on the Camry, including all the good stuff as well as the less-impressive fuel-economy. It’s part of a new breed of emerging crossovers with good looks and just five-seats, differentiating it from a lot of vehicles you might consider to be competition, like the Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9. Toyota will continue to target those vehicles with its Highlander.

The Venza is more car-like than the Highlander and will do battle in the marketplace with badges like Ford’s Edge and Hyundai’s Santa Fe.

With the Venza Toyota is asking a question, namely, would you pay a premium of a few thousand dollars for a more functional (and cooler looking) Camry? We have no doubt people will flock to dealerships to answer that question with a yes.

PLUS

Stunning exterior design Plenty of passenger and cargo room Easily accessible cargo-area handles for folding rear seats flat

MINUS

Strange interior style Future tire-replacement costs

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