Venza… it sounds like the name of an island in the Bahamas, an exotic dancer’s stage name or maybe even some sort of topical ointment. In reality it’s Toyota’s midsize crossover that rivals vehicles like the Nissan Murano and Ford Edge.
|1. A base 2.7L 4-cylinder engine delivers 181 hp, while an optional and more muscular 3.5-liter V6 puts out 268 ponies.
2. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on every Venza. Front- or all-wheel drive is available with either engine.
3. Base price for the 2013 Toyota Venza is right around $29,000.
4. The V6, AWD is rated at 18 MPG city, 25 highway, which averages to 21 MPG. Despite aggressive driving we handily beat that score, hitting 24.
It’s supposed to blend things like versatility and comfort with a healthy serving of design flair. Does it succeed on these counts or is it just another forgettable utility vehicle? Hit the jump for all the plump-and-juicy details you can stomach.
The Venza occupies a sliver of space in Toyota’s lineup between the compact RAV4 and the three-row Highlander. It seats five passengers, offers generous cargo room and has a number of other nice features including unexpectedly swoopy styling. But is that enough to justify its existence?
Frankly it’s a bit redundant, and that’s something customers seem to have noticed as well. Consider each vehicle’s sales.
In May, U.S. dealers moved fewer that 3,400 of them. By comparison the RAV4 outsold it by a six-to-one margin! The Highlander, that’s due to be replaced very soon, topped it by more than three-to-one, despite being out of date. Perhaps the Venza’s high price has something to do with that.
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Base price for a front-wheel drive, four-cylinder Venza is about $29,000, including shipping and handling fees. The midrange XLE test model provided to AutoGuide for evaluation stickered for a little less than 36 grand. Features like a V6 engine and all-wheel drive added to the bottom line.
UNDER THE HOOD, OVER THE MOON
When it comes to engines Venza buyers have two choices, just like voters in America. The entry-level unit is an efficient four-cylinder that displaces a surprisingly large 2.7-liters. This gargantuan banger delivers 181 horsepower with 182 lb-ft of torque, which results in a fairly low specific output of just 67 ponies per liter. Partially making up for that deficiency, drivers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive, which is a nice option. Some competitors only make four-wheel power available with up-level engines.
The Venza’s optional powerplant is a 3.5-liter V6. It’s much larger and significantly more powerful than the malnourished base unit. It puts out 268 ponies with 246 units of twist.
This model stickers at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 25 on the expressway. That works out to an average of 21, something we beat like Nazi Germany back in the spring of ‘45. Driven exuberantly the car delivered an impressive 24 MPG.
This V6 may not be the most powerful on the market today but it’s a winner in certain non-quantifiable ways. It lacks direct fuel injection and a power-boosting turbocharger but it’s a lot like a Labrador puppy bounding toward you after a long day at work. Her shower of kisses makes the day’s stress almost disappear.
One of the smoothest running bent-sixes in the business, the 2GR-FE is incredibly refined and willing to rev. Best of all it imbues the Venza with some impressively fleet acceleration. This family hauler is quick! Might I suggest dropping this engine in a Scion FR-S?
Completing the powertrain formula is a six-speed automatic transmission. This is something of an afterthought because it’s standard on every Venza. There’s not much else to say other than it works just about perfectly; it’s smooth, quick and efficient. Just like Toyota’s management.
SHIPPING AND HANDLING
Aside from adventurous styling, a major draw of crossovers is cargo space. Just like its under-hood performance the Venza doesn’t disappoint in this area, either.
In the rear it offers about 36 cubic feet of volume. With the second row folded flat – or as flat as it goes – that number almost doubles. By a narrow margin the Venza offers more room than either the Murano or Edge.
Making it easy to load that pair of ammerö you just picked up at IKEA, the cargo hold is wide and the floor fairly low, unfortunately so is the roof. Tall items may be a tight squeeze in the Venza’s boot.
Making room for around half or two-thirds of a söderhamn, the back bench is easier to fold than 7, 2 off suit in a game of Texas hold ‘em. A duet of easy-to-reach levers in the cargo bay unlatches the backrests and tips ‘em forward, all in one smooth motion. If making room in the garage was this easy. Perhaps a five-section ivar is in order.
ROOM WITH A… WELL, LEGROOM
Matching its generous cargo area is an equally spacious rear seat. There’s plenty of legroom in the Venza’s back bench. Ratcheting up passenger comfort those split backrests adjust to a number of different angles for maximum comfort.
Another benefit for passengers is tinted rear glass, which helps block the sun’s searing heat and adds a dash of privacy. In addition to darkened glazing the car’s hunkered-down stance helps aft-riders feels cozy and safe, or claustrophobic, depending if you appreciate vehicles with high beltlines.
THE DEVIL IS THE DETAILS
When people purchase a Toyota product they expect a few things, some inalienable automotive rights, so to speak. We hold these truths to be self evident, that NOT all cars are created equal.
The capital “T” has a well-earned reputation for things like bullet-proof reliability and high fuel efficiency. This righteousness was earned fighting the good fight for decades, striving to build the highest quality vehicles in the world. If Toyota were any more virtuous it would have a halo and wings.
But even the best make mistakes, and Toyota’s Venza is just such an accident. Now, it’s impossible to predict long-term reliability following a week-long test drive but the car was surprising in a number of ways.
First are the gauges. Sure, they’re large, clearly numbered and usually pretty easy to read, but if the sun is at you 6:00 o’clock position (like any good fighter pilot tries to do) they almost completely wash out with glare. The speedometer becomes almost invisible, and that’s not just annoying, it’s a safety issue as well.
In addition to this problem the Venza’s interior materials are major letdown. Various plastics throughout the vehicle’s cabin (both hard and soft) have a very strange pattern on them. Depending on the lighting conditions it either resembles a newborn elephant’s hide or some sort of imitation wood grain. Either way it’s weird looking, and not very rich.
Then there’s the center console, which is something of a double-edge sword. It’s fairly capacious, with large openings, deep recesses and a lid that slides and tilts like a living-room recliner. The design is brilliant on paper, but in practice it’s less than ideal. The problem is the whole thing feels junky, as if it’s going to fall apart in your hands like trying to pick up a hummingbird’s nest with kitchen tongs. Plus it makes all kinds of cheap-sounding creaking noises.
Most troubling though were the various fit-and-finish anomalies inside our test Venza. SHOCKINGLY for a Toyota product its assembly quality was severely lacking. Various panel gaps weren’t very consistent, several pieces on the dashboard weren’t aligned properly and most troubling of all the rear-seat dome light was practically falling down from the headliner.
So, is the Toyota Venza a standout vehicle or just another ho-hum utility? It’s spacious, comfortable, efficient and even stylish. But it’s also got some flaws. It’s death by a thousand cuts. In all honesty there are more compelling crossovers on the market right now, a couple of which are even in Toyota’s own showroom.