First Drive Review: 2009 Toyota Venza
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
By Andrew Bornhop of Road & Track
The Toyota Highlander makes a lot of sense as a car-based urban crossover sport ute. It blends excellent everyday practicality and Camry reliability in a vehicle that's roomy but not so large as to be ponderous around town or be a big-time fuel guzzler. Problem is, it's boring. A smart purchase, for sure, but not one you'll brag about to your pals at work. Indeed, it's the Camry of crossovers.
Enter the new Toyota Venza. Yes, it's based on the Highlander's platform, but somehow this new Kentucky-built Venza exudes much more personality, which we chalk up to the elegantly aggressive styling penned at Toyota's CALTY Design Research Center in Newport Beach, California. The Venza is a fastback 5-door that defies categorization; it's not an SUV, it's not a coupe, it's not a sedan. Perhaps it's best described as a tall 5-seat wagon with the step-in height of a car and the elevated seating position of an SUV, all blended into an attractively styled package. And we all know that in today's world of increasingly competent vehicles, styling plays a more significant role than ever.
Available in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations, the new Venza is powered by a 183-bhp 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 bhp. We had a chance to drive both, and came away impressed. The all-new dohc 4-cylinder, which will soon find a home in other Toyotas, is remarkably smooth for its large displacement, thanks in part to some large engine mounts clearly designed to quell some of the inherent shake. This aluminum-block engine, which has dual balance shafts, gets the job done reasonably well, mated exclusively to a 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy with the 4-cylinder is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway.
The V-6, which mounts to the same seamless-shifting 6-speed automatic, is a model of smoothness, generating its 268 bhp at 6200 rpm and 246 lb-ft. of torque at 4700 rpm. Even with a full load of five folks in the V-6 Venza (three adults fit pretty well across the wide, split-folding rear bench), power is more than sufficient. On the other hand, EPA fuel economy with the V-6 isn't quite as good as with the four — 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway. The V-6 Venza is differentiated by dual exhausts and 20-in. wheels shod with 245/50 tires; they look just right in this application, whereas the 19s on the 4-cylinder models almost look too small.
Space abounds inside the new Venza, whose flowing, modern chrome-trimmed dashboard has been styled in such a way as to make each of the front occupants feel as if 60 percent of the space is "theirs." After studying it for a while and seeing how the front passenger does have easy access to some of the controls, you'll see what Toyota means. No soak time, however, is needed to appreciate the abundant rear room or extra long center console, which features an iPod holder and a large illuminated storage bin (with a sliding lid) that contains an auxiliary audio jack and a 12-volt power outlet.
In back, behind the rear seats, there's a respectably large cargo area, compromised a bit from below by the independent rear suspension (which makes for a higher-than-expected load floor) and from above by the sloping roofline. But the Venza still packs plenty in its rear cargo hold, and Toyota salesmen will no doubt love pulling the levers on each side of the cargo area to drop the rear seatbacks and immediately reveal the perfectly flat load floor.
We also like how all Venzas, regardless of engine, come with seven airbags and stability control as standard. The 4-cylinder version, which starts at $25,975, has a high-quality cloth interior, and its dash materials and accents are virtually indistinguishable from those in the V-6 model, which starts at $27,800. With leather and a navigation system, expect prices in the low $30s. All-wheel drive is a stand-alone option with either engine, priced at a reasonable $1450.
So, is it a tall wagon or a cross-over SUV? It doesn't really matter. The new Toyota Venza — which is exclusively for North America — is an impressive package, a stylish all-purpose vehicle that you might even brag about owning.