My first thought as I sat behind the wheel of the Toyota Venza and looked around was something along the lines of, “Where did all this cheap plastic come from?” There’s a surprising amount of hard plastic within reach of the driver, and yet the top of the dashboard is soft. Perhaps this is an example of Toyota’s to maintain profit margins.
I know the Venza is targeted at the Ford Edge and the Nissan Murano, but the entire time I spent behind the wheel I kept thinking that a Subaru would do a better job of being what this Venza is trying to be. The Subaru Forester is similar in price and fuel economy but offers more utility. Maybe I’m missing the mark completely here, but I’d much rather have a Forester, which weighs some 500 pounds less, than the few extra inches of overall vehicle length that the Venza offers.
The Venza will probably prove to be a reliable vehicle with strong resale value, but those qualities do little to make me want to drive one.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
The Venza’s face isn’t as repulsive as it looks in photos, but in my opinion it still has too much chrome and is too tall. The rest of the vehicle looks decent, though, and the rear end has a pleasant Volvo-ish look to it.
The 4000-pound Venza handles well for what it is, and it’s decently peppy with this six-speed-automatic-backed V-6. I’m extremely skeptical about the chops of the four-cylinder Venza, though, particularly the all-wheel-drive edition. Will any four-banger Venza be quick enough to be safe on modern roads?
I didn’t really notice the hard plastics in the interior because I was so impressed with the very nice wood-look materials on the dash and the center console, as well as the soft, grainy dashboard top. The hidden bin beneath the center console (with an auxiliary input) is pretty cool, and there are plenty of other places to stow your sundries. I like how the shifter is offset toward the driver, making it more comfortable to reach and helping give the cabin a cozy, cockpit feel, despite its spaciousness.
What strikes me most about the Venza is this: Why in the heck does it exist? Does Toyota need a wagon version of the best-selling Camry? Maybe, but the Venza’s ride height and mass make it far more trucky than a simple Camry wagon. And there are already several crossovers and SUVs in the big T’s lineup (RAV4, FJ Cruiser, Highlander, 4Runner, Sequoia, Land Cruiser). Isn’t six enough?! Is Toyota building the Venza just because it arrogantly thinks/knows it can sell them (and at a steep $36K a pop, in this spec)? I guess it makes some sense in this age of versatile production facilities that can build multiple models simultaneously.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I’m amazed at those who criticize domestic automakers for building too many SUVs and crossovers. As Rusty said, Toyota’s lineup is chock full of them already, and apart from looking like a rotund Camry, I’m not sure what exactly the Venza brings to either Toyota’s portfolio or this segment in general.
The interior may look quite nice, but as Phil noted, it lacks the typical Toyota refinement we’ve all come to respect. The grained plastics are nice to look at, but they’re remarkably hard to the touch. I counted quite a few notable panel gaps around the center console, which, although it offers quite a bit of storage, is somewhat awkward to use. I’ve no idea why designers felt the need to put an unusable storage bin next to the shifter, or why it doubles as a secret passage for cords leading to the 12-volt outlet hidden beneath the cupholders. And perhaps it’s just me, but should a $36,000 vehicle have such a fuzzy headliner? Our $18,000 Honda Fit doesn’t.
With the smooth 3.5-liter V-6 underhood, the Venza drives quite well, but I can’t see myself looking elsewhere for a similar vehicle. The Ford Edge is certainly a competitor, but I’d be remiss not to cross-shop within Toyota’s own lineup: the Highlander isn’t that much bigger, yet offers enough space and seating for seven passengers.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I was more impressed by the Toyota Venza than I expected to be. When it debuted at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, I dismissed it as an oddity, but now that it’s on the market and I spent a weekend driving one, I can understand what it’s all about. It’s a spacious, comfortable, and quite luxurious crossover for people who don’t have more than a couple of kids to haul and hence do not need a third-row seat. I was impressed by the interior finish quality and by the general cabin ambience. Ergonomics are first-rate, the seats are comfortable, and the cargo area is big and easy to access. Toyota’s 3.5-liter V-6 provides plenty of go here, although I share Rusty Blackwell’s skepticism as to whether the standard four-cylinder engine is up to the job. We’ll find out soon enough, as we’re getting a four-cylinder Venza for a test-drive soon.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
2009 Toyota Venza AWD V6
Base Price (with destination): $29,970
Price as tested: $35,979
Comfort Package – $2100
– Leather Seats, Front Seat Heaters, Wood-Grain Interior Trim, Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel and Shift Knob, Heated Outside Mirrors
Technology Package – $2590
– Voice-Activated Touch-Screen Navigation System, Surround Sound 4 Disc In-Dash CD Changer with Satellite Radio, Hands-Free Phone Capability
Panoramic Glass Moonroof – $1050
Carpet/Cargo Mat Se – $269 Fuel Economy: 18 / 25 / 21 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.5L V-6 DOHC 24V
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 246 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: Not Rated
Frontal Crash Passenger: NR
Side Crash Front Seat: NR
Side Crash Rear Seat: NR
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 4045 lb
– 20″ aluminum wheels (size)
– P245/50 R20 tires