The Venza is a perfectly nice five-passenger tall wagon, as far as space, appointments, and utility are concerned. I just don’t understand why Toyota is building it. The company already had an overfull quiver of hatchback crossover things, so why add the strange-looking Venza to the bunch? Well, it turns out that Toyota sold a very respectable 54,410 Venzas last year (nearly as many as Scion’s 2009 brand total), so I guess there’s the answer. It saddens me, though, that consumers apparently prefer the bulky Venza alongside competent RAV4s, Highlanders, Matrixes, 4Runners, et al. instead of a more carlike, more efficient, and no longer offered Camry station wagon.
Based on the mediocre fits all over the Venza’s dashboard-not to mention the recent recall debacle-Toyota has apparently expended too much energy developing new niche models when the company should have been perfecting and polishing its existing vehicles.
A few other comments after driving the Venza:
-This cloth interior isn’t nice enough for a family vehicle with a $35K price tag.
-Despite its two-ton weight, it accelerates surprisingly quickly.
-The styling of the front end really turns me off, but I do like the side profile, largely because of those cool twenty-inch (!) wheels. Unfortunately, they noticeably compromise the Venza’s ride comfort.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I am happy to occasionally forgive awkward styling for highly functional interiors or to forgive a compromised interior for a stunning exterior design. The Porsche Panamera looks awkward in the metal but makes sense once you sit in the back seat. A more affordable Chevy Camaro looks great but has some functional downfalls. Somehow Toyota created a rather large vehicle that neither looks great nor offers any breakthrough interior comfort.
I was not easily able to get in or out of the Venza while wearing boots appropriate for the recent dumping of snow we received. Once I did manage to finagle myself into place, I could hardly reach the knob to tune the radio without leaning forward and towards the passenger seat. Why in the world does the radio slope up and away from the driver? Every other automaker seems to have figured out it makes more sense to tilt the radio in the direction of the driver. The Venza’s rear seat appears much more functional than its competitors’ offerings, though.
Unlike Rusty, I thought the Venza needed a considerable amount of input to gain any meaningful speed. If I wasn’t flooring the accelerator, the car was very lackadaisical. Oddly enough the brake pedal offered almost no feel and seemed more sensitive to how hard it was pressed than how far it was depressed. The steering was also incredibly vague, but that’s nothing unusual for a Toyota or a crossover in general.
Despite its shortcomings, I can see how the Venza would be a desirable vehicle for a trip with several other people and a reasonable amount of luggage. The empty nester set that receives no joy from driving will be very happy in a Venza.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I can’t seem to generate any enthusiasm for this Toyota Venza. It’s not ugly, but it’s not especially attractive, either. It’s interior is bland but acceptable, inspiring in me neither appreciation nor any special critical insights for its design. The driving experience is fine, if your objective is simply to get from point A to point B. If you’re looking for a little driving excitement or even a token smidgen of luxury, you’re in the wrong vehicle.
For the past several years, the main reasons for buying a Toyota were the brand’s reputation for build quality, reliability, and resale value, all of which have been compromised in the wake of the recent massive recalls. That means that plain-vanilla cars like the Venza will have to appeal to buyers in more purely emotional terms, which may prove to be a hard sell.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Holy bad brakes, Batman! Excepting a few hybrids, the Venza’s brake pedal is the most unnatural and least confidence inspiring of any I’ve experienced in a new vehicle. The first nine tenths of its travel seems to do nothing aside from switching on the rear brake light. This is true regardless of whether you’re going 10 mph or 60 mph, meaning you always have to slam the brakes, no matter what the circumstances. It almost feels like a car that’s spent too much time at the track and run down its pads, but who would be doing threshold-braking tests on a Venza in mid-February? Certainly not us.
Aside from that, Phil covered just about everything. The Venza doesn’t offer any unique utility or features, which makes it hard to justify its unappealing exterior. Why anyone would walk into a Toyota showroom and pick this over a similarly-priced Highlander or Sienna minivan – both of which look better, drive better, and offer more utility – is completely beyond me.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I wasn’t blown away by the Venza’s exterior the first time I saw it, but I think it may have had something to do with color. Toyota first paraded the crossover around in various shades of brown and grey, but in this bright red — to say nothing of the large 20-inch wheels — I start to find it rather attractive.
I do wish, however, that the interior were nowhere as busy as the exterior. The angled radio is a little unusual, but nowhere as counterintuitive as the climate controls. Squeezed into the narrow space between the shifter and the radio, they’re easy enough to read — but it took me a few moments to realize their settings were displayed on a tiny LCD screen mounted just beneath the windshield (this same screen is also used for the rear-view camera, which, given the display size, is virtually worthless).
Unless you’re bowled over by the styling or have always longed for a modern take on the Camry wagon, there’s little about the Venza that’s unique-and considering even the Toyota faithful are now eying other models in light of recent headlines, that may prove to be rather damning.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Base price (with destination): $30,300
Price as tested: $34,759
3.5L V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
20-inch alloy wheels
Vehicle stability control
Dual-zone automatic climate control
AM/FM CD with integrated satellite radio
USB port with iPod connectivity
3.5-inch multi-information display
Options on this vehicle:
Rear seat DVD entertainment system — $1680
– 9-inch display
– Two wireless headphones and remote
JBL synthesis surround sound — $1080
– AM/FM/6-disc in-dash CD changer
– XM satellite radio
– MP3/WMA playback capability
Convenience package — $860
– Smart key system with push button start
– Power rear liftgate
– Chrome accented door handles
Security package — $570
– Back-up camera
– Anti-theft system
Floor mats & cargo mat — $269
Key options not on vehicle:
Comfort package — $3449
18 / 25 / 21 mpg
Size: 3.5L 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 246 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Curb weight: 3945 lb
20-inch 5-spoke aluminum wheels
P245/50R20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season tires