The Venza is a clear case of a good design that has been ravaged by cost cutters. Toyota nailed the basics: the Venza drives like a mid-size sedan (albeit a boring one) and offers as much utility as larger crossovers. It even would even be attractive save for its overly fussy front fascia. What kills the Venza is its inexcusably cheap interior. The cheap, mismatched graining of the plastics and the impreciseness of the panel fits on the dash is just the sort of work we used to slam in Fords and Chevrolets.
If Toyota is serious about breaking out of its success-induced malaise, it should pull ahead the Venza's mid-cycle refresh and completely redo the interior. A new grille wouldn't hurt, either.
The Venza is a fine all-around vehicle that offers comfort for five adults while still providing a good amount of cargo space behind the rear seats. It feels a bit heavy from behind the wheel but has decent body control and does a good job of soaking up rough pavement. Overall, it's uninvolving to drive but it gets you to where your going, and can take four of your friends and some gear along for the ride. What does the Venza do really well? Nothing really, except fill the crossover hole in Toyota's lineup and give the Toyota faithful a higher riding option once they're tired of their Camry.
I cannot wait for the craze for enormous wheels to be over. There's no practical reason to run wheels this big (20 inches) on anything short of a race car because they kill ride quality, diminish fuel economy, and actually reduce performance during acceleration and braking.
Aside from my complaints about the enormous wheels, the Venza is a very practical, though totally boring, vehicle for people who frequently have passengers and want to sit up higher than a sedan. I don't find the Venza to be ugly, just inoffensively bland in the typical Toyota fashion. The driving experience is utterly forgettable, which is probably a plus in this class. For $35,000 I'd like to see much nicer plastics in the cabin. The material quality and graining is sub-par at best.
If there's one positive aspect to the interior, it's the center console. Designers have done a great job in crafting a flexible storage system that's big enough for virtually anything you can throw at it. Purse? Sure thing. Wireless headphones for the rear-seat entertainment system? Absolutely. DSLR camera fitted an absurdly long lens? Yes; I was able to safely pack my Canon XTI underneath the cupholders, which slide fore and aft to provide access.
Does a fanciful compartment make a crossover the best in its class? Absolutely not. As my colleagues point out, the Venza isn't unattractive or bad to drive, but unless the fluidic styling speaks to you or you're pining for a tall Camry wagon, there's little that helps the Venza stand out in the crowded segment.
Ever since the Honda Accord Crosstour came on the market, I've slowly been gaining appreciation for the Venza, which looks good by comparison. I still have a hard time justifying its place in Toyota's crossover-laden lineup, but more power to Toyota if they can sell Venzas (some 54,000 last year).
Our test vehicle was equipped with all-wheel drive, but you might suspect otherwise since there was a fair amount of torque steer under hard acceleration. This particular Venza's cabin was full of questionable materials and poor fits, too.
To my eye, the big twenty-inch wheels look pretty cool and help balance the Venza's proportions, but as Phil pointed out, they definitely compromise ride quality at times.
I know minivans aren't terribly cool, but neither is the Venza, in my opinion. I'd personally much rather own a Sienna, which is a much more usable vehicle (with a face just as ugly) that starts at $2000 less than the Venza. A Camry wagon would be cool, sure, but the Venza looks and feels too overinflated to fit that bill.
I'm surprised at how much people disliked the Venza's cabin. Admittedly, the fits aren't very good, but the materials didn't bother me and I rather like the design. The styled, wavy grain of the dash and the patterned seat inserts keep it feeling fresh. The seats are comfortable and, like Evan, I really admire the space efficiency of the center console.
Yes, the Venza is unexciting. Its handling limits are exceptionally low-closer to those of a truck, rather than a car. Like Rusty, I noticed a decent amount of torque steer despite the fact that this vehicle is equipped with all-wheel drive. The lesson here is that those who really need four-wheel power (say, Northeasterners) are better off with a more advanced system like that in Subarus or larger trucks.
2010 Toyota Venza AWD
Base price (with destination): $30,300 Price as tested: $34,759
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
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
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