2009 Toyota Venza

John Stewart

Crossbreed a Saint Bernard, a Labrador Retriever, and a Poodle, and you just might get a dog that works hard, loves everyone, and wins shows.

Or you might get a mutt that drools, chases cars, and can't be trusted around kids. You just never know how the mix will turn out.

It's the same thing when you design a crossover. Blend together the attributes of an SUV, a family sedan, and a minivan, and you'll end up with something else altogether.

Happily, the Toyota Venza isn't a dog at all. And when it comes to the mix, the better genes seem to have been dominant. In the Venza, we see traits that - while hard to characterize - are all good to have.

The Venza is a (mostly) carlike, (not too) small (high-utility) passenger vehicle. It's based on the Camry platform, with which it shares some specifications, and has a high level of standard equipment. That makes it more than a Camry station wagon, and maybe less, in some respects, than a Toyota Highlander SUV. But what it does, it does well, and frankly, we think a lot of people are going to like it. (Even though it's doubtful that Toyota truly needs another crossovery thing in its brimming lineup, of course.)

Toyota marketing sources say that the Venza is ideally designed to capture outflow from disenchanted SUV owners, who have been abandoning the truck market in droves. The company hopes to sell at least 40,000 units in 2009, once production at the Georgetown, Kentucky, plant gets revved up.

Toyota calls the Venza "a new direction in passenger car design" and a "stylish and sporty package." We're not sure if it's all that, but it's certainly not the boring minivan we were afraid it might be.

Stylish? You could make a case for that. Toyota's never been known for daring styling, generally sticking with nondescript colors and designs. The 2009 Venza is something more daring. The stance is conspicuously wide in appearance, with a significantly broad, distinctive grille. Flowing, compound headlamps lend a technical, sophisticated air. The wheels are larger and farther outboard of the body than those in a typical sedan. Viewed from the side, the Venza is smooth and sleek, with a low roofline, raked A-pillars, and an aerodynamic profile. The rocker panels are low, flowing into a rear quarter panel with just a hint of muscular bulge.

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