Third Place: Toyota Venza
On paper, the Venza is the clear winner here. It strikes the best balance in this group between carlike driving dynamics and crossover-rivaling utility, which is, of course, the stated reason for this subsegment to exist. Although it has essentially the same size footprint as the Crosstour, it offers nearly twenty cubic feet more cargo room with the rear seats folded down and even edges out the taller Murano. Toyota engineers did a particularly good job packaging the rear struts so they only barely intrude into the cargo hold (take a good look, Honda).
So, why the last-place finish? In a word, execution. The lack of attention to detail is most noticeable inside, where, despite the aforementioned packaging advantages, the Venza's interior ranks dead last. A mess of mismatched, shockingly ill-fitting plastic panels form the Venza's dash, and the controls for the air-conditioning and radio feel five years old. It's not what we'd expect from any Toyota, let alone one carrying a Lexus-like price tag of $34,759.
The exterior also seems like it needed a bit more time to coalesce. It has the best basic profile among this bunch (which is, admittedly, not an attractive group of vehicles as a whole), but fussy lines in back and a toothy grille up front give the impression of a Lexus RX that melted in the sun.
As noted, the Venza drives very much like a car -- an exceptionally boring car. Under most conditions, body control is decent and steering is reasonably precise. But push the Venza at all on a curvy road, and only the optional 268-hp V-6 feels up to the task, as the cushy brakes and Cool Whip suspension squirm in protest. The garish, twenty-inch wheels do nothing to help in this department, as the soft dampers seem to send them bouncing in four different directions through bumpy corners. Overall, it's not much better than a well-mannered crossover or minivan. Given that Toyota's lineup is chock full of just such vehicles, from the RAV4 to the Highlander and the Sienna, we must wonder what this new model actually brings to the table, aside from added sales volume on the cheap.
There's nothing egregiously wrong with the Venza, and yet, there's nothing remotely appealing about it, either. Executed properly, the Toyota could easily be the best in this group, and yet right now, its styling, driving dynamics, and interior quality all scream mediocrity.