2009 Toyota Venza
The 2009 Venza is an all-new model for Toyota that splits the difference between its Camry
sedan and the Highlander
crossover. In spite of its tall-wagon proportions, Toyota is not calling it a wagon or a crossover but rather “the car, optimized.” In reality, however, it’s little more than a station wagon version of the Camry—and a very nicely styled one at that—with comfortable seating for five (no third row is available) and a spacious, unique interior and cargo area. Though it shares much of its mechanicals with the Camry/Highlander, the Venza neither looks nor feels at all like either, and overall, we find the Venza the most appealing of the three. However, all that style and substance don’t come cheap: at $25,700 to start, it costs thousands of dollars more than the Camry.
What It's Like
The Venza’s expressive exterior styling is sort of a surprise from conservative Toyota, and we approve. The interior is full of clever storage solutions, and the huge rear seat not only offers tremendous hip- and legroom, but the split seatback reclines to an angle that’s actually comfortable. The optional V-6 is strong and silent, while the four-cylinder model achieves great fuel economy. And of course, being a Toyota, the Venza simply oozes quality.
What's Not to Like
However efficient, the all-new four-cylinder is taxed by the Venza’s mass. There are also some ergonomic curiosities, and the cabin is pretty dark when the optional panoramic moonroof is not ordered.
Toyota’s family cars usually carry a distinctly soft tune, prioritizing comfort over performance almost religiously. That bodes well for passengers, who don’t usually care about things like steering feel and would rather have a smooth ride and a lack of wind noise. Drivers will find base models to be slow and relatively numb—not problematically so—but the V-6 model, which features bespoke wheels and tires and suspension tuning, is much faster, and much more communicative. Both models share the same six-speed automatic with a manual shift gate. Still, this car is relatively ill-suited to “enthusiastic” driving.
Engine and Drivetrain
The Venza’s base engine is Toyota’s all-new 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The engine is both large and powerful for a four-banger, with 182 horsepower and 182 lb.-ft. of torque. While the specs may seem a little underwhelming on paper, it works for the small size.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
Among the many cool features found throughout the Venza is the dash cubby specifically designed to hold music devices such as the iPod (complete with a hole underneath through which wires can be discreetly be connected. There are also handy seat release levers in the cargo area that allow the 60/40 rear seatback to be folded remotely. But the coolest interior feature is the center console, which has two deep (purse-sized) bin sections covered by cupholder/cubbie trays and a padded armrest, each of which slides for or aft in dozens of configurations. The two-panel moonroof and Toyota’s fantastically straightforward navigation system are two worthwhile options.
Key Technology Evaluation
While the technology under the Venza’s skin represents the state of the art, it breaks little ground, whether in terms of powertrains or the front- or all-wheel drive systems. More significant to owners is the high amount of useful technology inside, from the standard dual-mode automatic climate control to the slick Optitron gauges to the auxiliary jack for audio devices. Bluetooth connectivity is offered for cell phones with the upgraded JBL sound system, and when the navigation system is ordered, Bluetooth connectivity extends to music devices, allowing wireless music streaming.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Considering its size and capabilities, the Venza achieves excellent fuel economy, especially in four-cylinder form, which Toyota claims will get 21/29 city/highway fuel economy (20/28 with all-wheel drive). With the V-6, fuel economy of 19/26 (18/25 with all-wheel drive) can be yours, which is still quite laudable. Given how much more confidently the V-6 model goes about its business, we think the tradeoff in fuel economy is worth making.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The Venza’s interior is by far its most appealing aspect, its stylish dashboard featuring a perfectly located (if unusual) gear shift lever as well as a great gauge cluster and, when equipped, one of the best navigation systems around. Cool textured leather upholstery with elegant contrasting piping is also available. Black carpeting adds a dose of class as well, though it will show dirt and clutter vividly.
The Venza has a surprisingly bold face dominated by feline headlamps and a semi-sized grille. The four-cylinder’s 10-spoke, 19-inch wheels are big by family car standards, and the 20-inch five-spokers that come with the V-6 are truly huge. The body also features fender flares and complex detailing at the rear that go a long way in adding intrigue to the thick-waisted design.
Market Segment and Pricing
With station wagons having waned in popularity in the presence of SUVs and crossovers, there are few vehicles in the Venza’s market segment to compare it to. The Venza’s base price of $25,975 for the four-cylinder model and $27,800 for the V-6 seem not too crazy considering how convincing the package is overall. We also think that $1,450 for all-wheel drive is more than justifiable. However, the Highlander carries a nearly identical price, and comes with a V-6 as standard equipment (at least until the first quarter of 2009, when it will be offered with the Venza’s 2.7-liter four-cylinder). The Venza is also considerably pricier than a comparably equipped Camry.
What We Think
Despite being more expensive than a Camry and less accommodating than the similarly priced Highlander, the Venza is nonetheless the most appealing of the three. We like that Toyota thought outside of the box when conceiving the Venza, and we like even better how it turned out. With fuel economy and a quiet, well-assembled, spacious interior, the Venza is the kind of car—er, “car, optimized”—that we hope to see other carmakers copy in the future.