2021 Toyota Venza Limited: Efficiency, luxury, value?
Price: $43,100 as tested. Panoramic sunroof, $1,400; Advanced Technology Package, $725
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “handsome styling, efficient hybrid power train, cool Star Gaze sunroof,” but not the “disappointing driving dynamics, less roomy than RAV4, pricier than RAV4.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Elegance elevated.”
Reality: Bigger is not always better.
What’s new: The Venza revives a familiar if not beloved Toyota nameplate and assigns it to the compact utility vehicle answer to the Prius, slightly smaller than a RAV4. All Venzas come with the same hybrid power train, a 2.5-liter four mated to an electric motor.
Up to speed: I think buyers are starting to realize that many premium hybrids are geared more toward performance than economy, but they may not be expecting this from the company that brought us the Prius.
The Venza sort of offers this experience. I found the little Venza to have a peppy feel and thought it moved swiftly with its 219-horsepower combined rating.
Still, Car and Driver’s data showed that the Venza took a lengthy 7.6 seconds to get to 60 mph, which I found surprising.
Driver’s Seat: The hybrid-impaired among us might also expect these vehicles to be spartan and uncomfortable. Not the Venza Limited.
If someone had told me I was driving a Lexus, I would have believed them. The seats are comfortable, the dashboard and infotainment center are trimmed in luxurious ebony, and the steering wheel and trims had a really nice feel.
I guess Toyota borrowed a page from its European division. When I’d driven a hybrid C-HR in France, I found it to be smooth and seriously comfortable — and also not cheap, at close to 40,000 euros (nearly $49,000), a different vehicle that the U.S. is offered.
Shiftless: The Venza’s wheels are driven by an electronic CVT, and the shift lever offers six steps for drivers to limit the speed, if needed, but no fake “gears” for us to shift through.
All Venzas come with all-wheel drive.
On the road: The Venza handles competently, heading into turns deliberately. I felt that I quickly got a feel for where the vehicle would land when I pointed it, so I could take turns more bravely than usual. But there wasn’t a lot of zip in the curve, and I could feel the passenger compartment sway dramatically when pushed, but the Venza handled the basics well.
Where the RAV4 tested recently felt truck-like, the Venza offered a smooth car-like feel. I’d like to try less well-appointed versions to see how they compare.
Friends and stuff: Even the rear seat is a nice place to be. It’s comfortable and fairly luxurious, like the front, and legroom, headroom and foot room are all swell. The center passenger won’t feel squeezed by the hump, but may feel squeezed by seatmates in the narrow compartment.
Cargo space is 55.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded and 28.8 behind the second seat, about 15% smaller than the RAV4.
Play some tunes: The Venza stereo interface also offered a touch of Lexus, as well. The large 12.3-inch touchscreen makes it easy to see the options or the map. The volume control, tuning and source buttons are tucked into the ebony screen surround so completely that I missed finding them for a couple days. And, yes, touchscreen, none of that Lexus touch pad nonsense to make every selection become 33% more random.
Sound from the premium audio system with JBL speakers falls a little short of the Lexus, though, about an A-.
Keeping warm and cool: The temperature and fan speed are controlled by spiffy up-down switches. More complicated tasks require a trip to Mr. Touchscreen.
Seat heaters and coolers are available in the touchscreen, although awkwardly placed buttons help from in front of the armrest.
Gimme a brake: Another awkward placement is the emergency brake switch — now that we’ve moved beyond pedals and levers, the name of the game has become find the wee emergency brake clip. (And also, figure out whether it’s a push or a pull.) This one sits in the phone well in front of the shift lever, which made it especially hard to find because I’d covered it with a mask. (Here’s to days when that will stop happening.)
Fuel economy: I averaged about 36 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat testing these days — close to home and heavy on the acceleration tests, so I imagine normal drivers could do even better.
Where it’s built: Aichi, Japan
How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the Venza a 4 out of 5 for predicted reliability.
In the end: The Venza definitely provides luxury and efficiency, but will buyers pay for Lexus-level treatment without the Lexus name? Still, I’ve recommended this vehicle to several who have asked over the last few weeks.
Hold your horses: A mistake reared its head in last week’s column. The Kia Sorento 2.5-liter turbo offers 281 horsepower, not the 311 mistakenly listed in last week’s column. (That’s actually the torque number.) It’s still impressive to drive, though.