The old Venza that Toyota produced was a bit frumpy, part wagon, part minivan and based on the Camry platform which sold between 2008 and 2017. Now there’s a new one, revealed during the height of the pandemic online and it’s a bit of a looker. The second-generation model is a re-badged Japanese-market Harrier sold there since September 2020.
The 2021 Toyota Venza has the same has the same wheelbase and chassis as the RAV4, but it’s a very different vehicle, feeling much more luxurious and upscale like the Lexus RX but at a much lower price. It’s great to look at too with cool creases and curves its predecessor never had.
All Venzas are hybrids and there are no sporty SE or XSE trims, instead you choose from the LE, XLE, and Limited in which to glide around in. Under the hood it’s all very familiar, a 2.5-liter I-4 engine 2.5-liter paired with three electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. The two motors up front work in sync with the gasoline engine, while the one at the back provides all-wheel-drive capability when needed. This gives the Venza a combined system output of 219 hp and 252-lb-ft of torque mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
You can drive the Venza in all electric mode, but top speed is a max of 20 mph and if you press on the gas too much the engine spins up and takes over. Full electric mode is good for cruising silently behind unwary pedestrians in parking lots.
Just like the RAV4 the Venza is incredibly efficient, I tried as hard as I could use more gas in the week, I had the Venza but ended up averaging 33.5 mpg, pretty good and if you try hard the EPA numbers 39 mpg combined) are easily within reach.
On the road
The Venza rides better than the RAV4s since the suspension has been tuned for comfort and smoothness. It accelerates away from a stop briskly and smoothly, with no discernible shifts from the CVT, however, the engine emits a not too pleasant drone at higher revs.
There is a Sport mode, but I kept it in Eco all week since there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference anyway. There seems to be a trend these days in adding a Sport mode and/or Sport decals to cars these days that are not sporting vehicles.
Once on the move the Venza is very pleasant indeed, it has plenty of pep around town, the steering is light and has ample power on freeway on ramps. It’s not for canyon carving however, winding roads are not its forte instead stick to suburban streets or the highway and the new Venza really shines.
From the driver’s seat, the Venza is a really nice place to be, you can see Toyota has made an effort to create an upscale feel in almost every way. The Softex seats are 100% vegan and are very comfortable with multi way power, heat and ventilation and a heated steering wheel. You could be forgiven for thinking the seats are leather they are so soft and supple.
The Limited trim is equipped as standard with a 12.3-inch touchscreen and is optional on the lower specs (They have the 8.0-inch touchscreen). The touch buttons look great and are easy to use, though the lack of a volume knob is somewhat annoying despite having the control on the steering wheel.
Below that there is an inductive charging pad to keep your phone charged and storage space where you’ll find the engine start button hiding. There’s also a decent amount of storage space with charging ports in the center armrest. At night the Venza lights up the interior with cool blue lights around the dash, the center console and the center stack, which spices up what is quite a dark interior.
Fancy a Star Gaze
My Limited trim tester the Star Gaze panoramic glass fixed roof that can be switched from frosted to clear glass with the push of a button. When it’s in the clear state, it’s like any other panoramic glass roof, and when the vehicle is off Star Gaze defaults to frosted to keep heat out of the car. It’s available as a $1,400 option and I love it.
The Venza comes with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 suite of safety and driver assistance tech which is standard and includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane keep assist and lane-tracing assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, park assist and road sign assist. My tester also came with the advanced technology package which includes a Head-Up-Display, Rain Sensing Wipers, and Hybrid System Indicators for an out the door price of $43,100.
Since it has a much more svelte and pretty design over the RAV4 the roof-line does eat into cargo space so if you have dogs, they may have to keep their heads low. The Venza offers 28.8 ft³ and 55.1 ft³ with seats folded versus 37.5 ft³ and 69.8 ft³ with seats folded for the RAV4. You make your choice.
You’ll definitely spend more than a RAV4, but you won’t get the stunning looks and the Lexus like feel, unless of course, you buy a Lexus for a lot more money. I really like the Venza, it impresses on many levels, it looks great, drives well and is very pleasantly luxurious where I didn’t expect it to be. All we need now is for Toyota to make a Venza Prime!
2021 Toyota Venza Limited Numbers
BASE PRICE: $39,800
PRICE AS TESTED: $43,100
VEHICLE LAYOUT: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door crossover
ENGINE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.5-liter inline-4, 3 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, lithium-ion battery pack
COMBINED POWER: 219 hp
TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable automatic
0-60 MPH: 7.6 sec
CURB WEIGHT: 3,913 lbs
CARGO CAPACITY: 28.8 ft³, 55.1 ft³ with seat area
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 14.5 gallons
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON: 40/37/39 mpg
OUR OBSERVED: 33.5 mpg
PROS: Quite and comfortable, luxury interior, incredibly economical, cool looks
CONS: Can get pricey with options