Toyota Venza — five doors, no waiting

By Al Vinikour
Special to MotorwayAmerica

Full discloser: I’ve been a Toyota Camry fan since they were first introduced in North America as a relatively ugly compact car called the Celica. Over the years the vehicle grew into a mid-sized family car and in 1988, production for North American vehicles began at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant. For more than a decade – with few exceptions – Camry has been the best-selling car in the United States. The mere sight of a Camry doesn’t pose a threat to those with high blood pressure but Camry’s reputation for quality and reliability has been one of its strongest selling points.

In 2009, Toyota began building a new model called the Venza. I have no idea what Venza means but it seems to be a nice name. It’s built off a hybrid Camry/Avalon/Highlander platform, at the aforementioned manufacturing plant in Kentucky. Toyota describes it as a five-passenger vehicle that couples the styling and comfort of a car with the flexibility of a sport utility vehicle. I simply refer to it as a station wagon. I never fail to see the stigma related to the words station wagon. Lightning bolts are not going to shoot out of the eyes of marketing types who call Venza what it really is. People of my generation are old enough to have outlived the plague associated with station wagons and have witnessed their rebirth as something cool (even if the Europeans seem to be the only bunch that will actually say the SW-word in mixed company).

The 2010 Venza has one trim level but is available with a 2.7L, DOHC 4-valve I-4 with Dual VVT-i, 182 hp engine with 182 pound-feet of torque; or a 3.5L V-6 DOHC 4-valve w/Dual VVT-i, 268 hp and 246 pound-feet of torque. It can be ordered with either FWD or AWD. Transmission is a silky-smooth 6-speed ECT with sequential shift. All this power means you’ll be able to tow up to 2,500 pounds (4-cylinder w/tow package) or 3,500 pounds w/tow package for the V6. EPA fuel economy estimates for the bigger engine are 18 mpg city/25 mph highway. Since my test vehicle was a V6 5-door sedan AWD, the rest of this potential Pulitzer Prize’s information will refer to that model.

The 20” tires make for an exceptionally-smooth ride and wind noise is at a minimum. Steering is solid with no feeling of extra play. There is a fairly large B-pillar that causes blind spots. This could either be corrected by a smaller pillar…or offering some sort of Blind Spot Information System that’s offered in an increasing number of vehicles.

Safety is abundant: a multitude of air bags, Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control w/cutoff switch and traction control, anti-lock brakes w/Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist, front and rear crumple zones, driver and front passenger active headrests, collapsible steering column, side-impact door beams and a bunch of other boring things to read about…but awfully nice to have if they’re ever needed.

Ingress and egress are among the best in the industry. People of a certain size like…er…my Uncle Barney often times have to sit sideways in the seat and then swivel to face the front. Not with Venza. Hop right in set right down, Daddy let your drive roll on. There’s a whole lot of room inside so bring a few friends. Instrumentation is clear, concise and legible. Nighttime lighting is white and green, making it easy to read. Interior lighting is pretty good. There’s lots of storage. The cupholders in the center console could stand some reworking: they don’t securely hold certain-sized cups and though kind of deep the depth is not enough to keep large coffee containers held securely.

The gearshift lever is really slick – located in the dash itself instead of on the console. Though the ignition switch is in my least-favorite position (below the wheel on the steering column) it’s large enough and easy enough to reach that it will avoid my wrath. (There’s an available keyless entry system w/push-button start, so having that will shut people like me up.)

I liked all the wood touches on the dash and console. Very handsome and complementary to the vehicle’s overall appearance. Legroom is abundant – 40.2” front/39.1” rear. Shoulder room is also plentiful – 60” front/59” rear.

For all you audiophiles – and I’m not one of you – as good as the standard AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD changer with integrated satellite radio, MP3/WMA playback capability and six-speaker is, the optional JBL Synthesis surround sound AM/FM 4-disc in-dash CD changer w/integrated satellite radio, MP3/WMA playback capability, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, 13 speaker system is to die for (or go deaf for, it’s your choice).

There are a multitude of packages that allow you to luxuriously customize your Venza. My test vehicle contained several of them, including a panoramic glass roof with front power tilt/slide moonroof, which is a $1,050 option. Warranty is 3-year/36,000-mile Comprehensive, 5-year/60,000-mile Powertrain and 5-year/unlimited mileage Corrosion Perforation.

At first I thought I liked the Venza so much because it was such a pleasant change from the last few “less-than-stellar” vehicles I’ve tested. It occasionally happens but usually within a day or two the bad memories fade. My feeling for the Venza was a strong when I returned it as it was when it was delivered – maybe more so. Toyota has been taking some hits lately. If there’s something there then I would trust the company to make good on them. If it’s just Toyota’s turn “in the barrel” they’ll easily weather this as well. Meantime, I don’t anticipate much, if any decrease in the number of potential customers going to Toyota’s dealerships. From what I’ve experienced once these folks test-drive a Venza they’ll cease to be potential customers. They’ll be buyers.

Base price: $29,550; price as tested: $35,979

Engine:  3.5L DOHC  4-valve per cylinder w/Dual VVT-i  

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm 

Torque: 246 pound feet @ 4,700 rpm
Drive: AWD

Transmission:  6ECT w/sequential shift
Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase:  109.3 inches

Length: 189 inches

Curb weight: 4,045 pounds

Turning circle: 39.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 34.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 70.1 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 17.7 gallons (87-Octane unleaded)

EPA rating: 18 mpg city/25 mph highway

0-60: 6.7 seconds

Also consider: Suzuki XL-7, Honda Accord Crosstour, Kia Borrego 

The Good:

• Good looks
• Good road quietness
• Ergonomically-friendly comfort features
• Smooth powertrain

The Bad:
• Fairly large blind spot at B-pillar

The Ugly:
• You couldn’t find anything either, huh?