Toyota Venza — Hybrid batteries included

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Toyota has brought back the Venza nameplate attaching it to a new mid-sized two-row crossover that comes exclusively with a hybrid powertrain consisting of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine, and three electric motors — one attached to the rear wheels and the other two assigned to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is standard across the lineup.

The two most attractive features of the new Venza are its excellent combined fuel economy that is EPA-measured at 39 miles per gallon in combined driving, and its appealing exterior styling that is not overwrought with curves, creases and bends like some of the other new products from the Toyota/Lexus stable. And there are two unseen attributes with the Venza — as with most Toyota products — outstanding reliability and solid resale value.

The first-generation Venza was welcomed into the automotive world in 2008 as a mid-sized crossover, but slow sales contributed to Toyota's decision to terminate it after the 2015 model year. The new Venza slots between the slightly smaller RAV4 and the larger Highlander as Toyota attempts to cover every conceivable size and configuration in our crossover-crazed world.

Strangely, Venza is actually less spacious inside than its RAV4 sibling because of its sloping roof, which makes it less practical for hauling cargo. Lifting items into the Venza requires a bit of extra effort as well, as its cargo floor is significantly higher than the RAV4's, at 32.3 inches versus 27.5. The Venza's rear-seat dimensions are nearly identical to the RAV4's, yet sitting in the second row feels more confining because of the Venza's slightly smaller windows and higher beltline. And while the RAV4 has a 1,750-pound towing capacity, the Venza is not rated for towing.

The Venza has ample performance, but the power delivery has an annoying characteristic. We think it's largely due the unrefined continuously variable transmission that has no artificial shift points. The engine grows increasing louder — and louder — under hard acceleration. The engine roar together with more road noise than we like — especially in a vehicle in the Venza's price range — is unappealing when rapidly merging into fast-moving traffic or passing a slower car on a two-lane road.. That being said, under normal point A to point B diving conditions the Venza puts on a respectable act.

Performance from the combined 219 horsepower derived from the 4-cylinder engine and electric motors is on a par with segment rivals, measured at 7.6 seconds from 0-to-60 and at 15.8 seconds @ 89 mph in the quarter mile. And as noted, gas mileage is stellar rated at 40 mpg city, 37 highway and 39 combined on regular gas.

Inside, premium materials are on par with Lexus, with thoughtful features like three-level heated and ventilated seats. The driver’s seat automatically adjusts back to the rear-most position for ease of entry and exit. There’s a hands-free rear power liftgate and an optional Star Gaze fixed panoramic glass roof ($1,400 and exclusive to the Limited trim) that lightens and dims the glass between transparent and opaque with an on/off control and power sunshade. We first saw this roof on Mercedes-Benz vehicles a few years ago and really liked it. Other niceties include an optional 10-inch color head-up display with speedometer and hybrid system indicators, and rain-sensing variable intermittent windshield wipers.

The seating is comfortable and the living area is attractive. Entry and exit are easy with nice-sized doors and a seating height that mimics your most comfortable living room chair.

But the lack of proper infotainment controls might be a deal-breaker for us. Many buttons are flush and don't respond to commands immediately. For instance, the driver has to take eyes off the road to find the up and down arrows for sound and tuning. And many of the climate controls have to be accessed in the infotainment screen instead of easy-to-use hard buttons on the dashboard. Toyota is usually one of the best at making controls easy to use, but perhaps for the sake of being hip and modern it has forsaken this attribute with the Venza.

Upper trim level Venzas have flush volume and tuning arrows (left) while the base LE features proper knobs (right)

The big head-scratcher is that after driving a Limited edition we discovered that the base LE actually has "old fashioned" tuning and volume knobs for the audio system. So to get what we consider the preferred controls a buyer would have to purchase the base model. Crazy.

Venza is offered in three trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited starting at $34,070 including a $1,175 destination charge. The XLE begins at $37,600 and the Limited starts at $40,975. Our XLE test vehicle carried a bottom line of $43,525 that included $1,400 panoramic sunroof. The other big option was the Advanced Technology Package for $725 that included the aforementioned head-up display and rain-sensing wipers.

2021 Toyota Venza


Base price: $34,070, as driven, $43,525
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine; three electric motors
Horsepower: 219 combined
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 186.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,879 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 28.8 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 55.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: not recommended
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 40 city, 37 highway, 39 combined
0-60: 7.6 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Passport, Ford Edge, VW Atlas Cross Sport

The Good
• Outstanding mileage
• Standard all-wheel drive
• High-quality interior

The Bad
• Noisy under hard acceleration

The Ugly
• Hard-to-use infotainment controls