Toyota Venza gets Nightshade Edition for 2023

By Jim Prueter

(April 7, 2023) We were impressed with the new Venza when it returned as a stylish all-wheel-drive hybrid only midsized, five-passenger SUV for 2021 after a six-year hiatus. 

Back in 2008, Toyota launched the Venza, a two-row crossover utility vehicle that some described as a Camry wagon, aimed primarily at the empty nester market. It was designed in the United States, with an elevated driving position, big, wide doors and seats that were, well, a bit wider to better fit the average American consumer. But Venza never caught on and was discontinued in 2015.

With looks that closely mimic its upmarket first cousin, the premium Lexus RX 350, and the fact that it’s strictly powered by a gasoline-electric hybrid driveline, Venza was different the second time around.

The new Venza shares strong DNA mappings with its smaller sibling Toyota RAV4 which, by the way, is the best-selling passenger vehicle in the United States. Both are built on the same versatile TNGA-K global platform with the same width and wheelbase, although Venza is six inches longer and sits lower. Visually, it is noticeably larger than the RAV4.

The new Venza boasts updated technology, safety features, and still offers large doors, a higher seating position and a decent amount of cargo capacity. Although, oddly, Venza is actually less spacious inside and less practical for hauling cargo than the RAV4. It’s significantly more luxurious than either the current RAV4 or previous Venza and could pass for an entry-level Lexus model with all of its new refinements both inside and out.

For its second year 2022 there were no significant changes. The Nightshade Edition Venza reviewed here is new for 2023 that features black exterior trim not found on other Venza models. Nightshade Edition is based on the mid-range XLE trim and is appearance only with black wheels, black front and rear bumpers accents, a black grille surround, black door handles and mirror caps. It’s limited to just three extra cost exterior colors, wind chill pearl (white), celestial black and our test Nightshade in ruby flare pearl.

The Nightshade Edition adds $1,125 to the base price of the XLE. All 2023 models now come standard with an updated infotainment system, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and added USB-C charge ports.

Inside, premium materials are on par with Lexus, with thoughtful features like three-level heated and ventilated seats in both front and rear. 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.

Other niceties include an optional 10-inch color head-up display with speedometer and hybrid system indicators, and rain-sensing variable intermittent windshield wipers ($725).

Venza shares its all-wheel-drive hybrid system with the RAV4 hybrid, including the 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder engine and two moto-generators, plus a third electric motor for the rear axle. At 219, the horsepower is the same for both vehicles. Venza does get a lithium-ion battery pack rather than the nickel-metal-hydride unit in the RAV4. Combined city-highway fuel economy for the Venza is rated at 39 mpg. Our combined 300-mile city highway test driving over a week returned an impressive average of 37.1 mpg. That’s similar to the RAV4 we previously tested. Toyota says they have no plans to offer a gasoline-only engine or other hybrid variant.

Expecting driving thrills from the Venza is like going to the dentist for good conversation. It’s a perfectly serviceable, attractive and safe vehicle for almost all driving requirements of suburban corporeal errands. Put the window down, arm out the window, sit back and enjoy a relaxing ride that feels composed, lazy and compliant, almost in a submissive way.

But where the Venza falls short is in direct comparison to the RAV4 hybrid. First, for vehicles that are nearly identical (save interior and exterior styling), a similarly equipped Venza XLE lists for $39,200, about $4,000 more than the RAV4 XLE Premium model. Our Nightshade sans the Star Gazeô panoramic roof had an MSRP of $41,215 including shipping and delivery changes. You’ll have to decide if styling alone is worth the difference in price. That isn’t an insignificant amount of money to pay for what is almost exclusively styling and a bit nicer interior.

Vital stats

Base Price: $39,455
Price as Tested: $41.215
Engine/Transmission: 2.5-L gasoline 4-cylinder and two motor-generators, plus a third electric motor lithium-ion battery pack hybrid delivered through a continuously variable automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive.
Fuel Economy: 40/37/39 MPG – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5
Where Built: Aichi, Japan

Crash Test Results: 2023 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick and highest possible overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Blazer
Ford Edge
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Nissan Murano
Toyota RAV4

Great gas mileage
Attractive upscale interior and exterior design
Soft, cushioned drive
Attractive Nightshade model