The 2009 Toyota Venza is one of those vehicles that, a few years ago, would have drawn odd stares and had everyone asking "What in the world is that?"
But with the recent explosion of crossover vehicles and the melding of different vehicle types (SUVs, sedans, wagons, hatchbacks) nobody really much wonders anymore. As long as it has four wheels, people just see it as a vehicle.
The Venza, Toyota says, has the best attributes of the brand's beloved Camry and Avalon sedans, while also injecting a bit of SUV flair - maybe a bit like the Highlander.
I was surprised how luxurious it is, inside and out, and at its overall refinement.
With its extended grille, narrowing headlamps, thick wheelwells and slender midsection, the Venza has an appearance that suggests activity and strength.
On the interior, light colors give an open, airy feeling while a wavy texture on the dash plastic and seat leather adds a bit of artistry. Artificial, handsome Satin Mahogany woodgrain graces the dash and the top of the leather-wrapped shift knob, which angles out of the console, not the floor.
Small triangular windows add visibility to the forward leaning front pillars while hinting ever so slightly at a minivan appearance. Yet the Venza mostly feels carlike inside, and it drives like one, too. The SUV elements are the higher seating position and the rear carrying capacity - a generous 70.1 cubic feet with the second row seats dropped.
|Hence, the Venza is quite efficient at carrying things. You can drop the larger half of the 60/40 split rear seat to accommodate a large object, but still have room for a second-row passenger. The rear load-in height is lower than the Camry's and nearly as low as the Sienna van.|
The Venza comes as one model only, but you can choose between two engines and select front- or all-wheel drive, and add options or option packages as you wish.
Our tester had the uplevel 3.5-liter V6, which produces 268 horsepower and 246 pounds-feet of torque to move the two-ton vehicle along easily. The V6 Venza is rated at 18 mpg city, 25 highway with all-wheel drive, or 19 and 26 with front-wheel drive, which our tester had. In mostly highway driving, we averaged about 23 mpg.
The standard 2.7-liter inline four-cylinder engine puts out 182 horsepower and 182 pounds-feet of torque. This engine improves fuel economy by 2-3 miles-per-gallon while reducing vehicle weight by 110 pounds.
Both engines use a six-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission. It's electronically controlled with intelligence for your driving pleasure.
By using a single-grade strategy with simplified packages and stand-alone options, every Venza is well equipped. On the outside, standard features include fog lamps, privacy glass, and a roof-mounted XM satellite radio antenna.
|The 3.5-liter models get large five-spoke 20-inch wheels, while 2.7-liter models flaunt bold 10-spoke 19s.|
Inside, you get dual-zone climate control with second-row vents. Besides the usual power features, there are integrated audio controls on the tilt/telescope steering wheel, as well as cruise control, an overhead console and three 12-volt power outlets.
As a family vehicle, safety is crucial, and the STAR safety system provides plenty of it. You get antilock brakes with Brake-force Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control systems. These systems work together to keep the car on the road and moving in the right direction regardless of weather conditions or driver input. The standard Hill Start Assist Control temporarily provides pressure to the brakes while the car's stopped on a hill to prevent rollback. The Venza has seven strategically located airbags, and front passengers get active headrests to help prevent whiplash.
Pricing starts at $25,975 for the two-wheel-drive model with the four-cylinder engine. The tester's MSRP was $29,250, but the sticker price jumped to more than $37,000 with Premium Package #2, a navigation system with upgraded JBL Synthesis 13-speaker sound system, and a couple of other little things.
That's a little steep, but you get a lot of luxury and versatility.