First Drive Review: 2021 Toyota Venza is a good choice for eco-conscious empty nesters
Is it a Toyota or a Lexus? At first glance it may be hard to tell if you're not looking right at the badge on the front of the 2021 Toyota Venza. The car is luxe enough inside to be a Lexus too.
The Venza gets its name from a model that was popular for a few short years in the early 2010s. It disappeared, as models a little ahead of their time do (ahem, Pacifica), and the name has been brought back for this new, hybrid SUV. With the popularity of the RAV4 and Highlander, it's easy to wonder why Toyota would need another SUV that sits singly between the two. The answer is easy. It's for a different buyer and it's a hybrid.
The Venza looks more like a Lexus than a Toyota, and that's not a bad thing.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
The Venza competes directly with the Nissan Murano, Honda Passport, Ford Edge, and Chevrolet Blazer. They're all two-row SUVs that give budget-conscious buyers (often empty nesters) a bit of luxe for a lower-than-premium price. It also comes only with a hybrid powertrain, which is something the competition does not have. All-wheel drive is also standard.
Toyota has built the Venza for fuel economy (it gets 39 mpg combined) rather than zippy performance. In this way, it's unlike the Toyota RAV4 Prime, which utilizes the available electric power to elicit a more thrilling drive experience. Acceleration and deceleration via the 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine are all about steady fuel savings rather than harsh or thrilling action.
No one would mistake the 219-horsepower combined drive experience as being invigorating. However, the payoff is that the Venza is nearly twice as fuel-efficient as its competition when similarly sized engines are compared.
The Venza doesn't come loaded with frills or too many unique features (it's a Toyota after all) but there's still plenty to like about it. Not the least of which is the fact that its interior design is wholly different than the RAV4 and Highlander. Despite being more streamlined and sophisticated, Toyota still manages to pack a lot of features and equipment into the package.
The sleek and stylish design of the Venza is unlike the RAV4 in many ways.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
The RAV4's seats are uncomfortable after just a short time behind the wheel, but the Venza's are much better. Where the RAV4 does win is on cargo space, but the Venza's rear storage area has plenty of room for daily driver duty.
As tested in the top-tier trim, the Venza had a 12.3-inch infotainment touch screen (an 8.0-inch is standard on the lower two trim levels). All the screens run the Entune infotainment system, which has gotten easier to navigate thanks to updates over the years, but it is not the best in the industry, by far.
The coolest feature on the Venza is its Star Gaze fixed panoramic roof that uses electrochromic glass to block out the direct rays of the sun and instead allow in diffused sunlight. At the touch of a button, the frosted glass can turn to clear traditional panoramic roof glass. It's a proper replacement for a sunroof in areas where people frequently utilize them for their sunshine rather than the open windows feel.
Toyota has given the Venza the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of safety and driver assist technologies in every trim level. Unlike what you'll find in some luxury cars, the Toyota system serves as a backup to human direction rather than a constant reminder of a perceived needed correction.
The Star Gaze roof allows diffused sunlight to permeate the cabin.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
The Toyota Venza starts at $32,470. Remember, that's with all-wheel drive, a hybrid powertrain, and a host of standard safety technologies. So, despite being a little pricier than the completion, it's an appropriate figure. Upgrading to the Venza XLE will cost you at least $36,000 and the top-of-the-line Venza Limited comes in at $39,800. There aren't many options boxes to check for the SUV so it ends up sitting between the pricing of the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid in the Toyota lineup.
Like most vehicles that Toyota makes, the Venza seems to be a well-designed and reasonable addition to a household. It should elicit plenty of interest from buyers. However, if you want more power you'll want to check out either the RAV4 Prime or the Passport, which are both winners as well.