First Drive

First Drive Review: 2021 Toyota Venza is a good choice for eco-conscious empty nesters

The Venza is back for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

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.

2021 Toyota VenzaThe 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.

2021 Toyota VenzaThe 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.

2021 Toyota VenzaThe 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.

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Family-friendly three-row SUVs

Three of our favorite three-row SUVs for 2022

The Grand Cherokee L is available with two different powertrain choices.

Jeep

There are more three-row SUVs on sale than ever before, so it can be tough to make a choice between them. You need to balance space, performance, safety, and tech to make your decision, and doing your homework is important. To help you get started down the right path, we've selected three of our favorite three-row family haulers. These are SUVs that bring the latest features and excellent design features to help keep you and your family rolling. Let's get started.

2023 Toyota SequoiaThe Sequoia is all-new for the 2023 model year, and finally stands on level ground with its rivals.Toyota

Toyota Sequoia

Toyota gave the Sequoia a much-needed overhaul for the 2023 model year that brought it up to speed with its competitors. The thirsty V8 and outdated styling are gone, and in their place, Toyota installed a twin-turbo V6 with a hybrid system that produces 437 horsepower and 583 pound-feet of torque. A ten-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or four-wheel drive are available.

The Sequoia’s update brought a new infotainment system with a much more intuitive, fluid interface. It runs on a standard 8-inch or an optional 14-inch touchscreen. Toyota’s new software offers voice controls, standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and much more.

Inside, the Sequioa’s interior feels much more upscale and modern than before, and there’s plenty of room for the entire family and all their gear across its three spacious rows. Starting with the Limited trim, Toyota gives luxurious standard features, including heated and ventilated front seats, a larger touchscreen, a hands-free liftgate, and a heated steering wheel.

2023 Kia TellurideKia updated the ultra-popular Telluride for 2023 with refreshed styling and features.Kia

Kia Telluride

The Kia Telluride is easily one of the best family vehicles from the last ten years, and it offers great value on top of its functional characteristics. Kia updated the SUV for 2022 with a new 10.25-inch infotainment system and a highway driving assistance system.

The Telluride comes with a 3.8-liter V6 that produces 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. The SUV’s engine may not be the most powerful or thrilling, but it gets the job done and offers refined, smooth operation.

Kia equips the base Telluride with seating for eight, but the optional second-row captain’s chairs reduce capacity to seven. Interior fit and finish, materials, and styling are all far more upscale than the Telluride’s price tag would suggest, making the SUV an excellent family companion for longer road trips.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee LThe Grand Cherokee got a third row for the first time with the new L.Jeep

Jeep Grand Cherokee L

Jeep completely overhauled the Grand Cherokee for 2021 and added a new three-row “L” model shortly after. The new Grand Cherokee L features boxy, muscular styling that works with its stretched profile. Even with a new shape, the SUV is immediately recognizable as a Grand Cherokee.

Jeep offers two engines in the 2022 Grand Cherokee L. The base mill is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is available that produces 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Both come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and the V8 comes standard with four-wheel drive.

The L is more premium inside than most likely expect from a Jeep, but at the top end of the model line it’s deep into luxury territory, both on price and design. The Jeep is just shy of its competitors on interior space, but there’s still plenty of room for up to seven people. Top trims get luxury finishes like leather and woodgrain, and available tech like a rear-seat entertainment system helps keep everyone happy for the long haul.

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New minivan

Honda announces new Odyssey Sport

Sport is a new trim for the Odyssey minivan.

Honda

The Honda Odyssey may not be the most exciting vehicle in the world, but it's getting a new Sport model that at least makes it look the part. Honda will release the model for the 2023 model year, and the Odyssey line overall will be offered with a new Honda Service Pass, which includes two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance.

The Odyssey Sport slots into the Honda catalog between the EX-L and Touring trims. It comes with gloss-black exterior trim and black 19-inch wheels outside, and black leather with red stitching inside. The cabin comes with red accent lighting on the dash and in the footwells, and the roof pillars and headliner are both black. Under the hood, the Odyssey Sport gets the same 3.5-liter V6 from years past. It makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, and comes paired with a ten=speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.

2023 Honda Odyssey SportThe Sport comes with dark exterior trim and unique leather upholstery with red stitching inside. Honda

All Odyssey models come with Honda Sensing safety equipment, which includes adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection. The 2023 van hasn't been crash-tested yet, but the 2022 model earned a Top Safety Pick + award, so it's likely the new model will be rated similarly.

Honda Service Pass is a new program for 2023+ Honda vehicles. It covers routine scheduled maintenance for up to two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. Under the program, buyers get free oil changes, tire rotations, and multi-point inspections.

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