Auto123 reviews the 2021 Toyota Venza.
One might well ask the question: Does the world need another SUV, even one that previously enjoyed some measure of success on the market? But that betrays a misunderstanding of the current dynamics of the automotive market, in which the craze for utility models is such that even as manufacturers stack them on top of each other in their product lineup, still each one finds buyers. There has to be a limit to the number of SUV models the market can support, but we're not there yet.
As for the Venza, first of all, let's start by situating it within the Toyota family. Recall that the model made its debut in 2009 and was considered a family SUV and an alternative to the minivan. The rumour, encouraged by Toyota, was that it could be fitted with three child seats in the back seat.
The Venza lasted until 2016 in Canada, after which Toyota decided to retire it even as it lived on in other markets. Now, it comes back for 2021 with styling that actually stands out in the segment. Situated between the RAV4 and Highlander in the lineup, it fills a need for those who want a slightly larger (and sharper-looking) vehicle than the former, without necessarily needing the third row of the latter.
Another very interesting point that may work in its favour: unlike the Toyota Harrier, from which the Venza was inspired and which has been sold in Japan since 1997, the powertrain used in North America is exclusively hybrid.
Unlike the RAV4, but like the newly redesigned Highlander, the Venza immediately stands out with its rounded curves. Up front, there are the horizontally profiled headlights with striking LED accents. In the centre and below the headlamps, you'll find an imposing grille, a signature Toyota design element.
In the rear, there are also horizontally tapered headlights with a light bar that streteches from edge to edge of the vehicle, adding to the luxurious image of the product. From the outside, this SUV could wear a Lexus badge and no one would be offended.
This feeling of luxury is reinforced when you climb aboard. The huge screen at the top of the centre console inevitably catches the eye. Beyond that, the emphasis is on purposeful simplicity, once again to create a luxurious ambience.
Our tester was the Limited, and every surface we touched breathed quality. The only downside, however, was that in the interest of purity, Toyota decided to remove all the buttons from the console. For example, adjusting the climate control or radio, or accessing other comfort/amenity functions requires the use of touch buttons. The only real buttons you'll find are those on the heated and ventilated seats and the huge - and very badly placed – Start/Stop button.
Yes, badly placed. Every time you turn on the ignition, you wonder how an engineer made the decision to place this essential button so low on the centre console, beneath the climate control knobs. Seems to us other locations would have been possible to have it better integrated.
Aside from this little irritant, the Venza is very comfortable and really fun to drive. Up to five passengers can be accommodated without a problem, and the 1,027 litres of trunk space will swallow up all of their luggage.
We also quite enjoyed, during our week-long test drive, the fixed panoramic roof made of Star Gaze glass, which allows you to control its transparency at the touch of a button. Thus, in inactive mode, it's frosted and you can't see through it, while in active mode, it becomes completely transparent. Note that roof does not open, and it’s only available in the Limited version. In short, it's a gadget that will dazzle passengers, but won't cool them down.
Powered exclusively by a hybrid electric powertrain, the new Venza's 2.5L 4-cylinder engine is backed by three electric motors, for a total output of 219 hp. That's a long way from high-performance power, but for a mass-market hybrid vehicle, that's not the goal.
According to the manufacturer, an average of 6.1L/100 km is possible. After our week of testing, mainly in the suburbs and with temperatures hovering around the freezing point, we tallied an average of 7.1L/100 km, which is by no means terrible.
The Toyota Venza can only be driven in electric mode as long as it doesn't exceed... 30 km/h. This is feasible especially in residential areas with that as the speed limit. In that context, it's actually a great motivator to respect the speed limit scrupulously.
In other conditions and at a stabilized speed, we several times managed to hold it in electric mode for a few kilometres at speeds of 70 or 80 km/h - as long as we maintained a cruising speed. Let's not forget here that we were driving an all-wheel drive vehicle weighing 1,775 kg (the LE version tips 1,745 kg on the scale).
Overall, we really liked the Venza's powertrain, which isn't surprising considering Toyota is an industry leader at producing hybrid vehicles. In addition to unbeatable fuel economy in this segment, the Venza was a pleasure to be in and a pleasure to drive, despite the presence of a CVT transmission, invariably a bit of a party pooper.
The different versions
Kudos to Toyota for fitting all versions with the one (and good) engine, which simplifies things when it comes time to make your choice.
The entry-level version starts at $40,829 and includes 18-inch wheels, power tailgate, audio system with 8-inch screen, wireless charging system and heated, 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.
The XLE version ($46,829) adds 19-inch wheels, 1200-watt JBL audio system with 9 speakers, 12.3-inch all-touchscreen (which we didn't particularly like), heated steering wheel, ventilated Softex leather front seats and an intelligent sonar system for judging clearance, with rear cross-traffic detection and braking.
The top-of-the-line Limited model, at $50,029, throws in the fixed panoramic roof, a very discreet 10-inch head-up display that shows essential info, automatic wipers and especially a rearview camera washer... very practical in Canadian winters.
The Toyota Venza is more comfortable to drive than the RAV4 and not as big and bulky as the Highlander. We were surprised by the smoothness of the ride and especially by the hybrid engine, which is very efficient. Even though Toyota is mainly banking on the XLE version, which is very well-equipped, we think that consumers will be equally attracted to the entry-level variant, LE, which starts at $40,829 and already offers quite a bit. This base version of the Venza gives you an 8-inch screen for the audio system that features easier-to-use buttons and is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
In short, this 2021 Toyota Venza, even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel in the segment, will attract buyers looking for a more luxurious mass-market SUV, but could do without the marquee pricing of a Lexus product.
Economical hybrid engine
Very quiet on board
We like less
Weird placement of the Start-Stop button
No towing capability
Pure electric mode only at under 30 km/h
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Ford Escape Hybrid