2015 Toyota Venza – Review

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  • Handling isn’t sporty at all
  • Some interior trim looks inexpensive
  • Cargo space narrow at its midsection

Overall Review » 7.6/10

If you’re trying to place the 2015 Toyota Venza into a nice, neat category, you might want to give up and simply embrace its usefulness. It isn’t a station wagon, and it’s no SUV; yet it has higher seat height than a car and available all-wheel drive. Even more so than other crossover utes, it refuses to be defined so easily.

That’s how we’d describe it in the most logical of worlds–but why add to that naming confusion? It’s simply one of the more practical, carlike mid-size vehicles we can think of, a highly functional piece that takes the best attributes of those car types and blends them into something new and neat-looking. (Okay, maybe it’s not so new, if you remember the AMC Eagle, but still.)

The five-seat Venza looks like the grown-up, grown-out hatchback it really is, one with the extra room and ride height it needs for occasional adventures and excursions. Refreshed lightly in 2013 but mostly identical to its 2009 origins, the Venza has a big, toothy grille that’s the sole overstatement in its entire portfolio of lines and curves. With its somewhat lower profile and roofline, compared to other crossover utes, the Venza seems knitted together particularly well from Toyota’s parts bin.

The cabin’s perfectly functional, but trim and materials are more serviceable than sexy. There’s a bit too much hard plastic in contact with driver and passenger knees than you might expect in a vehicle that can cost well over $30,000.

There are four-cylinder and V-6 Venzas, and both are offered with all-wheel drive (V-6s, in fact, come only with AWD). The 2.4-liter four-cylinder is rated at 182 horsepower, the V-6 at a strong 268 hp. Both are paired to a six-speed automatic. Four-cylinder models are perfectly adequate but uninspiring, while V-6 models have a stronger, smoother character that makes it feel more like the Lexus RX 350. Road noise is an issue on coarser surfaces, with the four-cylinder more than the six. Gas mileage isn’t much different between the two powertrains, with four-cylinder Venzas at up to 20/26 mpg, and V-6s checking in at 19/26 mpg.

In drives of Venza models from previous model years, we’ve found these wagons to drive a bit more like a well-sorted minivan than a sportier wagon or an SUV. You sit higher up, but in terms of ride and handling, the Venza is more carlike than most other alternatives. With moderately soft suspension tuning and rather numb steering, it’s by no means exciting to drive, but it’s competent and never struggles to defeat the driver’s intent.

Both engines get the same all-wheel drive system, configured for on-road tractability, and on V-6 models there’s a standard Towing Prep Package good for pulling up to 3,500 pounds.

Unlike Toyota’s three-row 4Runner, or even the big Highlander, the Venza makes absolutely no claim to the off-road trail. And while you can get third-row seating in both of those, the Venza only has two rows of (albeit very comfortable seating). It’s more a Camry wagon, at a functional level. What that means is impressive space for five adults and a good amount of cargo space—as well as a near-ideal seating height that makes getting in and out especially easy.

Safety scores have been good, and the Venza now comes with standard Bluetooth and a rearview camera.

The Venza is offered in base LE, mid-range XLE, and top-lux Limited trims. Four-cylinders come only in LE and XLE trim, and V-6s only in Limited trim, with all-wheel drive. Venza XLE models get a memory power driver’s seat, reverse-tilt outside mirrors, and navigation, as well as Entune multimedia features. At the top of the line, all Limited models have LED daytime running lights, premium 13-speaker JBL sound, and an upgraded navigation system.

 Interior / Exterior » 7/10

We like the Venza’s nifty hatchback shape: it’s not awkward, and forgoes the faux-SUV cues.

Somewhere between a hatchback and a tall station wagon, the Toyota Venza stakes out its styling turf, avoiding SUV cliches and steering neatly toward a carlike stance. We like the Venza’s quietly handsome profile, which manages to make it look somewhat smaller than it really is.

We also can’t help but note the passing resemblance to classic vehicles that really ushered in the “crossover” craze–vehicles like the once maligned, now revered AMC Eagle.

Slightly refreshed for 2013 (a new grille and taillights), today’s Venza hasn’t really changed all that much since it was introduced in 2009. The design’s grown on us since then, though we think the newest iteration of the grille is a little bigger and toothier than it needs to be.

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Inside the Venza, more car-like cues dominate, with smooth surfaces and curved lines. An unusual center stack splits the front row, while woodgrain trim and conservative brightwork make for a sharp and sophisticated look that’s never boring. Our only beef with the interior styling is that wide center console, which takes up a lot of room, and is covered in some cases by a rather obvious plastic rendition of “wood.”

Performance » 7/10

Excitement isn’t a key player here, but the Venza’s predictable handling and strong V-6 give us plenty to recommend.

The Venza has a faintly swoopy shape that looks like it might have some sporty potential, but it’s mostly an act. What it delivers is competent, comfortable handling and acceleration–it’s one of the most carlike crossovers we can name, mostly because it’s related to Toyota’s Camry.

In many ways, it feels like a taller, heavier Camry from behind the wheel–a successor to the Camry wagons that have long since been deleted from the lineup of that best-selling sedan.

Venza shoppers have a choice of two engines, either of which are available with front- or all-wheel drive: a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, or a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Power is adequate even with the four-cylinder engine, but the V-6 gives the Venza a smoother, stronger feel that resembles the Lexus RX 350’s nature.

Both engines are close in their EPA gas mileage ratings, with the four-cylinder rating as high as 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway; the V-6 AWD scores 18/25 mpg.

Venza V-6 models come with a Towing Prep Package that allows up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity. With all-wheel drive and a high-riding stance, you might think the Venza is up to off-road duty, but you’d be wrong. The all-wheel-drive system is intended for inclement weather, not tackling the Rubicon.

Sitting relatively high up, the driver is presented with a driving experience that’s more minivan than SUV, with soft suspension tuning and numb steering. Those traits make it easy to drive, but sap any possibility of excitement. It still can be pressed to hustle corners at a surprising pace–it’s just not all that interested in doing so.

One thing we’d note, is to stick with the standard wheel and tire sizes. The large 20-inch wheels look good from the curb, but add a noticeable degree of ride harshness without any performance benefit.

Comfort and Quality » 8/10

Refined and roomy, the Venza has ample space for five and a usefully shaped cargo hold.

The Venza pulls off a nifty packaging trick–it gives its owners the interior space of a roomy crossover and the step-in height of one, but it doesn’t look boxy or angular at all. It’s more like an overgrown hatchback, and we mean that in the nicest way possible.

The Venza’s front and rear seats sit at just the right height for sliding in, and the big doors make entry and exit equally easy for short and tall passengers. The seats themselves are padded without much thought for cornering, but they’re plush enough to make you forget some of the smaller bumps that can worry their way through the car’s structure. Head and leg room are ample, too.

Smartly designed storage bins and cubbies around the cabin make for plenty of small-item stash points. The large, deep cupholders are eminently useful.

The Venza’s back bench seat reclines for greater long-distance comfort. Three adults can comfortably sit across the back row, but there’s no third-row option; that’s left for larger vehicles like the Highlander.

Instead, the Venza flips and folds its seats forward to boost the space allotted to its cargo bin. A low cargo floor makes loading and unloading groceries or other parcels easy. There aren’t any cargo organizers in the rear load area, though, and the shape of the space isn’t quite as versatile as some taller crossovers–though we’ve packed a week’s worth of camping gear in one, without complaint.

The only notable downside in the Venza’s cabin is the abundance of hard plastic in direct contact with the driver’s and front passenger’s knees, a comfort issue that’s surprising in a vehicle that can price out well above the $30,000 mark. Road noise can be an issue on coarse road surfaces, but it’s generally not a problem.

Safety » 8/10

Crash-test scores have been good, and the Venza now has a standard rearview camera.

The Venza has rolled along without major body structure changes since 2009. However, both of the agencies that test for crash safety keep changing their testing regimens, requiring better performance on more difficult tests, as well as demanding more standard safety gear to earn the top marks.

And still, the Venza keeps pace, at least in the actual crash performance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it five stars overall, with four-star ratings for front-impact protection and rollover resistance.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also rates the Venza highly, with top marks of “good” in all categories, though it does not receive a Top Safety Pick+ designation because it hasn’t tested the crossover in its new small-overlap test.

Compared to the crossover competition, the Toyota Venza offers a strong suite of standard safety equipment, including seven airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. A rearview camera is now standard, as is Bluetooth.

Available safety upgrades don’t include blind-spot monitors or lane-departure warning systems, however. Some help with the blind spots would be appreciated, since the Venza’s rearward visibility is hampered somewhat by thick roof pillars.

Features » 8/10

The value-laden Venza comes with standard Bluetooth and available smartphone connectivity.

Well-equipped even in lower-priced trims, the Toyota Venza offers strong value, but can also be optioned upward into near-luxury territory with add-ons like high-end audio, navigation, a rear-seat video system, and leather seats.

Three trim levels are available–LE, XLE, and Limited–but V-6 models do not come in the basic LE spec. The Limited is, well, limited to V-6 models, and this year, to models with all-wheel drive.

As for the four-cylinder Venza LE, it comes standard with power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; blind-spot mirrors; puddle lamps; and an LCD display for its AM/FM/CD player. A rearview camera is also now standard on all Venza crossovers.

The Venza XLE gets standard memory power driver’s seat, power folding side mirrors; a 6.1-inch touchscreen display; and navigation with Entune multimedia and apps function. Entune is Toyota’s name for its infotainment system, which brings not only smartphone connectivity and navigation, but also mobile apps functions including Bing, Pandora, OpenTable, and movietickets.com among others.

The top-line Venza Limited adds LED daytime running lights and a 13-speaker JBL premium audio system as well as an upgraded navigation system and front and rear parking sensors.

A Premium Package is available on XLE models, adding a panoramic glass moonroof, hands-free Bluetooth phone and music connectivity, and more, essentially capturing many of the upgrades found in the Limited model, but without the mandatory upgrade to the V-6 engine.

All Venza crossovers powered by the V-6 engine now come standard with a towing package.

Fuel Economy / MPG » 6/10

Gas mileage bests bigger crossovers, but the Venza isn’t a fuel-economy leader in its size class.

The Venza’s gas mileage compares well with other all-wheel-drive capable vehicles in its class, but compared to some of the best-selling family sedans of today, it’s nothing remarkable.

Both the Venza four- and six-cylinder models come with a six-speed automatic transmission and have the option of all-wheel drive. In basic front-drive, four-cylinder form, the current Venza is rated by the EPA at 20 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway, or 23 mpg combined. Adding all-wheel drive brings those figures down just a touch, to 20/26/22 mpg.

Venzas fitted with the more powerful V-6 engine and standard all-wheel drive are rated at 19/26/22 mpg.

The penalty for the all-wheel drive system is very small, so those who live in snow-belt states should have no second thoughts about opting for it. In our experience, when driving in hilly areas, the difference in gas mileage between four- and six-cylinder models essentially vanishes, but in flat-land driving, the four-cylinder is the definite choice for greener driving.




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