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2021 Toyota Venza returns with standard hybrid power and all-wheel drive

Toyota's short-lived Venza rises from the ashes as a hybrid-only model with new tech, including an available Star Gaze roof.

2021 Toyota Venza
Surprise! The Toyota Venza is back.
Toyota

After a five-year absence, Toyota's five-passenger midsize crossover is back. Meet the 2021 Toyota Venza, which is expected to arrive in dealerships later this summer. (See how it stacks up against other midsize crossovers in our spec comparison.)

The original Toyota Venza was short lived. After a fairly successful debut in 2008, sales began to slide, even as the smaller RAV4 and three-row Highlander flourished during the same period. Maybe there wasn't room in Toyota's lineup for three SUVs; maybe Toyota's awkward marketing of the Venza as neither a wagon nor an SUV confused buyers. Either way, it only hung around for a single generation before being discontinued in the US in 2015. 

Looking at our SUV heavy roads today, some might say the Venza was just ahead of its time. So it's nice to see the nameplate getting a complete overhaul and a second shot.

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2021 Toyota Venza

Engine 2.5-liter I4 hybrid
Output 219 hp (net)
Transmission CVT
Fuel economy 40 mpg combined (est.)
Cargo capacity 36.3 cubic feet

New look, new attitude

The 2021 Venza's new look is upright, more athletic and embraces its SUV nature more so than its wagon-like predecessor. Hopefully, this translates to more cargo space -- one of the O.G. Venza's weaknesses. 

You'd expect the Venza to look more like the chunky styled new Highlander or RAV4, but it's surprisingly smooth and curvaceous. The front end leads with a slightly upturned nose and wide grille that reminds me more of the handsome, second-generation Toyota Mirai. The new look will take some getting used to, especially in pictures and video, but like the Mirai, I have a hunch that the angles flow better in person.

The new proportions and details look a bit like a slightly softer take on the Lexus RX's sharp-angled profile, which makes sense as the two vehicles are similarly sized and both based on the Toyota New Global Architecture K platform, which you'll find under all of the automaker's midsize offerings from the Camry to the Highlander.

2021 Toyota Venza

The Venza's tidy rear end is highlighted by a wrap-around tail lamp bar.

Toyota

Hybrid AWD only

The only powertrain available for 2021 Venza buyers will be Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive with electronic on-demand all-wheel drive. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motor-generators turning the front wheels, and out back is a third, larger electric motor dedicated to the rear axle, providing torque on demand. The Venza can shift between full front-wheel-drive or send up to 80% of the available torque to the rear wheels, depending on conditions and the driver's inputs, though most of the time it'll operate somewhere between those extremes.

This appears to be the same powertrain that you'll find in the contemporary Highlander Hybrid, but retuned for a little less power and a little more efficiency. At 219 horsepower versus 243, that should be fine; the Venza is a smaller and presumably a lighter vehicle, and there should still be plenty of torque on tap. Plus, the Venza makes use of a new lithium-ion battery pack to help further reduce weight.

The advantage gained is an expected 40 miles per gallon combined, about 5 more mpg than the Highlander Hybrid. That's also many miles ahead of competing all-wheel drive SUVs in this class -- Nissan's Murano, the Honda Passport, the Ford Edge and others -- none of which are even available with hybrid options.

Star Gaze roof

The Venza will be the first Toyota vehicle available with what the automaker calls its Star Gaze roof. This fixed panoramic moonroof stretches from the front row to the rear and features electrochromic glass. At the touch of a button, the glass goes from clear to tinted, allowing light in or shading passengers from the sun. There also appears to be sliding fabric cover for maximum light blockage.

Electrochromic glass is nothing new. It's a similar technology to rear and side mirrors that automatically tint to reduce glare. However, using the tech on large panels like a moonroof has typically been reserved for luxury or exotic vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz or McLaren, so the Venza will be one of the first examples of this tech trickling down to an affordable vehicle.

Cabin tech and features

Inside, the passengers will be greeted by either a 4.2- or 7-inch instrument cluster display between the crossover's analog speedo and hybrid gauges, depending on model, as well as an available 10-inch color head-up display. 

Centered on the dash is either an 8-inch color touchscreen or an optional 12.3-inch unit with available navigation. Either way, you're looking at the latest generation of Toyota's infotainment system, which is much improved but still not my favorite. Thankfully, there's standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity for those who'd prefer a third-party option and, between Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri, there are a handful of strong voice command options that allow drivers to access and control their tech in and outside of the car without ever looking at the screen.

2021 Toyota Venza

That's a big central screen, but I'm no fan of the "tablet on the dashboard look."

Toyota

There aren't many surprises in the safety tech department: The 2021 Venza, like most new Toyota models, rolls out with standard Safety Sense 2.0 kit. That means it's packing automatic precollision braking with pedestrian detection, full-speed radar cruise control, lane-departure alerts with lane-tracing steering assist and automatic high beams at night. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts are also standard features with front and rear park distance sensors with automatic braking and a new digital rearview camera mirror -- like the ones available on various GM vehicles -- available optionally.

Available in August

Just like before, the 2021 Toyota Venza will slot into Toyota's SUV lineup above the RAV4 and below the Highlander when it arrives in August of this year. Interestingly, the Venza will be imported from Japan, rather than built here in the States like Toyota's other crossovers.

Pricing hasn't been announced, but should also fall between the $28,350 RAV4 Hybrid and the Highlander Hybrid's $38,200 starting sticker.