Toyota invited us out to preview its new for 2009 Venza. Toyota bills the Venza as "car-optimized," refusing to call it a wagon or a crossover. Curiously, Toyota expects the Venza to be compared with the Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, and Nissan Murano, all of which are crossovers. If you're judged by the caliber of your enemies, I'd say that makes the Venza a crossover as well.
The Venza shares its platform--and, as a result, many of its dimensions--with Toyota's breadwinner, the Camry. While both vehicles are about the same length, the Venza is both wider and taller than the sedan, with more ground clearance to boot.
It's interesting that Toyota compared the Venza with the Ford Edge, because the Venza looks like the offspring of an Edge and a Camry. Look closely at the proportions and--most strikingly--the headlamp and grill combination, and you'll see what we mean.
Updated:Caption:Antuan GoodwinPhoto:Toyota Motor Corporation/Ford Motor Company
We got the keys to a four-cylinder model first. Nineteen inch wheels are standard at this trim level. The large wheels give the Venza a sporty stance and, at first glance, make the vehicle look smaller in proportion.
On the road, the Venza displayed the Toyota-typical overboosted steering, which means that it can be piloted with nearly zero steering effort. For those used to vehicle with a weightier wheel, the Venza will feel a bit squirrelly at low speeds, but Electronic Power Steering dials back the assist at highway speeds for a more stable feel.
Under the hood, the Venza features a new 2.7-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. This new powerplant makes 182 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. While this may be enough power to get the Venza from point A to B, the engine feels a bit overworked in a vehicle this big.
Floor the pedal and the standard six-speed automatic transmission will leisurely downshift and you'll be greeted with a loud, vacuum-cleaner engine note, but the acceleration will be absent.
On a positive note, the engine does manage 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Like many crossovers, the Venza's size becomes evident when viewed from the rear-quarter. That extra bulk isn't for naught, as the Venza features about 70 cubic feet of space behind the front seats. The Venza's liftgate configuration gives it a load-in height that's lower than the Camry.
Inside, our Venza was equipped with leather seating, touch screen navigation, and the JBL audio system. We really liked the Venza's interior aesthetic, which featured interestingly textured soft plastics and brushed metal highlights to compliment leather seats.
At the top of the dash, we find the Venza's multi-information display. The MID is home to secondary information such as time, temperature, climate control, and fuel economy. For vehicles equipped with a backup camera but no navigation, the full color MID is also home to the camera's feed.
The Venza can be equipped with the sixth-generation of Toyota's navigation software, but unfortunately the system is still DVD-based. The system features a four-disc, in-dash, MP3/WMA playback capable CD changer with integrated satellite radio with XM NavTraffic.
In a separate menu, another device can be paired--or the same device repaired-- for music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. We were able to connect our T-Mobile Shadow rather easily once we'd found the correct menu.
The Venza's center console offers plenty of cubby holes and gadget pockets. With the leather interior, the console has this attractive wood finish. With the cloth interior, the Venza's console gets a faux carbon-fiber trim that is a bit of an eyesore.
Funnily, the feature of the Venza's interior that intrigued us the most was the cable management, which allowed for the connection of MP3 players or charging of cell phones, while keeping the cables tucked away in the center console.
Producing 268 horsepower at 6,200rpm and 246 pound-feet of torque at 4,700rpm, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine feels better suited to the Venza's weight, featuring better acceleration with less drama than the inline-four.
In this configuration, the Venza will go 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
Both the V-6 and four-cylinder Venzas stayed fairly flat in the turns, thanks to a slightly stiff suspension. However, riders will have to pay the piper over rough roads where the suspension transmits a good deal of the bumps into the cabin. The ride isn't what we'd call harsh, but if the Venza isn't going to be fast, we'd like the big Toyota to at least be smooth.
Adding the lighting package includes HID Xenon headlamps with an auto-highbeam feature that uses this mirror mounted camera to detect when vehicles are approaching to automatically deactivate the brights.
The 2009 Toyota Venza V-6 is making its way onto showroom floors now, with the four-cylinder model coming available in January 2009. Pricing starts at $27,800 for the V-6 and $25,975 for the I-4. Both engines can be mated to an all-wheel drive system derived from the RAV-4 for an additional $1,450.