From the quirky Scion brand up to the Prius and FJ Cruiser, Toyota Motor Corporation now offers one of the broadest vehicle lineups in its history, but its latest model literally stands in a class by itself. New for 2009, the Toyota Venza is a vehicle that defies definition by taking the best aspects of almost every vehicle segment and lumping them altogether in one vehicle. Although Toyota refers to the Venza as a car and the design is quite similar to a large hatchback, the 2009 Toyota Venza is probably closest related to either a station wagon or a crossover. In theory, the Venza will likely be cross-shopped against vehicles such as the Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, Volvo XC70 and the all-new 2010 Honda Accord Crosstour, but Toyota is betting on the ambiguous nature of the Venza to avoid stereotypes and fill an unknown segment.
Assembled in Georgetown, Ky. alongside the Toyota Camry and Avalon, the 2009 Venza is only available in the United States and Canada with domestic pricing starting at $25,975. Most automakers have gotten used to using confusing trim levels on new cars, but the 2009 Venza is only available in four trim levels based on engine size and which wheels the engine is powering (Venza 2WD, Venza V-6 2WD, Venza AWD and Venza V-6 AWD). Like the Lexus RX 450h we reviewed last week, the Toyota's option packages do a good job of adding adequate luxury, technology and convenience items but all at a stiff price raising our Venza V-6's starting MSRP from $27,800 up to $37,485. If the polarizing looks of the Venza don't scare away potential consumers, that kind of pricing on a front-wheel drive, five-seater definitely will. In the end, the Venza is a noticeable, gap-filling vehicle, which is exactly what Toyota was going for.
2009 Toyota Venza Exterior
Love it or hate it, the Venza manages a much more creative design than the conservative styling of the Camry and Corolla, which is a good thing considering its vague target market. Surprisingly, the first thing we noticed was the massive 20-inch wheels tucked into the wheel openings, but it is the Venza's overall shape that gives it attitude. Essentially, the Venza is basically a station wagon version of the Camry with a much more exciting design that includes a dip in the front grille that houses the large Toyota emblem, the widely sculpted wheel arches and the pseudo-Bangle butt incorporated just under the liftgate glass. One of the most striking aspects of the Venza's design is that is able to maintain greenhouse shape similar to a sedan with a sloping roofline that is capped by a thick D-pillar. Our test car even managed to balance a sporty and elegant look with its Barcelona Red Metallic paint hue, the aforementioned five-spoke dubs, chrome-tipped dual exhaust outlets and being accented by chrome and aluminum trim on the door handles, window belt molding and the roof rack. If the design and layout of the Venza weren't confusing enough for those looking to label it, the truck-like 8.1 inches of ground clearance is a half foot taller than the RAV4 (and identical to the Highlander), but the unique rocker panel design (similar to the Ford Flex) prevents the step-in height from being cumbersome.
2009 Toyota Venza Interior
The modern trend among crossovers is to cram a third-row bench seat in the back even if logic (and space) suggest otherwise, but Toyota opted to focus on offering a cabin that is comfortable and accommodating for five passengers rather than jeopardizing comfort by adding a third row. Even though the Venza rides on wheelbase that is identical to the Camry and is slightly shorter than the sedan, the interior is surprisingly spacious for all five passengers. The stylish design of the interior seemed more similar to the Lexus models we've driven in the past rather than Toyotas. Our favorite part of the interior is the center console that features a pair of sliding panels that opened up a deep storage compartment and also has spring-loaded clip to hold a cell phone or mobile MP3 player. The latter convenience is made even better thanks to an auxiliary jack and power outlet hidden inside the center console so they can be attached to the mobile device without having cables running all over the place.
Not only was the layout of the cabin innovative and stylish, but thanks to two main option packages, the Venza we tested was also very luxurious. First up is a $2,590 option that adds touch-screen, DVD-based navigation and a 13-speaker JBL Synthesis surround system. This package also includes a four-disc in-dash CD/MP3/WMA changer and Bluetooth steaming audio. Moving up to a pricier package, the $4,345 Premium Package #2 gives the Venza its luxurious look and feel with tan leather seats, that feature stylish black piping, and Satin Mahogany wood inlays on the center console, doors and shift lever. The Premium package also adds Smart Key with push button starting, heated front seats, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps and a back-up camera.
As is the case with most fully loaded family vehicles, the Toyota Venza offers a DVD rear seat entertainment system mounted to the roof. While most roof-mounted systems increase the entertainment for rear-seat passengers, the drop-down screen usually ends up blocking the driver's view out of the rearview mirror. Thankfully, this is not the case with the Venza due to the tall roofline and compact size of the entertainment system which also houses the DVD slot. This $1,680 option includes a nine-inch display screen, two wireless headsets and a set of RCA jacks mounted in the cargo area - which also houses both 12-volt 120-watt AC and 100-watt DC power outlets.
To better enjoy the rear seat entertainment system, both sections of the rear seat are able to recline individually to offer a more relaxed seating position. With a full load of passengers, the cargo area of the Venza can hold 34.4 cubic feet of gear, but the 60/40 split rear seat easily folds down to increase the cargo area up to 70.1 cubic feet. The seats can either be folded flat using the side handles or the one-touch levers in the cargo area. There is even a small, plastic-lined cubby hole beneath the cargo load floor for storage of dirty or wet items.
2009 Toyota Venza Performance & Handling
Under the hood, our test model received the optional 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivers surprising acceleration with 268 horsepower and 246 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, the front-wheel drive system this model was equipped with seemed more tuned for the inline-4 offering as it was prone to breaking the front tires loose under heavy acceleration despite the attempted intervention of Venza's standard traction control system. All-wheel drive is available on the Venza for an additional $1,450 and would easily remedy this concern. Regardless of the engine, the sole transmission option is a six-speed automatic with the ever-present manual- and sport-shifting modes. This particular drivertrain combination delivers EPA fuel economy estimates of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway (inline-4 increases to 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, while all-wheel drive shaves 1 mpg off all estimates).
From the moment the Venza pulled up at our door with its gleaming 20-inch alloy wheels, we questioned just how rough its ride quality would be on average road surfaces, and we weren't really surprised when we experienced the poor ride we were almost expecting. You'd think if Ford can engineer the Edge to smoothly accept 22-inch wheels, Toyota could do the same for the Venza's large wheel options. Handling, on the other hand, was more impressive thanks in large part to the electronic power steering and four-wheel independent suspension. Not only does the Venza avoid the feeling of being top heavy, but the respectable 3,870-pound curb weight resulted in a neutral handling capability. When it comes to towing, the Toyota Venza sits about in the middle of most similarly sized minivans and crossovers offering a 3,500-pound towing capacity on V-6 models equipped with the trailer tow package.
2009 Toyota Venza Safety
Toyota has been on quite a roll when it comes to safety lately as is evident by the nine Toyota vehicles chosen as 2009 Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); the 2009 Venza among them. Likewise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found favorable results in crash testing the Venza by giving it a five-star rating in front- and side-impact protection and four-star ratings in rollover avoidance. All 2009 Toyota Venza models come standard with seven airbags and Toyota's Star Safety Systemâ„¢ which includes vehicle stability control, traction control, four-wheel disc ABS and electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist.
Toyota may have hit the nail on the head with its all-new 2009 Venza by not directly hitting any nail on the head. There are at least four different segments that the Venza could fit into, but in the end it offers a car-like ride with the size and versatility of a crossover. Besides blurring the lines between station wagon, crossover and hatchback, the Toyota Venza also delivers a luxurious cabin and unique, distinctive styling.