Toyota Venza: Pretty Practical

by The Car Family

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This new and very different Toyota has a place in the driveway for those who find the Highlander too tall, the Lexus RX too expensive, and the Sienna too vanny. For a starting price of $26,000 you can order a vehicle that is not only difficult to categorize, but one that is difficult to evaluate. The reason is simple, this is a very large crossover with a Lexus like feel and yet it is noisy and ponderous. Indeed, this was not our favorite Toyota. The huge tires created a steady hum, the very expensive luxury option package was overly complicated and the rear seats did not fold flat and you even had to remove the headrests to get them to fold at all.

The Venza feels big even though it is the same size as a Camry, abeit lower, and is the same width and about the same price as a Highlander. In other words, it is high, wide, and and weights nearly as much as the Highlander. Interestingly, it also has a larger turning radius with the Venza needing a vast 39 ft. to turn, which makes it difficult in tight parking garages. You really need that optional rear view screen when you buy the Venza due to the poor visibility to the back and sides.

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There are two engine choices, the best being the 2.7-liter four-cylinder that provides an ample 182 horsepower with real world gas mileage about 23 mpg. The 3.5-liter V6 makes 268 hp and you can expect about 21 mpg, but if you order the all wheel drive model go with the larger engine. With the 17 plus gallon tank you can easily go over 400 miles on the highway with either engine.

Cargo space is 70 cubic feet while the Highlander gives you 95. What we are tying to say is that the Highlander is more car for the money, and you have the optional third row of seating. However, the Venza is sleeker, lower, and has a much better interior. We think it should appeal to those who find the Camry to common and the Highlander boring. We don’t think it is going to be a big seller, but its looks appealed to a lot of people and they may be enough to justify its success.

Mom’s view: I did not like the poor visibility and the large turning radius. This is not a car for city dwellers who don’t have their own parking spaces. You sit high, but you can’t see the Venza’s front end. The GPS is not the best and we found it difficult to use, and the stereo and the dual-zone HVAC controls require patience to master. The screen is easy to read, but the map symbols are too small and the whole thing is overly complicated.

Driving the Venza, even with the V6, is dull. The brakes are soft, the handling soft, and the acceleration is soft. The road noise from the 20 inch tires is tiring. Essentially, this is a Camry station wagon and yet the Camry is much more responsive. But the Venza interior, ah, the interior. It is lovely. There is a center console that provides for all types of storage and the shifter is high and easy to reach. However, there isn’t much feel to. You can easily carry five adults in comfort and the Venza is loaded with standard equipment. The base model includes 19-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver seat, 60/40 rear seat, auto-dimming rear view mirror, universal garage-door opener, cruise control, trip computer and a stereo with CD changer and auxiliary audio input.

Nevertheless, there is an abundance on options on the Venza that are mostly grouped into packages. I highly recommend the power tailgate and rear view camera. The HID headlamps are above average and the sound system may appeal to some with its 13-speakers and Bluetooth and satellite radio. Those who want to stupefy their children by having them stare at a movie while traveling can order the rear-seat DVD entertainment system.

Safety wise the Venza comes standard with four-wheel anti lock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and front-seat active head restraints.

The new Venza looks great, but it wasn’t my cup of tea due to its ponderous driving feel and lack of crispness. If you are coming from a SUV you will probably feel right at home.

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Young working woman’s view: An interesting vehicle and one with appeal in its appearance and utility, the Venza, nevertheless there is a lot that needs more thought. For example, the optional 10.2 inch screen for the flip-down DVD player blocks the rear view mirror. The electric power steering feels disconnected and the Venza requires a very large turning radius. If you use the wireless DVD player the signal can interfere with the stereo radio volume. The middle rear seat needs more padding and the air conditioning/heating ducts are placed so that the steering wheel intercepts the flow. The center console has the transmission shifter mounted near the dash and this leaves lots of room for cupholders, iPods. There is even a special compartment for MP3 players and the like. Despite all the room for storage, there is no handy space for your purse as there was in the early model RX. Indeed, that model remains the best use of interior space of any vehicle we have ever tested.

The noise from the large side mirrors and large tires creates a din at highway speed and the seats aren’t that comfortable for me. I think larger people would enjoy them more. The Venza does not isolate you from the feel of the road although large bumps are clearly felt.

Finally, the Venza, despite its size, does not have a third row of seating. For that you need to go to the Highlander. The good news is that space can be put to good use for hauling practically anything this side of a sofa/chesterfield,couch,davenport and it even enables backseat passengers to recline their seats. There are 70 cubic feet of storage in back and the floor is level when the rear seats are folded down.

I would not buy the Venza for three reasons. First, it has large blind spots and is not easy to park. Secondly, the brakes and steering feel are too soft. Finally, it is attractive inside and out, but the pricing with the options I like push the cost way past that of a RAV 4, which holds more and gets similar fuel mileage.I also think that the speedometer font is too small.

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Young working male’s view: I just didn’t find the stereo system up to snuff. The controls for the air conditioning and heating could easily be simplified, and you really need to remove the rear headrests and make sure the optional rear seat monitor is up or your limited rear mirror vision is even more limited. The wireless system works well, since I work making some of the lowest priced American open source computers and servers for http://eracks.com/ I wonder why no computer input port?

The large tires look good, but they are going to cost a bundle to replace and they are not quiet riding. Here is my thumbnail about the Venza; stick with the basic model, engine, front wheel drive, skip the options except the automatic rear door closer and rear view camera and drive carefully. It is good looking, handy, and won’t cause you to lose any points off of your driver’s license.

Dad’s view: The Venza and the Saab are two of the few cars that cater to pets. You can order a rear hatch pet ramp for easy loading and unloading, a leash tether for securing pets in the vehicle, a pet booster seat with harness, a first/second row or cargo area pet barrier, pet seatbelt buckles and rear seat zip line-style harnesses as well as waterproof and removable hammock-style seat covers for this Toyota. That says it all about the Venza. A fine suburban commuter for family and man’s best friend. It won’t challenge or offend you. Sort of pretty, but certainly practical.

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There are two engine choices, a new 2.7-liter, 182-horsepower inline-four and a 3.5-liter, 268 horsepower V-6. The base engine is adequate, except for those Venza’s with all wheel drive. For that model step-up to the V-6. Towing limits are 2500 pounds for the four-cylinder and 1000 more for the larger powerplant. In either case the six-speed automatic transmission is excellent.

The major drawback to driving the Venza is its handling. It is very vague and the use of large tires does little to improve it cornering, but harshens the ride. The brake feel is adequate, but I would like more action early on when depressing the pedal.

No doubt this is a great grocery getter and the high sitting position, wide doors, and easy entry and exit height make it a natural for both families with young children and older folks. In other words, for those usually not needing to push the speed limit. Other than that this is a great car/wagon/crossover/SUV.

Family conference: The Venza draws a fair amount of attention and is price well. Thus it has the earmarks of another success for Toyota. It does have shortcomings, the worst of which is the lack of visibility and the noise from the engine, tires, and side mirrors. By the way, we all loved the large size of those mirrors and were very willing to turn up the stereo a bit to cancel out the wind noise. The Venza may not be easy to classify, but for many it is going to offer the best combination of fuel mileage, cargo capacity, and reliability. You might also consider the Subaru Forester, the Nissan Murano, and the Ford Edge. Or, Toyota’s own RAV4.

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