The Venza is not a return of the Camry-based big-wheeled wagon from over a decade ago.
Depending on the year, Toyota is either the first or second-largest automaker in the world. When you are that big and major product question comes along of should we do this or do that? Often enough, the answer is “Let’s do both.” Should we stay with our truck-based mid-size SUV or do a crossover? Both. Continue with the well-selling Camry-based luxury sedan or chase after the 3-Series with a rear-drive model? Both. Base our full-size SUV off our big pickup truck or continue with the world-renown off-road legend? Both, at least until recently.
So, a few years ago there came the question of whether to redesign their compact crossover hybrid to look tougher and more truck-like, or more refined and luxurious. Well, the new RAV4 hybrid looks like a lot more butch and now we have the Venza.
It’s All RAV4 Underneath
The Venza is not a return of the Camry-based big-wheeled wagon from over a decade ago. In fact, unlike the other product questions above, this “both” answer was made easier by the fact that stripped down to its mechanicals, the Venza is a RAV4 Hybrid. That means you have a 2.5-liter inline-4 good for about 176 hp assisted by front and rear motors of 88 and 40 kW respectively. The combined power of 219 hp is controlled by a CVT and routed to Toyota’s On-Demand AWD system. You have drive modes for Sport, Eco, and Normal. The suspension is fairly conventional with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear with stabilizing bars on both ends.
Compared to the RAV4 Hybrid, the Venza is about an inch lower, weighs about 150 pounds more and its 40/37/39 (city/hwy/comb.) rating is one less mile per gallon across the board. The lower roof and sloping rear window reduce seat-up cargo space from 37.6 to 28.8 cu.ft and seat-down space from 69.8 to 55.1.
Why A Venza Over A RAV4 Hybrid?
With those downsides, what’s the point of the Venza? Well for starters, some of that extra weight goes into sound deadening; something Toyota knows a thing or two about from their Lexus division.
In fact, Lexus DNA seems to be sprinkled throughout the Venza. The interior is a much more pleasant place to be with rounded surfaces, contrast stitching, bright trim accents, and available ambient lighting. The available Star GazeTM panoramic roof features electrochromic glass technology that allows drivers to instantly switch from transparent to translucent modes with the push of a button. The RAV4, though quite up-to-date, looks practically industrial in comparison.
Outside, it is much the same story, where the RAV4 was intentionally designed to give the same tough, even brutish impression of Toyota’s truck line, the Venza is all smooth and elegant flowing lines. Even the pointy front end manages to avoid both the mean scowl of the Toyota’s trucks and the massive grille confusion of their passenger cars. The rear is even better with the thin full-width LED taillights aping Porsche and definitely communicating “luxury brand”.
Well-Equipped And Refined
The Venza backs up its upscale looks with some standard upscale features. Start with remote keyless entry and start, and an 8” touch screen that is Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa compatible. You have an electronic parking brake with brake hold and Smart Stop.