Toyota likes to offer something for just about everybody. That’s what makes them consistently in the top two (sometimes 1st, sometimes 2nd to VW) manufacturers in the world.
So, let’s say you have your heart set on a new SUV. Perhaps the RAV4 feels too small, and the Highlander too large. No worries! Introducing the all-new 2021 Toyota Venza, as they say in the three bears…this one’s just right.
Sleek and Sophisticated
One look and you know this isn’t your Auntie’s Venza! (That model went away in 2015). While the Venza shares a chassis with the RAV4, it looks entirely different – where the RAV4 goes for a sporty, outdoorsy look, the Venza is rocking a luxury vibe, and could easily be wearing a Lexus badge.
The front has a nice sweeping flow, with slim LED headlight dipping slightly to a small upper grille. A massive lower grille is flanked by deeply contoured intakes for a look that’s fresh. All Venza models are hybrids, and you get a styling nod to that with the Toyota badge having a blue glow that’s very cool.
The profile carries the sporty executive look with a high shoulder line that slashes across to the taillights, while scooped-in doors and slightly flared fenders carry some visual muscle. 19-inch multi spoke super chrome wheels give added bling.
The taillights form a solid horizontal line across the rear, with a lower fascia that rests atop dual exhaust pipes. We’re a little surprised Toyota went with the small badges, now that almost every SUV carries the name in big epic letters across the back. Finished off in Coastal Gray Metallic, our Venza was a design that comes off elegant and upscale. It’s a pretty vehicle.
Like the outside, the Venza gives the you the big-bucks experience inside. Step in and there’s a tall center console that separates the front seats into two cozy cocoons. It gives a bit of coupe-like vibe that surrounds you with the good stuff. The driver gets a nice gauge display, while the Limited’s monstrous 12.3-inch touchscreen is there to meet your info-attainment needs.
We’re glad it’s a touchscreen for easy access, but we still missed having volume and tuning knobs. And the ignition button hangs below the center console – we kept trying to hit it on the dashboard where you usually find it. There are also soft-touch electronic controls that require a deft touch, but it does feel elegant and upscale.
The Venza makes up for any fiddly points with large comfortable seats covered in SofTex (No moo-cow leather on your hybrid, please!), a wonderful-sounding JBL audio system, and a very cool Star Gaze panoramic sunroof, that turns from opaque to transparent at the touch of a button. There’s also a power sunshade if you want even less light. Very cool.
Speaking of cool, the ventilated seats on our Limited model drew cool air from the air conditioning system into the seat for added comfort. Cooler you say? Employing S-FLOW cooling technology that first appeared on Lexus, the system directs air conditioning only to occupied seats, providing comfort and helping to reduce energy consumption.
The rear seats are comfy too, but it is worth noting that the Venza’s swoopy design eats in to the rear seat and cargo area space compared to the RAV4, but we think people opting for the style of the Venza will be okay with that compromise.
Standard Hybrid Performance
To paraphrase the old Henry Ford line, Venza comes in any powertrain option you like, as long as it’s an all-wheel-drive hybrid. Not a bad thing as this combo is excellent, we loved it in the RAV4 Hybrid, and it’s essentially the same system here.
With a combined 219 hp, you have an Atkinson Cycle 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, and three electric motors pumping out the power. The EPA says 40 mpg city, 37 highway, and 39 combined. Right on spec, our tester was getting a combined 40, which is pretty phenomenal for a big SUV that was being driven aggressively. If you want more than that you should check out the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid, which is phenomenal, if a bit expensive.
Despite our superb fuel economy, we were usually in Sport Mode – but if you decide to ease off and go Normal or Eco, you’ll see full-on EV mode more often. That makes the Venza whisper quiet – except for the space-age sound effects it projects to warn pedestrians, and the like. It’s kinda cool!
Speaking of cool, there’s Venza’s Predictive Efficient Drive (PED) that uses the navigation system operation to analyze driving habits and memorize road and traffic conditions to help optimize hybrid battery charging. Very cool!
Ride is supple and soft – it’s not trying to be an off-roader – and handling is reassuring. It’s an easy and comfortable cruiser on long trips, but nicely-sized for getting around urban environments as well, with the all-wheel-drive kicking in to keep the Toyota planted and feeling confident.
Confidence is also assured with standard Toyota’s Star Safety System and on our Limited model we also enjoyed Pre-collision with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure and Lane Keep Assist with Steering Assist, Full-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Road Sign Assist (nice to know those speed limits).
Well, it depends how deep your ladle goes into the luxury bucket. The Venza LE starts at $32,470, and with that smooth and efficient Hybrid AWD, that’s a heck of a value for a sexy SUV with loads of comfort. More luxury brings you to the XLE model at $36,000, which adds heated seats, LED lights, and more importantly Blind Spot Monitoring, Front and Rear Parking Assist with Automatic Braking and More.
Our Limited tester started at $39,800, and gives you that lovely 12.3-inch touchscreen, the very cool (sorry) heated and ventilated front seats, and more. In our tester that included the Star Gaze Fixed Panoramic Roof the goes from clear to opaque (It does not open though), for $1,400 and the Advanced Technology Package with Heads-up Display and more for $725. Add in $1,175 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $43,100.
The closest competitor really is the RAV4 Hybrid, which comes in at $38,335. So, you are paying a premium for style – but comparably equipped, the Lexus RX450h goes over $50k. So, again like the 3 bears, if a luxury hybrid SUV is your thing…. the Venza is just right.
Stylish, efficient and luxurious, the 2021 Toyota Venza is an exciting new entry in the SUV field!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.