2023 Toyota Venza XLE Nightshade review by Ben Lewis

Toyota is a brand that likes to offer something for everybody. From sports cars like the Supra and GR86 to the massive Tundra truck, there’s a vehicle for you. And when it comes to SUV’s, you’re really spoiled for choice, with the Highlander, RAV4, Sequoia, Corolla Cross, bZ4X EV, 4Runner.

And the subject of our test, the Venza. So, what sets it apart from its family members and the competition? Let’s take a look.

It’s a Looker

First glance tells you this is one of Toyota’s most handsome vehicles. Up front, the lines are very clean and remind us of the Mirai Hydrogen vehicle. There a very sleek and stylish line with slender LED headlights and a chrome garnish that spans the width below. Underneath is a large grille while side vents pooch out at the sides to give some visual width. Our tester got some added bling, thanks to being a Nightshade Edition, and that includes with unique acrylic front grille trim and lower bumpers framed by smoked chrome moldings.

The profile continues the sleek look with a small coupe-like greenhouse, flared fenders and a pinched centerline that gives off an athletic vibe. Nightshade Editions feature handsome 19-inch gloss-black multi-spoke rims, and while they look great, the size of the wheel wells looks like you could put in a 20 or 21-inch wheel if you wanted to mess around with things.

The rear echoes the front’s simple lines with an LED taillight strip that travels the width of the rear, while a lower fascia with smoked chrome molding sits atop sporty dual exhaust pipes. Finishing off the look, our tester was classy in its Ruby Flare Red, one of three colors offered for Nightshade models. It’s a rich deep color that adds to the Venza’s upscale ambience.

Modern and Luxurious Cabin

Inside, the Venza continues the upscale vibe. It’s a cozy one, too with a tall center console that separates the front seats, while a thick steering wheel and stubby shift lever fall right to hand. Keeping the hybrid-eco ethos, you won’t find leather seats, but the SofTex vinyl does an excellent impersonation, and the seats are power adjustable and well-padded for a very comfy perch. The rear seats are comfortable as well, but we should point out that it’s a bit less roomy than the RAV4 which the Venza shares running gear. The price you pay for that swoopy design.

You’ll find no problem with the tech – a handsome analog gauge display is crisp and clear, with a 7-inch color digital display that serves up key hybrid info, including driver system output and regeneration status to encourage eco-driving habits. The display even suggests the optimal acceleration amount for eco driving and provides a game-like scoring function for the driver.

Infotainment comes courtesy of a 12.3-inch touchscreen display with controls that can be switched between driver or front passenger operation. The only miss – we would have liked a traditional volume knob.

You do get other cool goodies – just say “Hey Toyota” and you can dial up all sorts of things including your favorite Sirius XM channel, which is handy. You also get wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa compatibility, and wireless charging.

The big showstopper on the interior is the optional Star Gaze Fixed Panoramic Roof, that turns from opaque to transparent at the touch of a button. Never fails to wow your passengers! There’s also a power sunshade if you want even less light. Very cool.

Speaking of cool, on higher grade trims than our XLE, the Venza even employs 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 Happy Hybrid

Driving the Venza is another high point.

While it shares much of its chassis and running gear with the RAV4 Hybrid, it’s definitely designed to be more relaxed and luxurious than outdoorsy. All Venzas are hybrids and come with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine plus three electric motors for a maximum of 219 horsepower.

Cruising along in EV mode is whisper quiet, and even when the 4-cyl gas motor kicks in it’s smooth, only getting a little noisy when you really give it the spurs. But with that low end torque from the electric motors, you seldom need to push it hard. The big calling card here is the efficiency, with an EPA estimate of 40 mpg city, and 37 mpg highway. For a large AWD SUV that is impressive.

The suspension is definitely skewed to the comfort side, and this is an easy, relaxing ride. Toyota put a lot of effort to making the Venza quiet and it shows. The large well-padded front seats mean long trips are easy peasy, and the Venza is that “just right” size that makes it easy to park and maneuver around.

Thanks to one of the electric motors mounted on the rear axle, all Venza’s are AWD, so handling is confident with plenty of grip. Braking is also notably good, with no lurching or uneven brake feel that you can feel from some hybrids as they use regenerative braking to help charge the hybrid system.

Certain to be a family vehicle, the Venza comes standard with Safety Sense 2.5+ which includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, Dynamic radar cruise control, Lane departure alert with steering assist, Lane tracing assist, Road sign assist, and blind spot monitor. You feel well looked after.

Great Value

Running the numbers shows excellent value, too. The entry-level Venza LE starts at just $34,120 – for a spacious, efficient, and stylish SUV with standard hybrid and AWD, that is a very smart buy. Our Nightshade model is the mid-level trim and starts at $38,930. So well equipped, our only option was the $1,400 Panoramic Roof. Add in $1,335 for delivery, and we rang the bell at $41,665.

While you’re shopping, we’d also look at the new CR-V Hybrid at $39,845 that features more of a rugged look. The Kia Sorrento is a stylish vehicle and comes in around $39,000 but it does have a smaller 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder and is front wheel drive.  And of course the sibling RAV4 Hybrid which is a little smaller and a little more truckier, at $42,205. All are great choices; but we think if you’re looking for upscale style and luxury vibe the Venza gets the nod.

Stylish, spacious, smooth and ultra-efficient, the 2023 Toyota Venza hybrid is a great all-around SUV!