The Venza has returned, though it never left much of an imprint on its first run. The original (2009-2015) was discontinued based on poor sales and struggle to compete in its segment. But it’s back, potentially with a vengeance!
This time it is assembled in Japan, and is in fact a rebranded Japanese Toyota Harrier, brought stateside. Now based on the RAV4 platform and limited to hybrid AWD as the only option, it is setting out to carve its own niche like the Prius before it. Does it succeed? Time will tell, but I can hedge some bets.
Out of Spec Score: 73/100
The Harrier is a sleek bird-of-prey in Asia, and I suppose I see ties to aviary design in the front fascia. This Venza actually looks quite Lexus to me, and the Harrier was actually rebranded before, here in the US as a Lexus RX around the turn of the millennia, which means this technically has Lexus roots, aside from the fact Lexus IS Toyota. Confused yet? I sure am. The front DRL/signals are a unique wave of LED that flows into the grill area.
The taillights are also sleek, but the rear turn signals were almost entirely an afterthought, being places way down at the bottom of the bumper. Everything about this Venza is sleek, though you can see vague similarity to its brother RAV4 in the proportions and distinct Toyota design ethos. Where the RAV4 took a rugged approach, the Venza focused on smooth lines, sharp creases, and elegance. This is true for inside and out, but the outside really takes the majority of the cake, giving it a score of 8/10.
Again, the lines start to blur between Lexus and Toyota here. It looks good, almost great. There’s some nice materials, but still a fair amount of plastic and not enough seamless integration of materials. It’s no Lexus, but it is on the better end of Toyota interiors. But the first glance did almost fool me like the exterior.
It’s spacious enough, and the glass roof makes it feel even bigger. The glass roof, aptly named “Star Gaze Roof”, packs a feature only found in some luxurious cars, being an electrochromic glass. It’s a $1,400 option, but absolutely awesome. With the press of a button, an electric charge will convert the normal tinted panoramic sunroof into a diffused, nearly opaque sheet of clouded glass. It’s a marvel of engineering, especially on a car like this.
Even on the Limited trim, the rear seats aren’t heated, but they are comfortable and have leg room to spare. The biggest disappointment is the combination of piano black on the capacitive buttons for the infotainment and HVAC controls. You have no dials to adjust volume, temperature, etc. and I find that very disappointing. However, it’s not a deal-breaker, and that insanely cool glass roof helps offset the negatives. I’ll grant it a 7/10.
219 hp and 163 lb ft aren’t big numbers, arguably not big enough for this car. It’s more than the original Venza base engine, but less than what its V6 had to offer. But the hybrid drivetrain helps with immediate torque, and it did handle most tasks I asked of it.
The power-plant is a 2.5L i4 mated to 2 electric motors up front, 1 in the rear, allowing for automatic electric assist AWD. It is advertised with 39 mpg combined, or 40 city, 37 highway. Though we found those to be fairly conservative, which is nice for the buyer.
It drives quite similarly to a Prius, just larger in scale. The exact same brake pedal feel, where you can feel when it switches to regenerated vs. real hard braking. It has the typical CUV body roll, but I found it fine for most driving conditions. It definitely felt a bit quicker than some other CUVs in this segment, but still left a lot to be desired when met with any increased change in elevation. Downhill with a tailwind is ideal, but not easy to find, so I can’t in good conscience give it more than a 6.5/10.
This is one of the biggest strengths of the Venza and subsequently my highest rated category. It is larger than many other CUVs in its class, such as the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue. It has more than adequate storage capacity for most scenarios, thought interestingly not as much storage as the RAV4 with which it shares a platform. This is actually due to the sloping, sleeker roof line and back end. The storage figures are 28.8 ft³, or 55.1 ft³ with seats folded, which felt like plenty of space for a road trip involving 4 people, or even a run to Costco.
Another huge proponent in practicality was the efficiency. The 37/40 figure was quite impressive for a CUV, but again, understated in the benefit of the buyer. In testing, we got even higher averages, bringing it shockingly close to 50mpg. That truly is Prius territory, and it still hasn’t registered mentally that a vehicle this size gets gas mileage that good. I’m happy to report 8.5/10 as the practical ranking.
Another good number on the Venza scoreboard, I found it quite comfortable. I’d happily jump in the driver’s seat and head across Kansas. Well maybe not happily, but at least I’d be comfortable. Heated and cooled seats, the heated steering wheel, good climate control, it all kept me cozy. Some people will be underwhelmed with the seat temperatures, as they tend to be “warm or ventilated” rather than heat or cold extremes. I do wish the steering wheel was heated at more than just the 9 and 3 positions, but I suppose that’s the most common hand placement. The door and center console had decent soft-touch leather too.
The back seat also impressed me, as I could “sit behind myself” with plenty of room to spare. That’s not always the case with CUVs, and I could see myself back there for a road trip as well. The center seat was mediocre, and you still have the transmission tunnel in the way. The rear vents were existent, but somewhat lackluster and only tiny central vents stemming from the center console. However, it’s generally a comfortable place to be for both short and long excursions, placing it at a relatively cozy 7/10.
I would consider this “fully loaded”. It has all the technological bells and whistles I would expect from Toyota, though not quite reaching above and beyond like some of the higher end cars it tries to fit in with. You’ll find the user interface and user experience to be decently sorted, but not exactly flashy or “crisply cutting edge”. Springing for the Titanium trim grants you the 12.3” display, and I would highly recommend it if possible. The wide real estate helps with showing more useful information without needing much squinting. I do wish you could customize it further with exactly what takes up what half/third of the screen, but their default offerings are adequate. I found myself making the map as big as possible and moving it to the side closest to me.
I also wish the map could be added to the screen on the gauge cluster. There is a lot of information that can be scrolled through, such as safety features, power management information, radar cruise, and more. I think there’s over a dozen different screens, some of which are repetitive to the main screen and HUD. Speaking of HUD, or “Heads Up Display”, that’s a fantastic piece of tech on this car, and possibly my favorite. It’s simple, but shows radar cruise info, speed limit, and speedometer which is most all I’d need to know at a glance.
Like many other Toyota models, the premium sound system gives you JBL branding, and it is quite good. The bass isn’t super strong, but it is tight, provided by the small subwoofer in the trunk. Highs and mids are clear and precise. This can all be powered by Sirius XM (short free trial) or Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, USB, the list is long. You even have a wireless charging pad for your phone, which can be turned on and off with its own physical switch. I felt like I had most all the tech I would need, if only its control was a bit easier. Let’s settle at 8/10.
Connected Services 7/10
The Venza carries its weight in an obsessively connected world. It has Toyota’s Safety Connect and Remote Connect, both with 1-year trials, Service Connect with 10-year trial, and Wi-Fi Connect with up to 2 GB within 3-month trial. Destination Assist is then an option on the Limited trim, giving you 24/7 access to an agent to provide directions anywhere. Safety, Remote, and Destination are then $80/year after the first year, and Service Connect can only be renewed after 10 years if another service is bundled with it, at which point it is lumped in. The Wi-Fi Connect is dependent on AT&T costs. So you get lots of connection, but at a price, albeit not bad compared to some of the competition like Audi.
All of this can be controlled/managed by the Toyota App, which can also allow you to lock/unlock and start your car remotely. The services will cost up to $240/year, plus the $20/mo for Wi-Fi after all free trials are depleted. That is a decent sum of money, but it is nice that you can pick a la carte. I’ll service this category with a 7/10.
Active Safety 8/10
Like most manufacturers, Toyota loads all trims with Active Safety features. There are quite a few present, including the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS). This provides pre-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, which I did not attempt to test. But judging by the precision of radar cruise, I trust it does its job. There is also lane departure alert with steering assist and lane tracing assist, which worked quite well. The wheel vibrates and a subtle alarm will trigger if you have your hands off the wheel for too long.
The Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control is a mouthful, but it’s fortunately much easier to use than it is reciting the name. It performed very well, with the exception of certain following scenarios. A few times it would lock on to the car in front of it, and then that car would change lanes, leaving the Venza to speed back up to the speed limit only to slam on the brakes approaching a traffic light when it finds another car suddenly stopped in front of it. It still kept me safe, though not without losing some nerve. Otherwise, all safety features work as expected, and bring some ease of mind to the average commute. I can safely say this earns an 8/10.
Given that all trims are hybrid AWD, I would say any of the trims are good enough. You do get a lot of neat features with higher end models, but I think it’s still a bargain with a base model, starting at around $31,000. The RAV4 Hybrid does start a bit cheaper, but the Venza leans towards the luxurious feel more than the RAV4, and begs for the slightly premium price to match.
It reminds me a lot of the of the latest Mazda products, blending luxury into what is otherwise a standard price segment for decent CUV’s. As tested, ours was a Limited trim with a total price of around $43,000. I’d still consider it a good value, and the base model even more so, as it packs a good amount of features into a good price tag. If you don’t need the space of a CUV, you can find equal features in a cheaper sedan or hatchback, but that’s up to you. For what it is, I’ll give it a 7/10.
Editors Influence 6/10
I like it. I don’t love it, but I can definitely recommend it depending on the person. The RAV4, at least for me personally, has a few things I like more, but I see this having more luxurious influence that many would value. The Venza is a beautiful design, and I think it’s different enough from both the competition as well as Toyota’s internal lineup of CUV/SUV options to have its place. Though it’s not for me, it gives me fond memories of my 2010 Prius and the practicality therein. If you have a preference to budget luxury and want stunning gas mileage to go with it, look no further, but my editor’s heart is telling me to choose a 6/10. I don’t love it, but I like it.