by Jared Rosenholtz
It's been a few years since the Venza was last sold but with nearly every other automaker reviving old nameplates, it's no surprise that Toyota has decided to bring it back. Last time around, the Venza was based on a lifted version of the Camry platform. Now, it sits on the Toyota New Global Architecture, which underpins models like the RAV4, but instead of cannibalizing sales within the brand, is targeted at two-row midsize crossovers like the Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. You can think of it as a shortened Highlander with two rows.
Though longer overall than the RAV4, the Venza's proportions don't really feel midsize like those aforementioned models. Instead, its proportions feel quite comparable to the compact RAV4 only the Venza looks more coupe-like and has a more plush, almost Lexus-like interior. Even the drivetrain, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a hybrid system, is shared with the RAV4 Hybrid, giving the Venza 219 horsepower. You could argue that the Venza is the perfect midpoint between the Toyota RAV4 and a Lexus NX. But with the NX being long overdue for a replacement, the Venza may actually be the better choice over its Lexus counterpart.
The Toyota Venza is an all-new arrival for the 2021 model year. Available solely as a hybrid with an electronic on-demand all-wheel-drive system, the efficient Venza's powertrain is wrapped in a stylish midsize crossover body, positioning it above the RAV4 and below the Highlander within the brand's range. It rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform which Toyota says is expected to achieve top NHTSA safety ratings. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and three electric motors produce a combined 219 horsepower, transferred via an electronic Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT) to all wheels. Inside, the two-row crossover features available equipment like a 12.3-inch touchscreen interface, a nine-speaker audio system, a 10-inch color head-up display, and new Star Gaze panoramic moonroof.
With its sloping roofline, the Venza has less boxy proportions than its similarly sized RAV4 sibling. The smooth lines remind of a Lexus, which is no bad thing, and elements like the smart LED DRLs in front and the horizontally stretched taillights do just enough to give it a personality of its own. The base LE rides on 18-inch alloy wheels and has a black rear spoiler, a hands-free power liftgate, and auto-folding mirrors. Higher up in the range, the Venza gets larger 19-inch alloy wheels and projector LED headlights, as well as body-color spoilers and body trim.
Although classified as a midsize crossover by Toyota, the Venza isn't much bigger than the RAV4, sharing the same wheelbase and width, while being lower. The Venza is a couple of inches longer, though, with a length of 186.6 inches, though that's mostly because of the front- and rear-end designs. It is 73 inches wide, has a wheelbase of 105.9 inches, and a height of 65.9 inches including the antenna. The Venza has a maximum ground clearance of 7.8 inches. With a starting curb weight of 3,847 pounds, the Venza is 92 lbs heavier than the lightest RAV4 Hybrid. The range-topping Venza Limited weighs in at 3,913 lbs.
The Venza can be had in a choice of seven colors in what is a mostly conservative color palette. These include Coastal Gray Metallic, Titanium Glow, and Blueprint. Added-cost shades are Blizzard Pearl, Celestial Black (not available on the LE), and the more vibrant Ruby Flare Pearl. Black can also be chosen at no extra cost, but it isn't compatible with the Limited trim. Our tester wore Ruby Flare Pearl, which is by far the most eye-catching color available.
The combination of the Venza's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and three electric motors generates a combined 219 horsepower, exactly the same output as the RAV4 Hybrid. On its own, the four-pot makes 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque, obviously tuned for efficiency rather than outright power. Electric power is rated at 118 hp/149 lb-ft in front and 54 hp/89 lb-ft at the back. Power is transferred to all four wheels via the standard on-demand all-wheel-drive system. Although Toyota does not quote performance figures, the RAV4 Hybrid has been shown to hit 60 mph in around 7.5 seconds, so we estimate that the slightly heavier Venza should be able to do the same in just under eight seconds.
The Venza is only available with one powertrain. The hybrid combines three electric motors with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder DOHC engine to produce a combined 219 hp, with the gas engine making 176 hp and 163 lb-ft on its own. Electric motor output is rated at 118 hp/149 lb-ft in front and 54 hp/89 lb-ft at the back. Toyota says that the lithium-ion battery, which is installed below the rear seats, is a more efficient design than the nickel-metal hydride battery used in some previous hybrids. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) is used and features a sequential shift mode. It all combines to provide the Venza with reasonable responsiveness and power off the line and around town. An EV driving mode is available for driving on electric power alone for short distances at low speeds.
We would have liked to see Toyota incorporate the plug-in hybrid drivetrain out of the RAV4 Prime or the gutsier system out of the Highlander Hybrid. These powertrains would increase total output to 302 or 243 hp respectively. Toyota likely chose the 219 hp output to achieve the best fuel efficiency and to save the more powerful drivetrains for the Lexus brand. As for the RAV4 Prime, its PHEV system is already suffering from production delays, so adding a second model with a plug likely wasn't in the cards for Toyota.
Predictably, the new Venza drives much like the last RAV4 Hybrid we tested. Sharing the same drivetrain and platform tends to do that. This isn't to say that the two are identical. With the Venza, Toyota has added more sound-deadening materials, improving one of our most significant gripes with the RAV4 Hybrid, its road noise. On the highway, the Venza feels considerably quieter than its more mainstream sibling. We'd never call it sporty but thanks to MacPherson front and multi-link rear suspension, the Venza hugs the road admirably using a combination of on-demand all-wheel-drive and Active Cornering Assist, which uses stability control to reduce understeer. This suspension setup also helps the Venza ride smoothly over rough roads without bouncing around or disrupting the peace.
Drivers can select from Eco, Normal, and Sport modes, which do little more than adjust the throttle mapping. In most conditions, the Venza leaves silently from a stop before engaging the engine, creating a near-seamless transition from electric to gas propulsion. You won't be able to feel the engine kick on but you'll certainly hear it when you need to get up to speed in a hurry. Toyota's eCVT has a tendency to create some less than exotic sounds from the gas engine but we found that if you drive the Venza like a reasonable person, the engine remains mostly quiet. As we mentioned, a little more power in the Venza would have been welcomed but Toyota customers likely prefer improved fuel economy over grunt. The Venza does more to straddle the line between a Toyota and Lexus product than any other model in the lineup and it should make you think twice about purchasing an NX Hybrid.
EPA estimates work out to 40/37/39 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles for the Venza, which falls just short of the 40 mpg combined rating for the RAV4 Hybrid. Toyota hybrid models typically outmatch their EPA estimates in our testing and during our time with the car with mostly in-town driving, the Venza achieved just over 41 mpg. With a 14.5-gallon gas tank, a theoretical mixed range of around 565 miles should be achievable. The 2.5-liter engine's recommended fuel requirement is 87-octane or higher.
Inside, the Venza is a cut above the RAV4 in terms of material quality, bordering on Lexus territory. Everything looks and feels built to last, and the hourglass-shaped console provides the driver and front passenger with a cocooning feel. The Black/Java dual-tone color scheme available higher up in the range takes the feeling of luxury up another few notches. That said, the cabin is not notably bigger than the RAV4's. On the base LE, features like an eight-inch touchscreen, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, fabric-trimmed seats, road sign assist, and blind-spot monitoring are standard. The mid-range XLE adds SofTex bolsters to the seats, front/rear parking assistance, and heated front seats, while the Limited gets ventilated front seats, a bird's eye view camera, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, and a nine-speaker audio system.
The Toyota Venza is strictly a five-seat vehicle and when you look at its interior dimensions, it becomes clear that this is not a competitor for larger midsizers like the Honda Passport. Overall, the Venza is longer than the RAV4 on which it is based but this doesn't translate into more interior volume. Occupants get 38.6 inches of headroom in the front and 39 inches in the back or 38.1 and 36.9 with the optional Star Gaze roof. Legroom in front is an acceptable 40.9 inches and legroom in the rear is a cozy 37.8 inches, which is identical to the RAV4 Hybrid.
Starting with the LE will get you fabric-trimmed seats in either Boulder or Black. The XLE adds SofTex-trimmed bolsters and the additional color option of Black/Java, while the Limited has perforated SofTex-upholstered seating. All versions have a leather-trimmed shift lever, along with a leather steering wheel which has silver accents on the LE and chrome accents on the upper two trims. The soft-touch dashboard looks like a quality item and, on the upper two trims, color-keyed piping with metal ends and classy ambient lighting are added. A wood-grained center stack is standard on the Limited. In the top Limited trim, the interior materials wouldn't feel out of place in a Lexus-branded model.
Despite its extra length over the RAV4, the Venza's trunk is smaller. It measures 28.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats as opposed to the 37.5 cubes of the RAV4 Hybrid, which is quite a big difference. This is mainly due to the Venza's sloping roofline. It will still be enough for a weekly shop or a small family's paraphernalia for a weekend away, though. With the 60/40-split-folding rear seats folded, the cargo room expands appreciably to 55.1 cubic feet to accommodate larger boxes and other items. A standard hands-free power liftgate makes loading heavier items less of a hassle.
Interior storage space is good, with four cupholders and four bottle holders, including cupholders in the rear center armrest. There is also a center console that includes a 12V input and a removable utility tray. The front seats have seatback pockets and all models get an overhead console but you will lose the dashboard cubby areas found on the RAV4.
Toyota has limited the Venza to just three trims or "grades" as the manufacturer now refers to them. The base LE has a 4.2-inch multi-information display, wireless phone charging, LED headlights and taillights, a rearview camera, and the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite which includes pre-collision warning, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, and lane tracing assist. Comfort and convenience items include an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, power-folding wing mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, and a hands-free power liftgate. Moving up to the mid-range XLE adds a seven-inch multi-information display, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a memory function for the driver's seat, and a smart key system for all doors and the tailgate. The range-topping Limited adds a digital rearview mirror with HomeLink, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a bird's eye view camera. Notable options on the Limited are a 10-inch color head-up display and a Star Gaze fixed panoramic roof with an electronic sunshade.
The Venza's infotainment system will be familiar to anyone who's been in a recent Toyota model. An eight-inch touchscreen acts as the base size, offering Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity as standard. Upgrading to the Limited bumps the screen size up to 12.3 inches and ties in a JBL audio system with nine speakers (compared to six speakers in the lower trims). This is the same screen found in the upper trim Highlander models and it makes the Venza feel techier inside.
Unfortunately, it still suffers from the same sun glare issues as the smaller screen and must be split into two sections at all times. This split nature does come in handy though when using Apple or Android, giving the driver easy access to radio and climate controls. Speaking of radio and climate controls, all of them are touch-sensitive in the Venza, which we feel is cumbersome to use compared to physical buttons and knobs.
As an all-new model, it's too soon to assess the reliability of the Toyota Venza, although the powertrain isn't unproven as it has been used in the RAV4 Hybrid. If anything does go wrong, the Venza comes with a three-year/36,000-mile warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a 10-year/150,000-mile hybrid battery warranty. The hybrid system is additionally covered for eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. A five-year/unlimited-miles corrosion perforation warranty applies, as does ToyotaCare complimentary maintenance, which covers the first two years or 25,000 miles. Finally, the Venza benefits from 24/7 roadside assistance for the same period or miles.
Toyota has high hopes for the Venza's safety scores based on the strength of the crossover's TNGA-K platform. However, we'll need to wait a bit longer for official crash safety ratings from the NHTSA and the IIHS.
Every Toyota Venza comes fully stocked with active and passive safety features for the protection of the driver and passengers. There are eight airbags dotted around the cabin, including front/rear side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, and a front passenger seat cushion airbag. The Star Safety System comprises enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, brake assist, and smart stop technology.
In addition, the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite packs in a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane tracing assist, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and road sign assist. The base model has blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, while the top two trims add front/rear parking assist with automated braking. And, while a rearview camera is fitted, the top trim gets a bird's eye view camera system.
The 2021 Toyota Venza is clearly not the shrunken two-row Highlander some people wanted or expected it to be. If cargo capacity is your number one priority, you should choose one of the multitudes of more spacious midsizers like the Chevy Blazer, Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, or Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, to name a few. But despite its lack of space, the Venza is not a failure. The Venza is more of a "Premium Coupe-Like RAV4" than "Sportier Highlander." If you think of Venza that way, it starts to make sense.
It may share similar proportions to the RAV4 but the two look and feel completely different. The RAV4 gives off a rugged, adventurous personality while the Venza looks more sleek and sophisticated. We think the Venza will appeal to a former Lexus owner who is ready to downsize and save a bit on their monthly payment. In fact, the current Lexus NX Hybrid is so in need of a refresh, we'd actually suggest the Venza over it, no questions asked. The Venza is not so much a rival for mainstream midsize SUVs, it's a question of whether the Lexus badge is actually worth as much at the moment. If you are currently shopping for a Lexus crossover, you may want to run across the street to check out a Venza first.
Pricing for the 2021 Venza starts at $32,470 in LE guise, putting it approximately $4,000 over the base price of a RAV4 Hybrid. Stepping up to the XLE grades costs $36,000 even while the top Limited grade starts at $39,800. Fully-equipped, the Venza Limited tops out around $42,000, making it a little over $2,000 more than the most well-optioned RAV4 Hybrid. So if you are opting for the most highly-equipped RAV4 Hybrid, it could be worth it to step up to the Venza so long as you are willing to sacrifice cargo capacity for a more luxurious interior.
The Toyota Venza range is divided into three trims: LE, XLE, and Limited. All are powered by a 219-horsepower hybrid powertrain that combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine with three electric motors. A continuously variable transmission directs power to all four wheels.
On the base LE, the Venza is equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, a hands-free power liftgate, power-folding mirrors, and a black rear spoiler. Inside, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is hooked up to a six-speaker sound system. Other highlights are blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, and an eight-way power driver's seat.
The mid-range XLE adds larger 19-inch alloy wheels, projector LED headlamps, front/rear parking assist, heated front seats, and the availability of navigation and a larger touchscreen interface.
Topping the range is the Limited which gets a 12.3-inch touchscreen display, an upgraded sound system with nine JBL speakers, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, ventilated front seats, and a bird's eye view camera.
Toyota has equipped the Venza to a high level, so packages are quite limited, although there are numerous standalone options. The XLE trim avails the Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation and JBL, which is pretty self-explanatory; it adds nine JBL speakers, navigation with a three-year trial, and the bigger 12.3-inch touchscreen. These features are all standard on the Limited. The SofTex Package with full perforated SofTex upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats, and more can also be equipped to the XLE. On the Limited, an Advanced Technology Package adds a head-up display and rain-sensing windshield wipers. The new Star Gaze panoramic roof, which is only available on Limited grades, is a cool new feature for Toyota. It can become frosted at the press of a button, letting in enough light to brighten up the cabin without burning occupants.
The base LE only has access to a few basic standalone options like premium paint and a dashcam, while the mid-range XLE can be equipped with individual options like touch-capacitive controls for the ventilation system, a heated steering wheel, and a wood-grained center stack.
To receive the full effect of the Venza, we suggest stepping up to the most luxurious Limited trim level. This rolls in the larger touchscreen, better audio system, and luxury touches like leather seats with heating and ventilation. The only options on this trim level are the Advanced Technology Package, which bundles the 10-inch HUD and rain-sensing wipers, and the Star Gaze roof. We think the Star Gaze roof is a must-have option, though it should be noted that it does not slide open. Still, your passengers will be amazed when you show them how the glass becomes frosted at the press of a button. As described, you'll be spending around $42,000.
The Toyota RAV4 has been the brand's best-selling SUVs for years, so the Venza could introduce an interesting conundrum for Toyota customers since the two are both similar in size and, in the case of the RAV4 Hybrid, have identical powertrains. With its smaller cargo area, the Venza isn't quite as accommodating as the RAV4, but some may prefer its classier cabin and more sophisticated appearance. In terms of efficiency, the difference between the Venza and the RAV4 Hybrid is close enough to be negligible, so that is a non-factor. However, the RAV4 offers both cheaper gas-only/FWD versions as well as a potent plug-in hybrid in the RAV4 Prime, so there is more diversity within the RAV4 range as a whole. The Venza is a bit better equipped from the base level; for instance, it has a bigger eight-inch touchscreen on the entry-level trim. Whichever crossover you choose, both provide a strong mix of quality, efficiency, and value.
Higher up in the Toyota range is the bigger Highlander. At close to 10 inches longer than the Venza, the Highlander offers three-row seating for up to eight passengers. Behind its second row of seats, it has a commodious 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space, easily trouncing the Venza's effort. The regular Highlander uses a 3.5-liter V6 with 295 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, so it's more powerful than the Venza but can't match it for efficiency. There is also a Highlander Hybrid, though, which makes 243 hp, although it does have quite a bit more weight to lug around. The Highlander's more ungainly styling speaks to the fact that it's the much more practical, spacious option between these two, whereas the Venza is a more elegant SUV that will find favor with buyers who don't need the extra space and seats. Parents will be happy to know that both SUVs feature a full spread of active and passive safety gear.
Check out some informative Toyota Venza video reviews below.