2021 Toyota Venza First Look Review: RAV4 Goes Upmarket

First Look / Comments

Think of it as the RAV4 Coupe.

Just like Hollywood film studios that have been rebooting old movie franchises, automakers have been reaching into their catalogs to revive old nameplates from the past. Toyota is the most recent company to do just this with the 2021 Toyota Venza. We last saw the Venza name used from 2008 to 2015 on a midsize crossover based on the Camry platform. This new version returns as a much different vehicle, this time based on Toyota's new TNGA-K platform with an all-hybrid drivetrain.

Toyota says the 2021 Venza will slot above the compact RAV4 but below the midsize, three-row Highlander in its model lineup but there has been some confusion as to what it will directly compete against. Based on what Toyota has told us about the new Venza, we think it can best be summed up as a more premium "RAV4 Coupe" so-to-speak rather than a "two-row Highlander" as some have dubbed it.

Toyota
Toyota
Toyota

Styling From Japan

If the 2021 Venza looks familiar to you, that's because it's essentially a rebadged version of the Japanese market Toyota Harrier. The fourth-generation Harrier was revealed one month before the new Venza and looks virtually identical. In the front, you will find a slightly more premium interpretation of Toyota's large lower grille design sandwiched by two thin LED headlights.

Moving towards the side profile, 18-inch wheels come standard but larger 19-inch wheels will be available. At the back, the Venza features a heavily sloping roofline reminiscent of many SUV Coupes from Germany. The rear taillight bar almost appears to protrude from the tailgate and the rear end styling gives off some heavy Jaguar F-Pace vibes.

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Toyota
Toyota
Toyota

A Near-Lexus Interior

Inside, Toyota was quick to point out that the new Venza will feel more premium than most of its other products. You can then think of the Venza almost as a bridge between the Toyota and Lexus lineups. An eight-inch touchscreen comes standard but a larger 12.3-inch screen is available optionally. Underneath the screen is a unique, hourglass-shaped center console wrapped in premium materials. Toyota will even offer a unique and premium brown accent color.

The cabin retains some typical Toyota bits like the steering wheel and shifter but other elements like the seats and door cards look like they were plucked right out of a Lexus. If you look above your head, a new Star Glaze panoramic glass roof allows occupants to switch from transparent to frosted viewing with the press of a button.

Toyota
Toyota
Toyota
Toyota

RAV4 Hybrid Guts

Toyota has only revealed one engine for the new Venza, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to three electric motors. This is the same drivetrain found in the RAV4 Hybrid where it produces 219 horsepower (Toyota doesn't quote hybrid torque figures). A continuously variable transmission sends power out to all four wheels and yields an excellent 40 mpg combined rating for the lowest LE trim. We assume higher trims will be just below the magical 40-mpg number.

The Venza weighs 3,860 pounds in LE trim, 3,900 lbs in XLE trim, and 3,920 lbs in Limited trim, meaning it is around 100 lbs heavier than a similarly optioned RAV4 Hybrid. This means the Venza should perform similarly to the RAV4 Hybrid, if not a bit slower. We hope Toyota will introduce a 302-hp plug-in Venza Prime model, but it is not currently in the company's immediate plans.

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Toyota
Toyota
Toyota

Smaller Than We Thought

In terms of size, the Venza is not much larger than the compact RAV4, even though Toyota is technically calling this a mid-size vehicle. In fact, the Venza has the same wheelbase and width as the RAV4 but is a bit longer overall. Front legroom is actually slightly less than the RAV4 with an extra inch of rear legroom. Cargo capacity is rated at just 36.3 cubic feet behind the second row, which is around one cubic foot less than the RAV4, mainly due to the Venza's sloping roof.

So if you compare the Venza to two-row midsize SUVs like the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, Honda Passport, Nissan Murano, and Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, it's going to seem on the small side. Hence why it's best to consider the Venza as a "premium RAV4 Coupe" instead of a "two-row Highlander."

Toyota
Toyota

Pricing And Competition

No pricing information has been provided yet for the 2021 Venza but we assume it will sit somewhere between the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid in the $28,000 to $38,000 range. While most automakers have opted to take their three-row midsize offering and cut out two rows, Toyota has instead opted to keep the Venza on the smaller side, closer to the RAV4. This will hurt the Venza is terms of available passenger and cargo space but help it in terms of fuel efficiency.

Since there are no strict rules governing how automakers define their vehicles as compact or midsize, the Venza will technically compete against much larger midsize crossovers with more power but far worse fuel economy. In this regard, the Venza doesn't have much direct competition and should carve out its own niche when it arrives later in 2020.

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Toyota
Toyota
Toyota

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