So what is it? Is this a car, a sport wagon or a sport ute? Is this the new Camry station wagon or the Toyota version of the Lexus RX?
What it is is the all-new 2009 Venza from Toyota.
The new Venza is a versatile five-passenger vehicle that couples the styling and comfort of a passenger car with the flexibility of an SUV, to give customers a stylish alternative to the traditional sedan.
With above par fuel economy, innovative design, outstanding front and rear headroom and great value, Venza raises the bar for ride comfort and utility. Think Camry with a hatch and a lift kit – and updated design elements.
“Venza establishes an exciting new direction in passenger car design that combines the finest attributes of Toyota’s diverse vehicle lineup,” said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. “It caters to buyers who are looking for the value and reliability of a Camry, the comfort and upscale refinement of an Avalon, and the utility and flexibility of a Highlander in one very stylish and sporty package.”
The Venza is targeted at an emerging section of the market that prioritizes sleek styling and excellent handling and road manners, combined with a surprising amount of utility.
Specifically, Venza offers bold and expressive styling, on-road performance, luxurious and refined interior, and SUV-like flexibility such as all-wheel drive, foldable rear seats, large cargo area, higher driver sightline and up to 3,500 lbs. towing.
The overall dimensions are unique as well. Ease of entry and exit is achieved by lowering the rocker panels and narrowing the doorsills. As a result, the sweeping integrated rocker panels give great ingress/egress, yet the sightline is higher than Camry. The rear load-in height is lower than Camry and almost as low as the Sienna minivan.
In addition to an array of standard equipment, Venza uses a single grade strategy with simplified packages and stand-alone options that includes an impressive list of comfort and utility features. Many are new to the Toyota lineup and typically found on luxury vehicles.
Some of the features include: high intensity discharge headlamps with an automatic high beam feature that detects oncoming vehicles and automatically switches the headlamps from high- to low-beam; chrome-accented door handles on the front side doors that lock and unlock all four doors and rear hatch door; panoramic roof with power tilt/slide function and a separate fixed glass panel over the rear seats; and power windows with auto up/down function and jam protection on all four doors.
Other firsts include, a multi-information display that can be customized to adjust the font size and content. The navigation voice instructions are available in Spanish, French or English. Venza is the first Toyota passenger car (yes, they are calling it a car) to offer Star Safety as standard equipment for all models.
Venza’s blending of car-like handling and SUV cargo capacity demonstrates not only the current state of Toyota’s product development process, but also a tangible sign of where Toyota’s design philosophy is heading. Designers and engineers sought to create a new car that provides enhanced interior utility and improved dynamic performance when compared to sedans or midsize SUVs. The result is a package with an aggressive stance and a more engaging driving experience.
All aspects of Venza’s engineering and design were targeted specifically for the North American market, where it will be sold exclusively. Venza was primarily engineered at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. The design was the creation of Toyota’s Calty Design studios in Newport Beach, Calif. and Ann Arbor, Mich. Venza is assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK), in Georgetown, Ky., home of the Camry, Solara and Avalon. More than seventy percent of its components come from North American suppliers.
Calty designers leaned more heavily on a sleek sedan concept with a wide stance that featured a sporty exterior, but also included important SUV attributes such as cargo space, towing capability and all-wheel-drive performance. Overall, the vehicle has an aerodynamic shape with short overhangs, forward A-pillar, crisp character lines and a low roofline and ground clearance.
The Venza interior is laid out to enhance driving enjoyment, and offer premium comfort. The flow of the center console creates a unique “60/60” design that gives both driver and front passenger the look and feeling that 60 percent of the space is accessible from their seating position.
Venza’s additional utility, located in the rear cargo area, is realized with fold-down 60/40 rear seats, one-touch fold-down seat levers and a tonneau cover.
The standard rear door includes an easy-close function or electrically-powered cinch function that ensures the vehicle’s hatch door is not left partially ajar.
Interior features include dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter and second row seat vents to create a sense of enhanced comfort. A tilt/telescopic adjustable steering wheel with integrated audio controls is also standard. Cruise control, an overhead console with map lights, rear seat adjustable personal reading lamps and three 12-volt power outlets combine to offer a nice array of standard features.
Standard storage features such as an adjustable center console with sliding cover and armrest, three MP3 player holders with wire concealment features and large storage compartment remove clutter. The compartment is also equipped with an auxiliary audio jack and 12-volt power outlet.
Venza offers two engines to give customers more flexibility. New to the Toyota line-up and standard on Venza is a fuel-efficient 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine which will deliver 182 horsepower and 182 lb. ft. of torque delivering 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway on the FWD model.
A 3.5-liter V-6 (which we tested recently) is available that produces 268 horsepower and 246 lb. ft. of torque. The V-6 FWD has EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway with our results showing 22 mpg average in mixed driving.
Both engines are mated to a six-speed sequential-shift electronically-controlled automatic transmission with intelligence. On all models, Venza also employs uphill/downhill shift logic control that selects the proper gear for driving conditions and helps provide moderate engine braking during downhill driving. Both engines are available in front- and AWD configurations. Venza’s Active Torque Control AWD System optimizes torque distribution between the front and rear wheels to help ensure stable acceleration and smooth cornering. AWD offers enhanced traction and helps provide excellent overall handling in inclement weather.
Venza was designed with a lower center of gravity to help provide dynamic handling, which is further enhanced with large wheels and tires. The four-cylinder models ride on 10-spoke, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Distinctive 20-inch five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels are standard for the V-6 model and a first for a Toyota passenger car. Power-assisted ventilated front/solid rear disc brakes are standard on all models.
Front suspension is a rigid L-arm-type MacPherson strut with a stabilizer bar, and rear suspension is a dual-link MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar. The wheelbase-to-overall length ratio lends itself to improved stability.
Electronic power steering is employed to minimize steering effort and provide a ride experience more like that of a sedan. EPS helps provide a more direct steering feel at both high and low speeds, and assists when maneuvering the vehicle into tight parking spaces. While the EPS system makes for near effortless driving, it does take away most of the steering feedback and provides a light, almost floating feel in the front end.
Toyota’s STAR Safety System is standard on all Venza models and features ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, enhanced Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control systems with a cutoff switch, and Brake Assist. VSC automatically adjusts engine output and the vehicle’s braking force at each wheel to help control loss of traction during cornering. TRAC helps maintain traction during challenging driving conditions. Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking.
Hill-Start Assist Control, standard on all models, temporarily provides pressure to the brakes while the vehicle is stopped on an incline to help ensure easy starting with no rollback.
Venza is equipped with a comprehensive list of other standard safety features. It provides a total of seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, driver and front passenger front seat-mounted side airbags, and front and rear roll-sensing side curtain airbags and driver and front passenger seats employ active headrests.
Additional options for Venza include power rear door with jam protection; Smart Key System with push button start; leather-trimmed seats; rear bumper protector; tow hitch; roof rack; carpeted floor mats; and a cargo mat. A full line of pet products such as a rear hatch pet ramp, booster seat with harness, pet buckles and rear seat zipline-style harnesses are available at Toyota dealerships.
Aside from the light steering feel we enjoyed our time behind the wheel in the new Venza, and although Toyota may call it a “sedan,” we find its overall driving experience to be much more like that of a crossover utility vehicle.
Pricing begins at $25,975 for a four-cylinder FWD Venza with a V-6 AWD model starting at $29,250. Our loaded FWD V-6 tester arrived with a final sticker price of $36,774.