The Camry Station Wagon ...except that this one needs to be a little “cooler” to lose the wagon stigma and gain acceptance with the cool kids.
Toyota in the past five years or so has seen a lot of ups and downs. The FR-S concept to reality and critical acclaim, the runaway hit that the Prius family is in the hybrid marketplace, the damning unintended acceleration recalls of 2009 and 2010, the success of the impressive TS030 Hybrid race car, the list goes on. As far as their extensive engineering resources go, their passenger cars have become well known for being boring in many senses. They are often considered boring to look at, boring to drive, and boring to own in general. The term “vanilla” is associated with the brand’s more mainstream offerings. On the same token, vanilla is generally non-offensive and is acceptable to the vast majority of the population, such as this 2013 Toyota Venza V6 AWD.
The Venza was introduced at the 2008 North American International Auto Show and represented Toyota’s solution for the void created by the Highlander moving upmarket (by gaining a third row of seating). It was also seen as the rebirth of the Camry Wagon that existed in the 1990s – except that this new Camry Wagon needed to be “cooler” to lose the wagon stigma, and thus gain acceptance in the very competitive midsize crossover SUV market. Coincidentally, the Venza is aimed squarely at modern mommies and daddies living in the city who need space for a growing family and their stuff while avoiding the (practical) image that comes with a standard minivan.
So what did Toyota do to increase the Venza’s street cred? They gave it a fairly low and hunkered stance. They gave it a raked tailgate, which does cut into overall storage space, but fits into what buyers are looking for in a “cooler” crossover SUV. Lastly, Toyota gave the Venza some enormous shoes – namely 20-inch wheels wearing 245mm 50-series Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season rubber. Considering the 2008 introduction, offering 20-inch wheels from the factory was a very bold move that was sure to impress.
My tester was a V6 AWD with the Touring and JBL packages. The base V6 model is already fairly well equipped – with items such as dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, USB, and XM integration, and a whole host of airbags as part of the STAR safety system, the list goes on. The “Touring & JBL Package” as it is called, upgrades the standard audio system to a 13-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, integrates GPS navigation, adds power adjustable leather seating surfaces (heated) and other leather touch points, smart key system, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, and high-intensity discharge headlamps… among other things. It is a very comprehensive option package that gives you nearly everything Toyota has to offer you from the factory. Some time spent with the owner’s manual is highly recommended – you wouldn’t want to miss out on all the little toys and features the Venza has to offer. One feature that was a pleasant surprise was the built-in text messaging feature that synchronizes to your mobile phone through Bluetooth. It will let you compose text messages with an on-screen keyboard. I understand this is not for drivers to use whilst behind the wheel, but will be handy if you have a willing passenger to convert your voice to text – the old-fashioned way.
Power comes from Toyota’s workhorse V6, codename 2GR-FE, displacing 3.5 litres and producing 268hp – about average for the class. That power is sent to all four wheels by a six-speed automatic (with sequential shift mode) to Toyota’s Active Torque Control AWD system. Combined with the (again) average curb weight of approximately 4000lbs., I found acceleration to be more than adequate in the streets of downtown Toronto, but felt throttle response could have been quicker. It feels almost as if throttle inputs were deliberately damped to smooth the driving experience somewhat. When there’s an opening in traffic and you need to jump at the opportunity, the delayed throttle response makes itself known. Other than that minor quibble – no complaints. The motor is spinning at just under 2000rpm when at 100km/h. One item I liked was Toyota’s decision to allow the driver to fully disable both traction control and stability control. If you press and hold the TRAC OFF button, you can completely disable these two driver aids when desired.
Continuing on regarding driving experience, the steering and brakes have the trademark Toyota over-boosted feel. Steering effort required is very low, feedback from the front wheels is non-existent, and the brakes, while effective, are numb. The response from the sequential shifter is slow. The dead-pedal positioning could have been better – I feel it needs to be about two inches further to the left. The speaker covers on top of the dash at the base of the windshield are poorly fitted (just slightly) and flex when you push against them. These are all small quibbles – nothing stands out as a glaring issue. Rear seat legroom is very significant, and due to the Venza lacking a third-row seat option, cargo space behind the rear seats is excellent with minimal shock tower intrusion. Pulling a lever on the side of the cargo area automatically folds the seats almost flat for a very useful space for your large items.
I did not have the Venza long enough to obtain reliable fuel efficiency numbers, but the onboard computer was estimating approximately 13L/100km in mostly city driving. Toyota rates the Venza at 11.4L/100km in the city, 7.9L/100km on the highway, and 9.8L/100km combined. Close enough, considering Toronto’s traffic and the colder weather. Toyota specifies 87 octane gasoline for the Venza, in all configurations.
Price for the as-tested Venza V6 AWD with the Touring and JBL package is $41,320 (MSRP). I feel this is a very competitive price for the level of equipment included. The refreshed Ford Edge Sport competes in the same segment – it even one-ups the Venza by offering 22-inch (!) wheels. The Nissan Murano also occupies this space but arguably features more polarizing styling, and the mandatory continuously variable transmission may be a deal-breaker for some. The improved Dodge Journey is also in the running due to its unique third-row seat option. It is more traditionally styled and is priced a little more aggressively. While the Venza should not be on the radars for driving enthusiasts who enjoy an engaging experience, it does a great job of what it is designed to do. I expect that sales of the Venza will remain competitive until the model is completely overhauled, possibly in a year or two.
2013 Toyota Venza V6 AWD Gallery