When the Venza made its debut in 2009, the crossover segment was just starting to pick up steam in the market, and the Venza was a spacious family hauler with the comfort of a sedan, the practicality of a station wagon, in a raised all-wheel drive package. Its presence helped to fuel a trend that came to define the automotive landscape in the following decade.
After a nine-year production run, Toyota discontinued the Venza to much of the dismay of buyers. Eventually they listened and decided to reintroduce the Venza for the 2021 model year. The difference this time around is that the new Venza is a rebadged version of the Japanese-market Toyota Harrier. Now that the 2021 Toyota Venza is made in Japan on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) chassis, Toyota hopes to once again reinvent the segment for the modern age.
The 2021 Toyota Venza Limited looks far more chiseled and modern than the beefy first generation. It shares resemblance with the current RAV4 and Highlander, but manages to look more elegant than its two siblings and we especially love the futuristic hatch design. The Blueprint paint scheme pictured is a distinction from typically black or white crossovers, and we like the sophisticated look of the chrome 19-inch wheels. The Venza looks trendy and refreshing, and we suspect it will attract some Lexus NX buyers too.
Another big change for the all-new Venza is a move to an all-hybrid engine lineup. By pairing a 2.5-litre four-cylinder with three electric motors, the efficient powerplant outputs 219 total system horsepower. Setting off from a standstill is relatively easy thanks to its torquey motor from the get-go, and there is enough power from the engine to seamlessly take over the acceleration. The four-cylinder engine can sound unrefined and buzzy, especially when under load; but the move away from a bigger engine yielded an excellent fuel efficiency measure that makes it worth it.
Those who are looking for more performance or refinement should take a long look at the Honda Passport and the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport V6, or Toyota’s own Highlander. The Venza is easy to drive with steering that requires little effort, and there is good visibility all around. The TNGA chassis feels nimble and responsive, but there is understeer when you start turning in aggressively. The regenerative brakes offer good feel, a trait that is usually not found in hybrid vehicles.
Fuel economy is rated at 5.9L/100km in the city, 6.2L/100km on the highway, for a combined rating of 6.1L/100km. We observed nearly identical figures during our weeklong test drive, which is a phenomenal achievement in the mid-size crossover segment. Another bonus is that the Venza only requires regular grade gasoline in its 55-litre tank.
The interior design of the Venza is where it shines over its competition. Toyota had exerted extra efforts into creating a simplistic and classy cabin that caters to the current minimalistic interior design trend. The design, materials, and craftsmanship push the envelope for a mainstream crossover, and as a result the Venza feels a class above the RAV4 and even the Highlander.
In pursuit of building a minimalistic interior, many buttons on the centre console were replaced by capacitive touch keys, including the all-important volume knob, infotainment shortcut, and the climate controls. We have long preferred physical buttons over touch-sensitive pads for the ease of input through muscle memory without having to look, and the Venza’s usability took a hit as a result.
The Venza has less interior space when compared to other midsize two-row crossovers such as the Honda Passport and the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, but it is not a cramped cabin by any measure. Head and legroom are comparable to the Toyota Highlander, and it feels particularly airy inside thanks to the oversized Star Gaze panoramic glass roof. Cargo capacity is rated at a usable 816 litres, however it pales when compared to the RAV4’s substantial 1,059-litre trunk.
One cool feature not found in the mainstream segment is the electrochromic glass technology that allows the roof to switch from transparent to frosted modes instantly with the push of a button. This futuristic feature is standard on the Venza Limited, and became the topic of discussion all week with anyone who got to see the Venza up close. One major drawback to the Frost Control feature is that the roof is fixed with no tilt or slide functions, and we would have liked to see a standard sunroof offered as an option for those who like the open-air driving experience.
Infotainment is delivered using a 12.3-inch multimedia display that is split to display multiple pages of information at once. The unit is easy to use, and resolution is on par with the most up-to-date competition. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is supported, and there is an upgraded JBL premium audio system included on XLE and the Limited trims. These two higher trims also receive a seven-inch Multi Information Display on the instrument cluster, and the Limited trim also gets a 10-inch Head-Up Display.
To keep up Toyota’s commitment to keeping occupants and pedestrians safe, all 2021 Venzas come standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes Land Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Auto High Beam, Radar-guided Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection. The Limited also gets a digital display rearview mirror that projects a camera image of what is behind the Venza, which helps drivers navigate surroundings especially in situation where the rearward view is obstructed.
Pricing of the Venza starts at $38,490, and our Limited tester rung in at $47,690. While it trails its aforementioned competition in performance and interior space, the 2021 Toyota Venza Limited makes up for it with its interior design and comfort, class-leading technology, and the highly efficient hybrid powertrain. While the Venza is not reinventing the midsize crossover segment, it is a new-age offering that will attract those looking for a premium package without needing to splurge for a Lexus.