2014 Toyota Venza XLE
2014 Toyota Venza XLE
2014 Toyota Venza XLE. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

Rollin’ on twenties through the neighbourhood
Got my heated seats on and life is good
Stereo cranked and people know I’m ballin’
To the dulcet tones of Mr. Phil Collins.

No word of a lie, the moment I turned on the Venza’s ignition, the guitar and synth stylings of “Land of Confusion” assaulted my ears at a volume that can only be described as excessive. I certainly didn’t see that coming. In the air. Tonight. (Oh Lord.)

Speaking of confusion, putting this particular Toyota in a category is somewhat difficult. Is it a minivan without sliding doors? Is it a Highlander without a third row? Is it simply a Camry wagon with a glandular problem?

“Venza” might as well be some corrupted version of “Venn diagram”, as this mid-sized, um, vehicle, is a sort of overlap of car, SUV, and van. Call it a crossover for brevity, but it’s not really like other crossovers in the market. The closest thing I can think of is the old Mercedes-Benz R-Class, which the Venza differs from in one significant way – it’s not completely repulsive.

No indeed: this is a pretty good-looking whatever-it-is from almost every angle. As mentioned, those are dubs, yo; 20-inch alloys are standard on all V6 versions of this accessibly priced five-seater, and even the base model comes with 19s. Balancing out the large swaths of sheet metal makes big-diameter rims a styling necessity, and while I’ll deplore the way they hamper the ride and push tire-replacement costs into the stratosphere, they do at least anchor a well-put-together machine.

While it’s got similar ground clearance to the larger Highlander, the Venza doesn’t pretend to be some sort of kinder, gentler Canyonero; it looks a bit like the Sienna minivan, but mostly it’s just styled to be an attractive modern vehicle. If you hopped in your time-machine garage and took a Nissan Juke back to 1969, people would assume that Future Earth had been colonized by a race of huge, spacefaring ants. Pull the same trick with a Venza, and they’d be less alarmed, perhaps recognizing its ancestral wagon roots.

The Venza is easy on the eyes, and it’s easy on your other end as well. While your humble author prefers a heavily bolstered seat that grabs hold of the posterior like a Hot Wheels snapping into a strip of orange tracking, the good people at Toyota seem perfectly aware that not everybody does. Pop open the door, and the Venza’s Goldilocks ride height makes sliding into its flattish seats very easy – no clambering up onto a teetering bar stool, no flopping down onto a hard futon.

2014 Toyota Venza XLE2014 Toyota Venza XLE2014 Toyota Venza XLE
2014 Toyota Venza XLE. Click image to enlarge

Once inside, the driver gets a comfortably high seating position, and the rear visibility of a Sherman Tank. Oh dear, that rakish styling has resulted in a narrow field of view for the rear window, and the pinched three-quarter glass makes for big blind spots. Adjusting the large side mirrors properly helps out a bit, but folks looking for less form and more function should try out something like a Subaru Forester.

While the Venza was facelifted last year, that beauty is only skin deep. Hard plastic is everywhere you look inside, some of it partially corrugated in a woodgrain pattern that would look unconvincing on a Fisher-Price tree. The centre stack has a gated shifter with one of those knob-on-stick Toyota gear levers, some of the panels (especially speakers) don’t quite line up, and there are plenty of blank placeholder buttons to the left of the steering wheel, despite the highest-grade XLE trim. It’s almost as if the long battle with GM for sales supremacy has caused Toyota to make some General Motors decisions.

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