2011 Toyota Venza AWD
2011 Toyota Venza AWD. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Haney Louka

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2011 Toyota Venza

I’ve been thinking for a while now about what might replace our 2004 Mazda6 Wagon in the next year or two. With our kids being six and nine years of age, we still need cargo-carrying capacity. We have found that our Mazda’s seating for five and nearly 1,000 litres of cargo volume behind the seats meets our needs nicely, so we’re not interested in a van. And in the interest of car-like handling, we’re trying to steer clear of most crossovers; but that’s getting increasingly difficult as the traditional affordable wagon has all but disappeared from the market.

Acura’s decision to pull the TSX wagon from our market didn’t help matters; but since the Americans are only getting the four-cylinder, automatic version I doubt it would have made the cut for us anyway.

Toyota’s Venza has been around for a couple of years now, and it’s among the most “wagony” of the crossovers, so it’s certainly worth a look for us. 2011 brings just minor changes for Venza’s junior year on the market, but a couple of them are worth noting, and we’ll get to those in a bit.

2011 Toyota Venza AWD
2011 Toyota Venza AWD
2011 Toyota Venza AWD
2011 Toyota Venza AWD. Click image to enlarge

Starting at $29,310, the four-cylinder, front-drive Venza comes with a power driver’s seat, split-folding rear bench, dual-zone climate control, six-speaker audio with USB and Bluetooth and wheel-mounted redundant controls, trip computer, three-12V power outlets, 19-inch alloys, and automatic headlights.

Cargo capacity with the seats up is 870 litres; a bit smaller than my wagon’s, but the Venza’s added height gives it nearly 2,000 litres when the rear seat is folded down.

Power comes from a 2.7-litre four-banger pumping out 182 hp and 182 ft-lb of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional, as is a 268-hp V6.

Naturally, our tester had a few options that contributed to a commensurate jump in price. Choosing the all-wheel drive model adds $1,450 to the base price and also opens up the possibilities for options that are not available on the base model; Toyota took full advantage of this when equipping our tester. The Premium package bumps the price to $34,975 and includes a power rear hatch, panoramic glass roof, a back-up camera (displayed on a teeny tiny screen), and heated leather seats.

Our tester had the new-for-2011 Touring package, previously only available with V6 Venzas. Ticking that box bumps the price up to $36,665 and nets push-button start, auto-levelling xenon headlights, a tasteful “satin-mahogany” wood trim, and a bunch of smaller items.

Those prices are for the four-banger; opting for the lusty V6 adds roughly $1,500 to each package. And there is one model available at the top of the V6 heap that can’t be ordered with the less potent version: the $41,010 Navigation and JBL package with 13 speakers and a DVD-based sat-nav system.

The other goodie that’s new for 2011 is the Bongiovi Acoustics Digital Power Station, available as a dealer-installed accessory for $389. It’s available on most 2011 Toyotas and continuously re-masters music, enhances compressed audio quality (MP3s), and produces consistent audio level output regardless of format. The end result is that it sounds like a more expensive system at a fraction of the price.

The Venza is more car-like than most crossovers; its lower driving position and creamier ride quality made all the more obvious because I was driving a VW Touareg the week prior to my time in the Venza. By that same token, it feels much less rugged and could never be confused with a full-blown SUV.

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