2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza. Click image to enlarge

Manufacturer’s web site

Toyota Canada

Review and Photos by Paul Williams

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery:
2009 Toyota Venza

Farmington, Pennsylvania – Brisk weather and stormy skies didn’t prevent the new Toyota Venza from shining at its recent launch in rural Pennsylvania. The Venza features powerful but economical engines, a roomy interior, and in my opinion, is a practical but stylish option for families on the move.

Designed and built in North America for this market only, the five-seat Venza offers consumers an alternative to an SUV or minivan (or a sedan, for that matter) by combining attributes of each of those vehicles on its Toyota Camry platform.

2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza. Click image to enlarge

Two engines are offered: a new 2.7-litre inline-four cylinder (I-4) making 182 horsepower and 182 pounds-feet of torque, and a 3.5-litre V6 making 268-hp and 246-lb.ft. of torque. Both engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions which use “Artificial Intelligence Shift Control” to adjust the transmission’s operation depending on driver input. “Hill-Start Assist Control”, which prevents the vehicle rolling back when starting on an incline, is standard across the range.

With the optional towing package, the Venza V6 will tow 3500 lbs, while the I-4 will tow 2500 lbs. Both the V6 and I-4 Venza can be ordered with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The starting price is, “under $30,000,” said Toyota Canada Managing Director Steven Beatty. Presumably, this would refer to the I-4 version with front-wheel drive.

The exterior design of the Venza is perhaps what sets it apart from other crossover-style vehicles, as it features a particularly sleek profile. Its alloy wheels are large (19-inch for the I-4, and 20-inch for the V6) and its waistline is high, which gives Venza a substantial but modern appearance.

The Venza is slightly longer and not quite as tall as a Ford Edge or Nissan Murano, which are two models that buyers for this type of vehicle may also consider. Significantly, the difference of only a few centimetres makes the Venza look less boxy. In fact, the Venza’s exterior dimensions (length, height) are virtually the same as the Volvo XC-70 wagon, although that vehicle exceeds Venza’s starting price by a large margin and rides on comparatively small 16-inch or 17-inch wheels. You could, therefore, call the Venza a Camry wagon, if you focus only on the common platform and familiar profile, but I suspect buyers will regard it as a better-looking crossover.

2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza. Click image to enlarge

Labels aside, the Venza’s innovative features include the “sweeping rocker panels” in which the sills are “set back” into the vehicle to assist with entry and exit, and help prevent soiling clothes when doing so. Also, rear-seat legroom is more than sufficient for passengers to sit for long distances in comfort, while rear seatbacks recline up to 14 degrees.

Standard equipment includes power heated mirrors, windshield wiper de-icer, fog lamps, auto up/down power windows, power driver’s seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, dual zone automatic climate control, “Optitron” instrumentation with outside temperature gauge and 8.9-cm (3.5-inch) multi-information display. A full range of safety equipment includes electronic stability control (Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control), traction control, anti-lock brakes, hill-start assist, and seven airbags.

Available features include a back-up camera, navigation system (only with V6), power liftgate, automatic high beams, leather seating surfaces, JBL Synthesis audio system and all-wheel drive, as already mentioned, which automatically distributes torque between 100 per cent front/0 per cent rear to 55 per cent front/45 per cent rear, as conditions require. A DVD entertainment system is not on the option list.

2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza. Click image to enlarge

The Venza’s interior is designed to maximize storage space without encroaching on occupant comfort. You’ll find very little “unused” space in the vehicle — everything is utilized by adding a door, a sliding cover, a compartment or a tray, so that when you sit in the Venza, you immediately encounter an abundance of places to put whatever odds and ends you may be carrying.

This goes for the cargo area as well. Its low floor and even surfaces make loading bulky items easy, and the optional power liftgate (only available with the Venza V6) is something that owners will quickly regard as a necessity. Remote rear seat release levers will also be appreciated.

The interior design is very pleasant, with a variety of new cloth fabrics and surfaces contributing to an inviting, fresh environment. A partially fixed, full-length sunroof is available to further brighten the cabin. There area also handy DC and AC power points and an auxiliary jack for portable music players.

Instrumentation features large bright numbers, and the multi-function display can be set to regular and large font. All the major controls are intuitive and positioned for easy access, and the glossy faux carbon-fibre trim found in the four-cylinder models (even though it’s brown, rather than black) is actually nicer than the wood-like trim found in the more expensive Venza V6.

Out of place among the tidy, precise gauges and controls is a plus-size gear shift knob that protrudes inelegantly from the centre stack. One wonders why a chunky mechanical device like this is even needed when everything else is flush-mounted and electronic. It seems like a “survival” from another era.

On the road, Venza offers a comfortable ride, a high seating position and good handling, although it felt a little heavy under braking, and the smallish rear window restricts vision behind the vehicle. The I-4 drones somewhat when accelerating (reminiscent of a CVT transmission, which this is not), but is inaudible once up to speed. I drove with three adults in both versions and found power was more than adequate from the I-4 and V6, however the V6 is silky smooth in all situations. And surprisingly, there’s not much difference in fuel economy between the engines, even when factoring in FWD vs AWD. The two extremes are 8.5 L/100km (33 mpg) combined city/highway for the I-4 FWD, and 9.9 L/100km (29 mpg) combined city/highway for the V6 AWD.

2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza
2009 Toyota Venza. Click image to enlarge

The transmission is notable for Uphill/Downhill Shift Logic, which means that when climbing a hill, the transmission is “held” in a lower gear for optimum performance. When descending a hill, the transmission automatically downshifts to a lower gear to help maintain a prudent speed. In the hilly terrain around Farmington, this feature was particularly evident and effective.

Although the Venza has a sleek appearance and big, stylish wheels, it is very much a family-type vehicle that will find its home in the suburbs. As Mr. Beatty said at the Venza’s introduction here, “Venza is not about horsepower or cavernous space.” In other words, you’re not going to blow the doors off your neighbour’s German sport sedan, or haul seven people and their hockey gear in a Venza. But you will very comfortably carry five people when required in an eye-catching vehicle that makes sense on the morning commute, at the Home Depot parking lot, or for an evening out.

The Venza may be a perfect compromise for the family deciding between, let’s say, a Camry V6 sedan and a practical Sienna minivan (or Highlander). “Empty-nesters,” or buyers with older children will find it a versatile vehicle that adapts to all or most of their needs (the longed-for two-seat roadster will require a separate purchase…).

What I would like to see are standard heated seats, navigation available on four-cylinder models (not all I-4 buyers are “budget” buyers), Bluetooth standard on all models, and a more discreet shifter.

The Toyota Venza is built in Kentucky, and will go on sale in early January 2009.

Manufacturer’s web site
  • Toyota Canada
  • Connect with Autos.ca