The crossover vehicle category continues to grow in numbers and expand in definition. While the 2009 Toyota Venza might seem like a Camry wagon at first glance, Toyota contends that it is not. We at autoMedia took the all-new Venza for well-rounded test drive and-came up with some conclusions of our own. So just what is the new Venza?
Sitting on the Camry’s 109.3-in.-wheelbase platform, it is slightly shorter but 3.3 in. wider and 5.5 in. taller. Its 70.1 cu. ft. of EPA-spec cargo volume and 108 cu. ft. of total passenger volume are far greater than the Camry’s yet far short of the more utilitarian Highlander’s 95.4 and 145.7 cu. ft. Its closest competitor is probably Nissan’s stylish Murano.
The exterior begins with a bold face led by a distinctive grille, headlamps and standard fog lamps. The body shape is aerodynamic, with short overhangs, forward-sweeping A-pillars, crisp character lines and a low roofline. The rear is dominated by an angled rear hatch and capped by a functional spoiler and wide wraparound taillamps that connect with the hatch door. Flared fenders, large wheel openings and standard 19-in. wheels and tires (20-in. on V-6 models) provide an aggressive, sure-footed look.
Inside, Venza’s standard “Optitron” speedometer and tachometer and multi-color instrument panel can be decorated with available satin mahogany faux wood trim. The standard dual-zone automatic climate system’s controls are centrally located on the upper console for easy access. Cargo utility is enhanced by standard fold-down 60/40 rear seats, with one-touch levers and a tonneau cover.
Venza is offered in a single grade with a choice of front-and all-wheel drive and eight option packages-Tow Prep, Security, Convenience, Lighting, Leather, Comfort and two Premium packages-and just four stand-alone options. Those are JBL premium audio, navigation, a power tilt/slide Panoramic Glass Roof with a separate fixed glass panel over the rear seats, and rear-seat DVD entertainment with a nine-inch display, JBL Synthesis surround sound, two wireless headphones, a remote, an auxiliary mini-jack, a 120-volt outlet and RCA mini-jacks. One industry first is a multi-information display with adjustable font size and content, and the nav system is fluent in English, Spanish and French.
The standard six speaker audio system includes a six-disc in-dash CD changer, satellite radio and MP3/WMA playback capability. The optional 13-speaker JBL Synthesis surround sound system adds hands-free Bluetooth wireless phone capability with or without the voice-activated, touch-screen DVD navigation, which adds music streaming and XM NavTraffic.
Among the Venza’s key standard features are privacy glass, roof-mounted XM Satellite Radio antenna, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel with integrated audio controls and Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), which temporarily applies the brakes on uphill slopes to ensure easy starting with no rollback. The adjustable center console has a sliding cover and armrest, three MP3 player holders with wire concealment features and a large storage compartment, and the rear hatch has an easy-close (or available power cinch) function.
Venza is Toyota’s first “car” with standard Star Safety System, which includes ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC) with a cutoff switch and Brake Assist, which supplements braking power in emergencies. Also included are seven airbags-front, front-seat side, roll-sensing side curtains and a driver’s knee bag-and front active headrests.
The standard engine, a new 182-hp DOHC 16-valve 2.7-liter four with dual VVT-i (intelligent variable valve timing), delivers more than acceptable performance at light loads and an estimated 21 mpg city and 29 highway with front-wheel drive (FWD), one mpg less with AWD. For towing (up to 3,500 lb.), heavier loading and/or satisfying uphill performance, you might want to opt for the much stronger 268-hp DOHC 24-valve 3.5-liter V6, which is good for 19 mpg EPA city and 26 highway with FWD, or a mpg less with AWD. Both drive through a six-speed sequential-shift electronically-controlled automatic transmission that matches gear selection to conditions and gives moderate engine braking on downhill slopes. The available AWD’s Active Torque Control optimizes torque distribution between the front and rear wheels.
The Venza’s suspension-MacPherson struts with stabilizer bars front and rear-delivers relatively agile handling with surprisingly comfortable ride. The electronic power steering (EPS) minimizes effort while delivering reasonably good feel. In short, it drives pretty much like a taller, roomier Camry. And much better, we believe, than Toyota’s bigger, heavier, more truck-like Highlander.