It was time for a new car and I wanted to drive something different. For the past twenty plus years I've been driving sport sedans and coupes. I like fast cars that take curves nicely; my most recent car was a Lexus IS 350. It was very fast and handled well. It's not a sports car, but close enough and comfortable for long trips. This time I wanted something bigger, something that would handle some bags of mulch from Home Depot, but wouldn't drive like a truck. Most of the time I have nothing to haul around except for a few bags of groceries. Basically, I wanted a sports car that would magically have the storage space of a pickup truck. The Venza may not be all that, but it comes reasonably close.
I chose a fully loaded FWD V6 268 HP Venza with its standard 6-speed automatic transmission. The Venza hits a lot of sweet spots. Toyota lists it as a car. I would say it's more like 50% car, 25% station wagon and 25% SUV.
Except for the stubby front, I like the lines and looks of this car quite a bit. But even that is mitigated by its wide, expansive grill. The car has a great form factor. It's higher than a sedan, but not as high as an SUV. Sculpted sides give it an interesting, aggressive stance. The roofline lightly slopes to the back, which gives backseat occupants great headroom. The Venza's rear has a distinctive look, too. The 20" wheels, standard on the V6, contribute to its excellent proportions and car-like handling. Unlike many other SUVs, the height of the Venza's doorsill is similar to that of a sedan; entry and egress are very easy.
The interior is a mixed bag. The lines are nice and the layout is excellent, but Toyota should have used better materials in some places at this price level. The seats for example, are leather, but not the best grade. Some of the lower dash materials could be made from a better quality vinyl. The buttons are made from quality soft touch plastics and the design of the dash is very nicely done. The overall appearance is quite nice. Toyota put the shift knob on the front of the dash. This clears up a lot of space on the console, giving you more usable room. The satin woodgrain material looks good, but they could have used real wood. The two cup holders are very usable (one includes an insert for cans and smaller cups) and look good. Maybe Toyota should have included a door to hide them, but no big deal. Besides, subtle blue lights illuminate the bottom of the cup holders at night. There is a lot of storage space, with two separate storage compartments in the front console. Add that to the door pockets, generous glove compartment, coin tray and sunglass holder, and you've got plenty of room to stow things for a long trip.
The instrument cluster is large, attractive and easy to read. From left to right, there is a tachymeter, larger central speedometer, fuel gauge and temperature gauge. There is also a vacuum fluorescent display built into the top of the dash that gives you a continuous display of outside temperature, A/C settings and fuel-related information. The font size is adjustable if you have trouble reading it. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for the stereo, cruise control, telephone, and voice recognition. There are also stalks for headlights and front and rear windshield wipers. This might be a good place to add that the Venza has keyless entry with push button start.
The seats are quite comfortable and 8-way power adjustment for the driver will keep you from fidgeting on long trips. I wish they had used sport seats with more side support, maybe next year. The rear seats are comfortable, too and can recline about 15 degrees. In addition to the power moonroof over the front seat, there's also a panoramic glass roof over the rear seat.
So, how about the trunk/hatch itself? In a word, excellent. There's about 30 CF of storage space with the seats up. There are latches in the back to drop the rear seats, more than doubling the storage area. There is power lift gate control in the car and on the key fob, which comes in handy when your hands are full or if you need to open the hatch for someone else while you are in the car.
The Venza does very nicely with its electronics. The navigation system is good and utilizes XM/Sirius traffic warnings (optional service). The screen is well-placed and bright, but the resolution could be a little better. Also, glare reduces readability in some lighting conditions. The screen also controls the JBL 13-speaker stereo. You can't enter addresses into the navigation system while the car is moving, a significant annoyance as far as I'm concerned. What if I have a passenger in the car who can use the navigation system? It's not unsafe for them to enter an address. Anyway, It seems to be a pretty good system, if not the absolute best.
The Venza does iPod connectivity right! You can play audio through the USB interface with its on-screen menus or through Bluetooth. There is an MP3 player "pocket" on the front of the dash where you can stow your iphone or MP3 player while you're driving. This pocket has an invisible passthrough for the USB cable. You can pair an iPhone 3gs for Bluetooth voice and Bluetooth audio. If you use Bluetooth audio, you can play your music through the car's stereo immediately, without any connection. The sounds quality is just as good as the wired connection, although there was some occasional stuttering.
The Venza's JBL stereo (an option) is excellent. It's so good that you can easily tell how bad XM/Sirius' sound quality is on most channels (not any better than FM). The interface is decent, but makes some errors common to Toyota/Lexus vehicles. For example, there are large buttons for FM/SAT/CD/ACC (USB/Bluetooth), but a small button for Audio. The Audio button is the main interface for listening to music. That button should be more prominent. On the satellite screen you have to press a button labeled "Text" to see the name of the song that's playing. There is plenty of room on the screen you select the channels to display the song title and artist, so why not just put it there? All of the electronics on a car should be designed to help the driver keep his or her eyes on the road and not looking for buttons to press on a touchscreen.
The Venza's V6 does 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, performance that I would call quick but not fast. This vehicle handles much more like a sedan than like an SUV. While it doesn't whip around curves, it handles them without rolling. The Venza doesn't feel top heavy either, but you definitely get an elevated view of the road. In short, handling is good, but don't expect sport sedan performance. However, I think that with a little effort on Toyota's part, it might get there.
I have a few disagreements with the dash/electronics user interface, but it's much better than my previous Lexus and pretty good compared to most cars. My previous Lexus had a user interface that was so bad, I still believe it couldn't have been accidental.
The Toyota Venza isn't inexpensive, but you get a lot for your money. When you compare it to comparable types of cars, like the Murano or the upscale Lexus RX and Cadillac SRX, it does very well. If you want extra room for flexibility, but don't need a full size SUV, the Venza is well worth a test drive.
Great body, good looks and just the right size for its market
Some parts of the dash should use more upscale materials
Decent power, quick (but not fast) car with good handling. It drives much more like a car than an SUV
Leather seats are very comfortable, but not the best grade leather and lacking a bit in side support
Nicely designed interior
Despite car-like handling, it's not going to fool you into thinking you're driving a sports sedan
Excellent instrument cluster
Navigation system doesn't allow you to enter addresses while driving, but does allow voice entry of destinations.
Excellent sound system, good navigation system
Very good implementation of Bluetooth, especially if you have a mobile phone with both Bluetooth profiles