The Toyota Venza Hybrid is a new urban crossover that focuses on technology, intuitive performance, and design
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On several levels, the new Toyota Venza hybrid is next-level transportation. Its advanced technologies are formidable but presented as a buffet to pick and choose, not to force-feed the user. It has user functionality for the electronically sophisticated or a first-time user.
Venza is a very targeted vehicle in the popular sweet spot of midsize, five-seat crossover SUVs. Venza is more of an urban crossover that focuses on technology, intuitive performance and sophisticated design, Toyota says. The two-row Venza is positioned between the RAV4 and Highlander, which are considered more adventurous crossovers.
The nameplate was brought back from a prior Toyota Venza that was sold in the U.S. from 2008-2015. The new 2021 Venza for North America shares a foundation with the Japanese-market Harrier crossover SUV. But the Venza is most comparable to the RAV4 Hybrid, with which it shares the majority of hybrid hardware.
For the U.S. the Venza is a hybrid-only model with standard on-demand all-wheel drive. The electronically smart system uses a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed. The driver does nothing to engage the system, it’s all done through a multitude of sensors.
The gasoline-electric powertrain is comprised of a 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder gas engine, three electric motors, and a lithium-ion battery pack.
Venza might be compared to such five-seat competition as the Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. But as an all-wheel-drive hybrid, it is in a class of its own. And with its high-quality interior materials, it is more of a premium choice than the Ford or Nissan.
Compared to the RAV4 hybrid, the Venza is 5.7 inches longer with a 1.3-inch lower roofline. And it is heavier by 133 pounds, which cuts about 1 mpg from fuel-economy ratings.
Venza is sold in three all-wheel-drive trim levels. Starting prices range from $33,745 for the entry LE to $37,275 for the XLE and $41,075 for the Limited. Pricing includes the $1,175 freight charge from Aichi, Japan.
Today’s Limited tester was $43,200 with the Star Gaze panoramic roof ($1,400) and Advance Technology package ($725). The tech package includes a head-up windshield display with speed and hybrid-system indicators.
The expansive electrochromic Star Gaze roof is a unique luxury feature in this mainstream segment. The driver can switch the glass from a transparent view to frosted. Back seat passengers will appreciate the softer light and reduced glare of direct sunlight. But is a pricey courtesy that I’d like better for $400.
The Limited is well equipped with such features as smart-key locking and push-button ignition, Softex-trimmed upholstery, a rearview camera with guidance lines, and a bird’s-eye view with perimeter scan. There’s even a rear camera lens washer.
Interior features include heated and ventilated front seats and heated steering wheel, digital rearview camera mirror, nine-speaker JBL premium audio, and a 12.3-inch touch screen and touch-capacitive controls. The dynamic navigation system features an enhanced 2D landmark display that shows lane guidance and freeway exit displays.
Connectivity features include Bluetooth phone and music, Apple CarPlay (with Siri), Android Auto (with Google Assistant), and Amazon Alexa.
Find lease and purchase pricing incentives here.
Standard warranty coverage for Venza is 3 years or 36,000 miles bumper to bumper. It includes 2 years or 25,000 miles of factory scheduled maintenance with 24-hour roadside assistance. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles.
Hybrid warranty coverage includes 10 years or 150,000 miles for the battery and 8 years or 100,000 miles for the hybrid system.
Venza’s gasoline-electric powertrain combines a 2.5-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine with three electric motors. Two motors are at the front wheels and one at the rear for AWD.
The gas engine has 176 horsepower, which rises to an overall total of 219-hp with the 88-kW (118-hp) permanent-magnet synchronous motors. A rear 40 kW (54 hp) motor powers the AWD. The lithium-ion battery pack totals 252 volts among 70 cells at 3.6-volts per cell for 650 volts maximum.
The continuously variable transmission (eCVT) has a sequential shift mode and selectable driving modes of normal, eco, and sport. An EV mode allows electric-only driving at low speeds for short distances. There’s also a “downshift” feature to boost regenerative braking.
The regen-braking and EV modes will be engaging to some, but I did not feel the need.
The fuel economy ratings seem achievable at 40 mpg city, 37 highway, and 39 mpg combined, on 87 octane fuel. (That compares to the RAV’s 41/38/40 mpg.)
Setting cruise control at 68 mph, I quickly worked up to 38.4 mpg combined on highway runs. My around-town mileage was consistent at 32-35 mpg in my test week of 232 miles. When finished, the computer indicated 312 miles to empty. With the 14.5-gallon tank, a long-distance commuter could expect well over 500 miles to a fill-up.
Reading the road
Among Venza’s advanced technologies is the driver-selectable Predictive Efficient Drive. It uses the navigation system to analyze driving habits and memorize road and traffic conditions to help optimize hybrid battery charging. The PED system learns repeating routes and can predict when and where the vehicle is likely to slow down or stop. Through so-called “optimum accelerator pedal release timing guidance” the system can help reduce fuel and battery consumption.
PED can also help optimize battery charging and discharge ahead of hills or traffic congestion. When approaching a downhill section, for example, the system is designed to apply more engine braking to boost the charge going to the hybrid battery.
Venza’s driver-assist systems
The standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 allows Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. The system integrates all-speed dynamic radar cruise control and lane change assist, front cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian alert.
Always keep both hands on the wheel while using the semi-autonomous features.
The system capably keeps the car centered in the lane, but like most systems, it will randomly shut off. That might be due to variable light and road-surface conditions. This type of safety system will be beneficial for those drivers who have daily commutes in heavy traffic. The sensors are an extra six eyes on the road to watch for less-attentive drivers.
The safety system includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and intelligent high beams.
Venza’s safety designs earn top stars from two testing agencies. The National Highway Safety Administration ranked it five stars overall, with five as the top rating. In frontal collisions, the Venza earned four stars for driver-side protection and five stars for the front passenger. It aced the overall side crash category with five stars each in side barrier and pole tests, front and rear seats. And four stars for rollover risk.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety gave it a Top Safety Pick for the XLE and Limited models with the LED projector headlights and high-beam assist.
Contributing to its high rankings is Toyota Safety Sense (TSS 2.0) active safety systems. Other standard safety features on all trim levels are eight air bags, stability and traction controls, brake-force distribution, brake assist, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
The Venza might be considered a citified version of the RAV4 Hybrid, but I found it to be very different. The exterior styling is urban-attractive with the look of an electrified vehicle.
It is very quiet rolling over most highway surfaces even with the 19-inch Bridgestone Ecopia tires. These “green” tires have a fairly hard treadwear rating of 600, but that also translates to warranty coverage of 70,000 miles.
Braking is absolute with vented 12-inch front discs and 11.1-inch solid rear. It will take time for the driver to adjust to brake-pedal pressure. Stepping on the pedal can feel like an on-off switch as it passes through the inch or so of regen-gap to the actual grip of braking.
At 3,913 pounds, the Limited can feel weighty on lumpy road surfaces as the independent suspension works to control the heaves of imbalance. The ride quality is robust and secure, yet soft and comfortable. It’s more about easy driving than getting happy on a twisty road, but I’m sure that’s OK for this buyer.
Because Venza is an “electrified” platform, it needs some underfloor capacity for battery storage. The result is a high-riding vehicle but without tall interior space, which feels low and wide.
Aerodynamics are maximized by its sleek exterior design and sloping roof. Front headroom for some might be a bit low at 38.1 inches with the Star Gaze roof, or 38.6 inches without. The front legroom of 40.9 inches is competitive but potentially limiting to the big-and-tall set.
The Limited’s interior is well dressed in soft-touch materials. There is neat stitching and the plastics throughout have a quality appearance top to bottom.
All models have an eight-way power driver seat (with seat cushion tilt). The front passenger has just four-way adjustment, but it should really be six-way, with height adjustment.
The power driver’s seat smartly includes an auto slide-away function, which automatically moves to the rearmost position. It will be a valued asset to drivers of all sizes. The rake of the windshield and roofline creates the potential for a duck-and-enter sequence.
There is a command-center design to the driver area, but it’s not all that efficient for small-item storage. The shift console is largely consumed by the shifter, but a row of shift buttons would allow more space for a place to lay a phone.
There is a charging e-bin just ahead of the shifter with a pair of USBs, an audio aux-in, and a wireless charging pad. But space might be slim for those with big hands.
The capacitive-touch controls for heat-fan-temp are logically grouped on a tier just above the shifter, but it takes eyes from the road to stab at raising the temp or adjusting the fan speed. Lower-trim models have a simpler pair of large dials for temp control and a tier of hard buttons for fan speed and vent flow.
The Limited also has a digital rearview mirror, which is intended to improve visibility behind the vehicle. It can be handy when passengers’ heads or stacked cargo gets in the way of rearward views. But because I wear glasses, my eyes struggle to focus quickly enough when I glance at the mirror, so I just flip it to manual mode.
Driver sightlines are generally open. There is a small corner glass at the windshield pillars for a snip of cornering view. Over-the-shoulder views are slightly crimped by the tapering rear side glass and the front seat’s broad upper shoulder bolsters also complicate peripheral views. But the wide bird’s-eye view camera system gives an around-view and a perimeter scan for fully functional parking.
The turning circle is tighter than many midsize sedans, at 37.4 feet with 19-inch tires or 36.1 ft. with 18s.
Back seats and cargo area
The rear headroom isn’t bad at 36.9 inches or 38.1 without the pano roof. But it would help rear entry if the doors were engineered to open a few degrees wider or for easier access when buckling a child into a car seat.
Legroom of 37.8 inches is more than generous, but with long-legs in front the space seems almost cramped. A lowish exhaust tunnel benefits (occasional) three-across seating. But all passengers will enjoy the big pano roof and its light-switching mode.
The lithium-ion battery pack is small enough to be installed under the rear seats, so it does not take up any cargo or passenger space.
Cargo space is tight for a midsize SUV at 28.7 cubic feet behind the back seat. The roofline is low at 28 inches from floor to ceiling and the lift-up to the floor is tall at 32 ½ inches. The entry opening is wide at 39 inches. Fold the 60/40 back seat for 6 feet of long-item length.
There is some deep basement storage (where the standard tonneau cover can be stored) and there is an actual alloy wheel for the temporary spare.
Carmakers can lead the public to fuel-saving vehicles, but the purchase rate is wildly variable. Toyota has been masterful at giving that cup of cold water rather than dumping a bucket of technology over the heads of buyers.
The Venza brings the number of 2021 Toyota hybrids to 10 – and the fuel-cell-powered Mirai makes it 11 electrified vehicles.
There is remarkable simplicity for the highly electrified Venza. Use as much or as little as you wish, while enjoying its forefront styling and upscale interior. It can be driven as “just a car” and still earn more than 35 mpg.
Body style: midsize, 5-seat crossover SUV with on-demand all-wheel drive
Engine: 189-hp, direct-injection 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 163 lb.-ft. torque at 5,200 rpm
Electric motors: 2 88-kW 118-hp, permanent-magnet synchronous front; 40 kW rear
Hybrid battery pack: Lithium ion; 252 volts; 70 cells; 3.6-volts per cell; 650 volts maximum
Combined net power: 219-hp
Transmission: eCVT with sequential shift mode
Fuel economy: 40/37/39 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
Base price: $41,075, including $1,175 freight charge; price as tested $43,200Read more