Yesterday we talked about the 2009 Toyota Venza, the seventh crossover or SUV to join the Toyota lineup. It's big, expensive and not particularly fuel-efficient versus other crossovers, so how about everything else?
Exterior Design: ***
The Venza tests the limits of the company's traditionally conservative styling direction. It's weird, yes, but we've always felt certain kinds of weird are good. This is one of them. Our tester looked handsome in chocolate brown and the 20" wheels minimize the perceived size of the vehicle. Its a shocking form at first, but as you live with it, the styling grows on you. For a hefty crossover, that's not too shabby.
Interior Design: **
Inside the car is hard to measure. The seats are wonderful; soft in all the right places and supportive where they need to be. Visibility is mediocre and the position of the wheels is hard to judge from the driver's seat. The gauges and information screen at the base of the window are easy to read and navigate. Rear seat accommodation is just as nice as the front, with the second sunroof introducing plenty of light and a nice airy feeling to the cabin. There are major flaws with the IP and center console; The asymetrical design is strange and only made stranger by the weird texturing. Storage is massive, but the various doors and trays make using it a test of patience and will, the purse pocket on the side with a an electrical outlet above it is a welcome touch for the target buyer.
With a 3.5-liter V6 making 268 HP, there's a pretty decent amount of scoot for a rig weighing in around two tons. It'll get you onto a freeway without any drama, but it's not exactly a rocket ship. We shudder to imagine what the four-pot mill wailing away underhood with 182 HP is like.
They exist, they stop the car, but, like the rest of the car, the brakes aren't designed to take you're breath away. Repeated braking doesn't produce noticeable fade until you really beat on em, but if one of these ever sees the business side of a track we'll eat our hats.
The ride was one of the more surprising elements of the car. We expected to find a soft-riding, corner-hating, floaty beast, but such was not the case. The car was fairly well sorted and rode much firmer than most others in the class. It soaks up the gentle bumps but is surprisingly jarring over expansion joints and pavement heaves. Maybe the large wheels are to blame?
Aggressive driving is rewarded with howls of protest from the tires and moderate body roll, but again, this isn't intended to be a sportscar. Steering is unfortunately light and sawing back and forth through twisties doesn't give you much off-center feel. The tighter than average ride gives the illusion of aggressive handling, but actually putting the car through the corners tells you otherwise. It's sporty feeling, not actually sporty.
What's there to say? it's a Camry transmission, it does the job without getting in the way. As is the case with most manumatic transmissions, the option to shift it yourself is there, but only reminds you how much fun an actual manual transmission would be in its place.
The six disc in-dash CD changer mated to the JBL Synthesis audio system is pretty strong, with a good balance of power and clarity. If nothing else, the Venza is a rolling iPod dock, with three different places to put the thing and a dedicated dock next to the shifter. Great if you're a pod-head but not particularly useful if you aren't.
The Venza has a fairly standard toybox for the segment: backup camera, Sat/Nav system, power liftgate, Bluetooth connectivity, that nice audio system and optional DVD players. It's not a car which smothers you with technology, but it doesn't really need to be, it's a family hauler and a tool of transport more than anything else.
We'd be hard pressed to call the Venza as a steal, in fact it gets pretty expensive very quickly. Optioned with the basics at around $25k, it's a reasonable balance of space and cost, but not terribly exciting to hang out in. With our tester ringing the bell over $38k and a lot of really strong competition in the segment, it's feeling overly dear, especially considering the paltry fuel economy.
The Venza feels like an offering that would have been a home run in the early part of the decade, back when SUV's where the hottest thing on the market and fuel economy was something only patchouli-scented hippies cared about. The Venza does everything, but none of it particularly well. The interior is odd and isn't assembled with the greatest of care, it's comfortable, but not remarkably so. In short, the Venza feels like a crossover-shaped punt from Toyota and an expensive, thirsty, one at that.