Driving the Toyota Venza is an excellent foray into the true definition of the term crossover SUV. Because “crossover” has been so overused in SUV marketing over the past decade it’s been hard to know what it really means anymore.
The 2014 Toyota Venza however is clearly in the cross-hairs of what crossover means, an almost even 50/50 car and SUV. It’s got the footprint of an SUV, the width and all-wheel drive capability, rear cargo area. But, it has the height of a large sedan and a more car like persona.
The Toyota Venza was first introduced for 2009 and got a facelift for the 2013 model year. It received a bolder and crisper grille up front and new headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Power folding side mirrors were also added on top trim grades.
With larger than life 20” wheels, this crossover has always been a styling statement. It has a handsome roof line and rear view treatments including dual exhausts with our V6 Limited model. The rear lift-gate is power opening and closing and there’s a rear view camera tucked up in there too.
The interior of the Venza is spacious and feature packed in the top trim grade. You get power and heated leather seats for both driver and passenger, but not ventilated. Memory settings for the driver are a nice touch, and the seat offers an easy exit feature where it slides back at power-off.
From behind the wheel the Venza feels more like a scaled up Prius or scaled down Sienna mini-van than an SUV. The seating position is low and the cabin is wide, giving you a decidedly car-like experience.
Getting comfortable and familiar with controls was easy. The Limited is equipped with the JBL touch-screen audio system with navigation and the Entune smart-phone app suite. Included dual zone-climate control offers up good service with an easy to use interface as well.
An eye for design will likely quibble about the dash which seems to be made from nearly a dozen different finishes, plastic patterns, color, sheen and materials. Fit and finish seems well below what we know to be Toyota standards as well.
Out tester was equipped with a full panoramic roof, but the actual interior openings don’t take full advantage of it, rather giving a dual sun-roof effect. The leather seating surfaces seemed a little less than luxurious both in look and feel than I expected for its $41,000 price tag.
The rear seat provides plenty of head and leg room as well as generous width for three passengers. The seating position is low however, leaving your knees well up high and lower legs unsupported.
On the positive, there are plenty of spaces to store things away. The console has a map pocket on the passenger side and there’s also a slick second glove box on the driver side. Rear cargo area is plentiful in depth and can be expanded well by folding down the rear seats.
The Venza Limited came equipped with Toyota’s venerable VVTi 3.5 liter V6 engine which delivers power through a smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with a 21 mpg combined rating.
The engine provides a healthy punch of power and revs smoothly. It has a raucous growl under power but gets quiet at speed. We achieved 22.5 mpg in our week with the Venza which is commendable given it has all-wheel drive.
With low ground clearance and large 20” wheels, the Venza is not aimed for doing much off-road driving, instead tailored more for paved roads in-town and highway ventures.
Handling is a compromised experience on windy roads and less than smooth pavement. The steering is heavy and lifeless, with little responsiveness in its feel. The Venza feels heavy like a traditional SUV and has less grip than you’d expect.
The chassis is however solid and quiet in most endeavors but the low profile tires and relatively heavy 20” wheels do give a good thump into the cabin over pot holes, tar strips and over pavement irregularities.
The value question comes up as we wrap our review. At $41,115 our Limited V6 AWD seemed to fall short of some features like driver assist, ventilated seats and a full panoramic sunroof that many competitors offer now.
Overall though, the 2014 Toyota Venza remains a uniquely styled option for those who would other wise seek out a wagon or small SUV, but want something a bit more premium. It’s not for everyone however at its price, but that is likely the reason Toyota markets it to empty nesters.