Standard Hybrid Powertrain. Standard AWD. Starting at $32,470 for the LE version. Which is about $3,820 more than the RAV4 LE Hybrid AWD with essentially the same powertrain, built on the same platform and sporting the same wheelbase. But with a far subtler and sleeker look as well as a sales goal that is a small fraction of the RAV4’s, the Venza seems to play more in the Lexus NX/RX space at a lower price point than either of those with similar material quality and a look that is more sculpted rather than sliced and perhaps exudes a quieter type of style than any of the others.
The tested example was a loaded Limited trim, however even in that guise the starting price is under $40,000 and as tested came to not much more than that. Add the “Made In Japan” label, exemplary build quality, a slight measure of exclusivity as well as a drivetrain that is experienced more than noticed and Toyota likely has a winner on their hands.
In fact, in Japan it definitely does. Introduced as the newest Harrier, the model that our Lexus RX used to be a twin of, early orders exceeded expectations by a factor of fifteen. Where 3,100 or so monthly sales were expected from launch, over 45,000 were received in advance of going on sale. This’ll obviously slow down over time but selling more than a year’s projection before even starting is a success in anyone’s book.
You may recall the original Toyota Venza over here, sort of a lifted wagon that was perhaps a bit ahead of its time and never really seemed to catch on before quietly being put out to pasture after 2015. Now, anything slightly raised and with a faster rear roof/hatch line seems to be en vogue.
As a vehicle that sort of straddles the Toyota and Lexus lineups and is styled slightly different than either it ends up really being a variation of several options. Even if for whatever reason the C-HR, RAV4, 4Runner, Highlander, and Lexus UX, NX or RX don’t fit the bill, perhaps the Venza might be the Goldilocks choice.
It features many of the attributes offered by any of these at price points that beat or at least overlap pretty much all of them and that isn’t even considering it against some pricier options in either stable. The plethora of choices is frankly somewhat astounding even though more and more of them are cycling on to the same basic platform, in this case the K version of the basic TNGA architecture.
In regard to the styling, being a carryover Japanese-market model makes it a bit unique and perhaps foreshadows a softer side to Toyota’s future efforts. Both inside and out, there are styling cues not really shared with other models. For me the key aspect is the rear, those extremely slender lights and the scallop in the rear somehow strongly remind me of the Panhard 24.
If one were to CUV-ify the Panhard and extend the lighting across the rear, it gets ever closer. Even in front, while the hood doesn’t extend down between the headlights, the black “grille” bar does pull the eyes down between the Venza’s sculpted headlights to similar visual effect. I don’t know if the Panhard was in fact any way an inspiration, but it was definitely interesting as is the Venza in regard to styling.
I don’t believe the Venza will be viewed to be nearly as polarizing as some of Toyota and Lexus’ other recent models, which is likely a good thing to many readers (strong sales of those designs notwithstanding), but notice that the other recent de rigueur CUV accoutrement, namely the black (or sometimes painted) plastic wheel arch surrounds, are not part of the Venza design.
While the Venza is in fact raised compared to a normal passenger car (or wagon), not using the black trim does have the visual effect of lowering the body again somewhat and in actuality ground clearance at 7.7 inches is in fact already a smidgen lower than the RAV4 (8.4) and the Lexus RX350 (8.2). It’s also a full inch less than for instance something like a Subaru Outback, a vehicle that it resembles quite a bit to some extents, i.e. more wagon-like than traditional CUV/SUV.
Opening the door of our Coastal Gray Metallic example reveals a cabin trimmed attractively if a little dourly with the all-black motif seen here. There are also Gray and Java (Brown) interior options that in some cases change the seat color and in others just various trim areas, either way it seems to liven in up a bit. There are accent pieces in metal as well as in a sort of striped non-wood material inside the center console and on the door panels. It all looks quite stylish in person and feels good.
In the base (LE) version the seats are cloth, in the top (Limited) trim they are Softex, a Toyota brand of imitation leather that feels very good and better here than in some other Toyotas also equipped with Softex (could there be different grades of it?). The middle XLE trim features a combination of both on the seats and throughout.
While the front seats appear to be the same design as those in several other Toyotas that I’ve driven lately, for some reason I found these less comfortable. Not necessarily in the amount of padding but rather in the way my back was supported. Even with the headrest moved back and up to not intrude and the lumber support engaged all the way, I found my back seeming to curve and mold into the seatback rather than be supported, making for somewhat less comfort than I am normally accustomed to.
Headroom was at the lower limit of what was acceptable for me (I’m 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam and tend to sit more upright than reclined). Though larger than the RAV4 it’s a little more snug inside although I didn’t feel cramped and I’m slightly on the larger side of average. Seat comfort in particular, of course, is extremely subjective, and I hardly should be thought of as representative of the entire species in that regard.
Visibility out the front though was exceptional for a modern car, with very slim A-pillars. The sides were similarly good for a modern vehicle with small panes of glass in the front corners beyond the mirrors and even in back aft of the rear seats. Over the shoulder was a bit restricted due to the sail panel rear pillar style, however the combination of Blind Spot sensors and backup camera did their job to make this a non-issue in practice.
The dashboard is again of a different design than anything else in the company stable, and in this case the Limited trim had a huge upper touchscreen measuring 12.3″ that was entirely flat, as opposed to the general current Toyota design with the rows of buttons on either side of the screen (that standard touchscreen is optional on XLE with an 8″ one as standard on it and LE). Below that were the HVAC and audio controls, all of which were mounted within a touch-sensitive panel.
The touch areas were clearly marked and there was some sculpting of the area to delineate by touch the appropriate sections for adjusting volume versus temperature for example. However this is an aspect that is not the same throughout the range, the non-Limited trims feature knobs and buttons here as well as on the touchscreen which may in fact be welcome to many and more resemble the systems in other current Toyotas.
Screen quality was very good and like other larger screens multiple items can be featured at once and even moved around should a different visual sequence be desired. I ended up enjoying having the energy monitor, the navigation screen and the audio selection lined up across it, but this can be adjusted to show a multitude of different things or just focus on one or two items (then larger and more detailed) instead of the three as in this case. The screen, while large, was not in the way of seeing out of the front windshield, but made it easy to ascertain the settings and information at a peripheral glance.
Instrumentation in front of the steering wheel was very crisp and clear as well with a speedometer on the right and a different energy gauge on the left. While the center screen one showed power flow (engine to battery, engine to battery and wheels, battery to wheels, wheels to battery, etc, this one displayed the amount of power being called for.
The needle would swing around along an “Eco” band into a “Power” band and upon release of the throttle it would swing in reverse into the “Charge” band. If the brakes were applied, then the needle would venture deeper into the “Charge” band as the regeneration was increased. There is a little battery monitor on the center screen (on the dash, not in this) showing the state of its charge which went along with my usual displayed selection within the instrument cluster, the fuel economy gauge/display, although I did spend quite a bit of time watching the AWD system screen as well, which I’ll touch on further below.
Below the audio and HVAC controls is a deep bin with a wireless phone charger setup and various outlets for cords etc. and the largest starter (actually a “power”) button I’ve used to date. Between the seats are a couple of cupholders and the very traditional in look and feel (as opposed to for example the Prius) gear lever.
The seat heat and ventilation buttons are in the leading part of the armrest console lid and accessed by sliding it back to the first of several detents. Steering wheel heat is accessed by a button to the left of the steering column which is impossible to see when in motion, this would be a good option to move onto the wheel itself which already has numerous other control buttons on it.
Interestingly the steering wheel heat, as in some other recent vehicles, again only affected the main side areas of the wheel, not the entire circumference. I am becoming more convinced that this is done less to save a little bit of money on wiring, but to subtly encourage proper hand placement on the wheel.
Both the seats and wheel heated up quickly and evenly otherwise and were welcome during the generally chilly weather that was encountered this week. The JBL sound system with cargo area mounted subwoofer sounded good and was welcome although I generally don’t find the non-JBL versions to be at all objectionable either.
Overhead is a twist on the now often-seen panoramic roof. In this case it was a solid, non-opening glass roof (dubbed StarGaze) as in my own vehicle but in addition to a powered black fabric sunshade it also features “electrochromic” glass which at a touch of a roof-mounted button changes it from clear to absolutely visually opaque. I’ve not seen this used in such a volume vehicular application before and it was exceedingly cool to use.
When clear it’s slightly tinted and like a regular glass roof. When frosted, it looks white from the inside and while it lets a lot of light in and brightens things up considerably, it completely diffuses that light. It is quite remarkable although at the end of the day I’d probably take the headroom and save the incremental cost (and weight) of it. I did leave the shade open all week though which is something I rarely do in a normal sunroof or panoramic version and usually had it in the opaque mode.
The rear seat area featured good (i.e. unremarkable either way) access and plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room for someone of my size. The seatbacks recline and comfort was good if perhaps not as “dreamy” as this somewhat hazy picture might make it appear.
Folding the seatbacks (60/40) was intuitive and resulted in a large and flat cargo area. There is not a third row option and in my opinion one would be fairly useless.
The cargo area floor seemed curiously high though, upon lifting the rear floor covering a full size diameter spare revealed itself but also a lot of extra space around and on top of it. On a day trip to a ski area my son and I put various loose items and a couple of grocery bags of food and drinks down there to stop everything from rolling around, there was space for plenty more. In effect it adds quite a bit of extra storage.
The combination of high floor (not higher than the bumper though) and fairly angled rear hatch does result in less cargo room compared to for example the RAV4Hybrid which to compare has 37cu.ft. behind the second row as opposed to the Venza’s 28 and almost 70cu.ft. compared to 55 with the rear seats folded. I’d estimate maybe another four or five cubes under the cargo floor but the RAV4Hybrid may have that as well, and in any case it’s an odd shape down there, more for smaller, loose or squishy items.
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