2021 Toyota Venza Overview
|✓ Hybrid fuel economy||☓ ‘Dynamic’ it is not|
|✓ Upscale interior||☓ Not the most spacious SUV for its size|
|✓ Smooth, comfortable ride||☓ Pricey, but still $6,000 than a Lexus RX|
The 2021 Toyota Venza revives an old nameplate, but this time Toyota attached it to a more conventional(ish) crossover. It fills a void, if you thought one was there in the first place, between the smaller RAV4 and the larger Highlander. Think Ford Edge, Chevy Blazer, Honda Passport and the like, and you’ll get a sense of where this lands in the crossover pecking order. Unlike that bunch, though, the Venza is hybrid-only. With an EPA-rated 39 combined mpg (I managed 38 in my time with it, so that estimate is pretty accurate), it demolishes all its direct competition on efficiency. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was for this car to feel solid and luxurious to make me question why I would necessarily buy a hybrid Lexus RX.
Let’s start with the fundamentals. The midsize Venza kicks off at $33,645 including destination. Price-wise, that falls a closer to the RAV4 Hybrid than the larger Highlander Hybrid. That’s for the base LE model, which honestly comes perfectly well-equipped with everything you need for the money.
The $37,175 XLE adds things like heated seats, a larger driver information display, and LED lighting. Finally, there’s the $40,975 I’m testing here. A 12.3-inch infotainment system and ventilated seats (on top of heated seats) are the headline, luxurious features, along with the $725 head-up display and $1,800 “Star Gaze” panoramic sunroof, that really make the Venza feel Lexus-like. Fully-loaded, out the door, our tester sports a $43,100 price tag.
Styling that tries to be different (but not too hard)
The first-generation Toyota Venza was a bit odd, to say the least. It was a sort of wagon-ish, crossovery thing, but this 2021 Toyota Venza aims to be a more practical way to split the difference between the RAV4 and Highlander. That said, the new model isn’t bereft of styling quirks. Take the rear end, for example, where the thin rear taillight stretches across the entire area, sitting just below the shoulder line as it rises from the front of the car to the rear. The tailgate then drops off from the glass, then kicks out again before the tailgate actually stops, just short of the lower rear bumper. Despite being a hybrid with no sporting pretensions, you do get a couple of (admittedly fake) exhaust outlets.
At the front, Toyota’s Venza takes on the same sort of enormous grille design as the Avalon sedan. Take that for what you will, but to my mind it strikes a middle ground between the more chiseled RAV4 and the more elegant Highlander. At any rate, it’s distinctive from both, and the styling quirks continue with the sloping rear roofline all the way around to the rear. Once you get there, you’ll notice the thin, wraparound LED taillights jutting out from the tailgate, before another character line kicks out beneath those lights which, to my eye, accentuates the back end. The current Highlander does that too, but the Venza is far more pronounced.
On the whole, the 2021 Toyota Venza strikes some balance between the unusual but different, like the Prius Prime, and the familiarity we’ve come to expect from crossovers. You know what? At least Toyota didn’t just blow up the RAV4 or shrink the Highlander, so I respect what they’ve done here. At least it’s not as nesting doll-ish as some other models (not naming names).
With 219 horsepower, the 2021 Toyota Venza’s 2.5-liter engine and electric motors (note, there are two here — one on each axle) give it enough thrust to get around town. Like the RAV4 Hybrid, we’re not reckoning with a sports car here. But provided you’re shopping in this segment, out-and-out performance isn’t really what matters, is it? You do get more oomph than that power figure would suggest, thanks to that instantaneous electric torque. Even better for the money, and the real reason you should consider a Venza, is the fuel economy.
Even with 3,913 pounds of girth to lug around — to say nothing of my own girth — Toyota’s midsize hybrid returned 38 mpg in highway-heavy mixed driving. About 40 percent of my overall time in this car was driving around town. That’s exactly where EPA figures peg the Venza, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting 550 miles out of a tank if you aren’t a lead-foot. Even if you are, you still should fare far better than this crossover’s rivals in between trips to the pumps.
Comfort and Convenience
Up front, the 2021 Toyota Venza packs a luxurious interior, though I do have one gripe. That’s nothing to do with the materials — this Limited packs soft-touch surfaces and fantastically comfortable SofTex seats with color-coded piping, while the touch-sensitive media and climate controls give the Venza an upscale touch. Capacitive buttons aren’t to everyone’s taste, so if you want physical knobs and buttons be aware you will have to drop down to the LE or XLE to keep that.
Speaking of those trims, the standard 8.0-inch touchscreen on the base LE and some XLE models does feel a bit small these days, but you do get (wired) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard fare. Opting for a package on the XLE or getting the Limited does up that screen to 12.3 inches like the Highlander, and there’s little to complain about there. Add heated and ventilated seats to the mix, panoramic “Star Gaze” roof and Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 suite, and you won’t want for features onboard either.
Not very roomy
In a car that’s nearly half a foot longer than a RAV4, you’d expect the 2021 Toyota Venza to pack more passenger room or at least greater cargo area than its smaller sibling. I’m afraid not.
Overall passenger volume in the Venza suffers from that sloping roof, coming in at just 95.8 cubic feet. Both front and rear legroom are tighter than a RAV4, at 38.1 inches (1.9 inches less) and 36.9 inches (0.9 inches less) respectively. Headroom is a tradeoff: It’s a few tenths of an inch better in the front, but 1.6 inches worse in the rear than a comparably-aged RAV4. Cargo volume for the Venza comes in at just 28.7 cubic feet with the rear seats and place, and 54.9 cubic feet with them folded.
For all the Venza’s strengths, interior space is certainly its major weakness. Liftover height for loading your luggage into the relatively small cargo area is also notably high, thanks to the higher floor above the rear motor and battery.
What’s this “Lexus” you speak of?
The 2021 Toyota Venza Limited is a premium offering for thousands less than the equivalent Lexus RX 450h. If you’re a value-conscious buyer looking for a great all-around option that’s affordable, fuel efficient and practical enough, it’s certainly worth your time. There are more dynamic and practical options in the segment like the Ford Edge and Chevy Blazer, but when it comes down to the MSRP and fuel economy game, the Venza is a serious player. And if you are indeed looking for even more luxury for your money, you can always step into the more sumptuous, more powerful (but less efficient) RX hybrid for a shade over $49,000.
2021 Toyota Venza Limited Specs:
|Base Price:||$40,975 (including destination)|
|Engine||2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle I4 + three electric motors|
|Horsepower:||219 hp (combined system output): |
176 hp (gas engine); 118 hp (front electric motor); 54 hp (rear electric motor)
|Torque:||163 lb-ft (gas engine); 149 lb-ft (front electric motor); 89 lb-ft (rear electric motor)|
|Transmission:||Continuously variable transmission (eCVT)|
|40 City / 37 Highway / 39 Combined MPG|
(38 MPG observed in 60-40 city/highway mixed driving)
|Drivetrain layout:||Front-engine, all-wheel drive (rear powered by electric motor only)|
|Suspension:||Front: Independent MacPherson strut suspension with stabilizer bar|
Rear: Multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar
|Brakes:||Front: 12.0-inch power-assisted ventilated discs with regenerative braking|
Rear: 11.1-inch solid discs
|Dimensions (L x W x H):||186.6 x 73.0 x 65.9 inches|
|Ground Clearance:||7.8 inches|
|Legroom (F/R):||40.9 in. / 37.8 in.|
|Headroom (F/R):||38.1 in. / 36.9 in. (with Star Gaze fixed panoramic sunroof)|
|Passenger volume:||95.2 cubic feet (with Star Gaze fixed panoramic sunroof)|
|Cargo volume:||28.7 cubic feet (seats up); 54.9 cubic feet (seats folded)|
|Curb weight:||3,913 pounds (Limited trim)|