Follow-up drives with a vehicle—when we revisit a new model in our own driveways, following our normal drive routines and familiar roads—almost always prove worthwhile. When we first sample many new vehicles it’s part of product-launch events, with routes cherry-picked by the automaker. You can bet that burly full-size pickup models won’t be first shown to the press in inner Boston, or that the first drive opportunities for a darty minicompact won’t be in the Nevada desert.
So when we first drove the 2009 Toyota Venza for the first time last fall in Southwestern Pennsylvania—an area with lots of steeply rolling hills and unexpectedly banked back roads—we could tell that Toyota must have some confidence in the way the Venza handles, as well as in the ability of the new 182-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine to haul it confidently up to speed, even on steep grades. The Venza delivered on both counts, even though the four didn’t have a lot of power to spare and both executive editor Marty Padgett and I didn’t find the Venza to be much fun to drive fast. We found the Venza’s steering to be, as Marty put it, “dull and lifeless.”
The V-6 model, I noted then, had a surprisingly frisky feel, thanks to 268 hp and a silky yet responsive six-speed automatic. It was the better of the two to hustle on those back roads, but we noted that impact harshness on some of those surfaces with the V-6 was a little too much, with some of the bumps echoing in the cabin and upsetting the otherwise controlled ride. The V-6 Venza, said engineers, has different spring and damper settings than the four-cylinder, as it’s the first of Toyota’s passenger cars to get standard 20-inch wheels. If you’re not aware, bigger wheels often bring a ride-comfort penalty, as is the case here.
Fast-forward to just a couple of weeks ago, when I got a first follow-up with a loaded Venza V-6 on my everyday roads, which include some very coarse road surfaces and potholed streets. Compared to most of the vehicles I’ve driven recently, the Venza’s suspension especially had issue with irregularities, jarring occupants, and had some cabin ‘boom’ on the coarse, truck-rutted surfaces of my local stretch of I-5. It had me stopping to make sure the tires weren’t overinflated.
Otherwise, the Venza exudes practicality, with comfy seats, lots of bins and cubbies, and seats that fold forward easily—plus about the easiest ingress/egress of any vehicle, for the front seats. But the quality of the grained, textured hard plastic that’s throughout the interior wasn’t any better than what we’d seen on the pre-production cars last fall. As on my first drive, my knee settled uncomfortably against the hard, sharp ridge alongside the center stack.
Those quibbles are minor, but I think a lot of V-6 shoppers in urban areas with crumbling roads are going to have issue with the ride quality. The 2009 Toyota Venza does look great with the 20-inchers, but perhaps there should be a downgrade option.
In the meantime, my drive with the Venza in V-6 form served to emphasize that if you’re looking at this vehicle, you’re probably going to be happier with the four-cylinder. The Venza’s steering, in either form, holds it back from enthusiastic driving, the four has enough power for most needs, and we saw significantly better fuel economy from it. Our advice: Keep it simple here, or step up to the Lexus RX 350, which only costs a few grand more than a loaded Venza V-6.