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Toyota hasn't sold a Camry Wagon in years, but in the automaker's lineup the 2012 Toyota Venza is what comes closest to it today. The Venza provides a higher seating position than a sedan, but a low, more manageable one than tall, upright SUVs, and in terms of space the five-seater slots between the base five-seat RAV4 and the more bloated Highlander seven-seater.
The 2012 Venza completely skips the rugged look of SUVs; but it also dodges the overwrought high-performance look of some crossovers, too. What results is a design that's already been on the market for three years but still looks soft and contemporary. Standing out isn't the priority, it seems (even though it looks nice with the available 20-inch wheels); instead, it's a perfectly competent family vehicle that combines most of the utility offered by a crossover SUV with a lower fastback roofline. Inside, the appointments are a bit more lavish than those within the Camry or Highlander--taking cues, almost, as an on-a-budget Lexus RX 350.
The Venza's reason for being clearly isn't performance either, but most families will find it to be adequate if not entertaining. The base 182-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, teamed to a six-speed automatic falls strictly into the adequate category. It putters along just fine, albeit without much inspiration, with front- or all-wheel drive, but you'll wish for a gutsier personality on steep hills, or with a full load. With the 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, you get a smoother, stronger character that's again more along the lines of the Lexus RX 350, but you lose several mpg. Overall, the Venza drives much more like a minivan than a sport sedan or SUV; it handles well enough, though not in an inspiring way, because of a soft suspension and numb steering.
Inside, it's all about passenger comfort, and it's easy to see who Toyota's target customer is with this vehicle. The tall roofline allows a rather high, upright driving position and plenty of headroom. And it allows the other major advantage of the Venza's design: those high, but not too-high, seats are superbly easy to slide in and out of—perfect for the elderly, Meanwhile, the roomy back seat is great for a couple of adults riding along, and the reclining seatback folds nearly flat for bulky weekend errands such as picking up furniture, or for packing the grandkids' strollers.
A soft, quiet, isolated cabin combined with nice details and trim--at least visually--make the Venza feel almost like a luxury vehicle, although there's a bit more road noise than a Lexus would ever have, and the base four is vocal, albeit smooth. Unfortunately up close there's a bit too much hard plastic for a vehicle with a price tag than can well exceed $30k.
The Venza changes very little for 2012, in most respects, but the Venza is now offered in three trims instead of one. Base LE models get a number of conveniences, including dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescopic steering-wheel adjustment, overhead console lights, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, plus a USB port and aux input. A power liftgate and backup camera are available. The XLE adds those items, plus heated seats, leather upholstery, a Smart Key system, and more, while the top-of-the-line Limited comes in V-6 form only and adds navigation, a panoramic glass roof, and HID headlamps. A DVD entertainment system is optional, and all sorts of pet-friendly accessories remain available at dealerships.
- Seating comfort
- Gas mileage (four-cylinder)
- Smooth, inoffensive styling
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- Road noise
- Vague steering
- Uninspiring materials, trims