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The Toyota Venza is an unconventional vehicle, defying categorization as a wagon or crossover, but landing somewhere in between. This flexibility works to the Venza’s advantage, however, making it a versatile and highly functional car that combines the best of its various niches.
With the Venza, Toyota has one of the better five-passenger wagons--what amounts to a grown-out, grown-up hatchback without the artificially styled SUV-ness, but with some extra space and ride height for the occasional adventures and excursions.Toyota gave the Venza a light refresh for 2013, and has carried it over mostly intact for 2014, adding only power-folding side mirrors for XLE models, and the same mirrors plus front and rear parking sonar on Limited models. The styling didn't change much, save for the adoption of a stronger, waved grille to the sleek hatchback body. It's knitted together particularly well from various Toyota parts, and its roofline and profile sit lower to the eye than some taller utes. We can't help but think AMC Eagle from many angles, and that's a good thing. The cabin's perfectly functional, but trim and materials are more serviceable than sexy. There's a bit too much hard plastic in contact with driver and passenger knees than you might expect in a vehicle that can cost well over $30,000.
There are four-cylinder and V-6 Venzas, and both are offered with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The base engine makes 182 horsepower from 2.4 liters, while the V-6 makes 268 hp. The mileage difference isn't all that great between the two, with four-cylinder Venzas rating up to an EPA 20 mpg city, 26 highway (or as low as 18/25 for the V-6 AWD). Both engines get the same available all-wheel drive system, configured for on-road tractability, and on V-6 models there's an available Towing Prep Package (to tow up to 3,500 pounds).
In drives of Venza models from previous model years, we've found these wagons to drive a bit more like a well-sorted minivan than a sportier wagon or an SUV. You sit higher up, but in terms of ride and handling, the Venza is more carlike than most other alternatives. With moderately soft suspension tuning and rather numb steering, it's by no means exciting to drive, but it's competent and never struggles to defeat the driver's intent. Four-cylinder models are perfectly adequate but uninspiring, while V-6 models have a stronger, smoother character that makes it feel more like the Lexus RX 350. Road noise is an issue on coarser surfaces, with the four-cylinder more than the six.
Unlike Toyota's three-row 4Runner, or even the big Highlander, the Venza makes absolutely no claim to the off-road trail. And while you can get third-row seating in both of those, the Venza only has two rows of (albeit very comfortable seating). It's more a Camry wagon, at a functional level. What that means is impressive space for five adults and a good amount of cargo space—as well as a near-ideal seating height that makes getting in and out especially easy.
The Venza is offered in base LE, mid-range XLE, and top-lux Limited trims—again with the Limited model V-6-only. All have power features, cruise control, and audio systems with aux jacks. Venza XLE models get a memory power driver's seat, reverse-tilt outside mirrors, and navigation—in addition to Entune multi-media features. And at the top of the line, all Limited models now get LED daytime running lights plus premium 13-speaker JBL sound and an upgraded navigation system.
- Sleek hatchback look
- Flexible layout
- Gas mileage is good
- Interior is spacious
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- Steering is vague
- Materials can seem lower-grade
- Interior noise levels