2011 Toyota Venza Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 27, 2011

You won’t find much excitement or flair in the 2011 Toyota Venza, but it makes a lot of sense as an alternative to either a large sedan or a mid-size SUV.

In Toyota's well-stocked lineup, the 2011 Toyota Venza slots in between the base five-seat RAV4 and the more bloated Highlander seven-seater; while the RAV4 and Venza have three rows of seating, the Venza has two rows and seats five.

With a smooth, hatchback-style silhouette that's softer and lower than most crossovers, and subtle, conservative detailing, the 2011 Toyota Venza is neither rugged nor racy looking—a bit at odds with its "venture" and "Monza" naming roots. While it isn't that, it's a perfectly competent family vehicle that combines most of the utility offered by a crossover SUV with a lower fastback roofline.

Performance really isn't the Venza's reason for being, though it performs well enough for most family needs in either of its forms. With powertrain components that are strictly from the Toyota parts bin, shoppers have a choice between a four-cylinder or V-6 engine. The base 182-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, teamed to a six-speed automatic, with either front- or all-wheel drive, putters anonymously in most situations but feels a bit strained with a full load or on steep grades; it can sound a little coarse, too. The 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 gives the Venza a smoother, stronger character, but fuel economy is the penalty. In repeat drives, editors have found the Venza's driving experience to be adequate but numb and uninspiring. It drives much more like a minivan than a sport sedan; though you can hustle the Venza along, you won't feel inspired to as the steering feel is quite vague and there's a lot of body roll.

Review continues below

In Toyota's well-stocked lineup, the 2010 Toyota Venza slots in between the base five-seat RAV4 and the more bloated Highlander seven-seater. Roomy five-passenger seating and an emphasis on comfort and versatility cast it as a direct rival to the most carlike crossover vehicles. 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, in fact. In back, a reclining seatback and very roomy back seat is fit for adults, while the seats fold nearly flat to provide enough space for smaller pieces of furniture, for instance.

Overall, the Venza goes down the road with a certain isolation that pleases riders, not drivers. The suspension is quite soft, and the Venza steers and brakes safely, though the electric power steering comes across as artificial and lifeless, with no feel of the road. Editors have noticed that four-cylinder models ride a bit better without handling any worse, although in either model wind and road noise aren't up to a luxury-car level either.

Highlights from the options list include leather upholstery, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a power liftgate, a Smart Key system with push-button start, leather trim, a cargo mat, and all sorts of pet-friendly accessories. Connectivity was improved last year with the introduction of standard iPod connectivity across the model line, along with Bluetooth hands-free functions. The available, top-of-the-line JBL premium audio system is impressive sounding, and also earns Bluetooth audio streaming.

7

2011 Toyota Venza

Styling

The 2011 Toyota Venza is smoothly styled and handsome overall—but it’s certainly no breakthough.

The 2011 Venza is a pretty good-looking vehicle overall, particularly from the side profile; that's a feat for a Frankenstein-like creation that underneath it all is part Camry, part Highlander, and partly original underneath.

Overall, the Venza turned out a little more carlike on the outside than most other crossovers. The snout, including the multibar grille that reminds us of a gawky teenager in braces, is full of chrome and probably the least attractive part of the Venza design. but otherwise, especially from the back, its roofline gives it just enough shapeliness. Inside, the Venza is also a bit curvy but not over the top, with big, clear gauges and an unusual center stack dividing driver and front passenger. With the mahogany-grain trim, the Venza is arguably quite well dressed.

The interior design isn't daring, but with its swoopy center stack, it's certainly not boring—consider is a curvier, more luxurious, and slightly laid-back version of the interface you get in minivans. The only thing we don't like about the design is that the center stack takes up a lot of space in front, and the driver's knee has to rest along hard plastic. Take a look up close and some of the materials carry interesting textures; but most of these are pleasing in appearance only.

Review continues below
7

2011 Toyota Venza

Performance

The 2011 Toyota Venza performs well enough, but there’s very little that’s exciting about it.

Performance really isn't the Venza's reason for being, though it performs well enough for most family needs in either of its forms. With powertrain components that are strictly from the Toyota parts bin, shoppers have a choice between a four-cylinder or V-6 engine. The base 182-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, teamed to a six-speed automatic, with either front- or all-wheel drive, putters anonymously in most situations but feels a bit strained with a full load or on steep grades; it can sound a little coarse, too. The 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 gives the Venza a smoother, stronger character, but fuel economy is the penalty.

Off-roading simply isn't part of the 2011 Venza vocabulary. Simply put, the Venza is configured for a smooth ride and reasonably responsive performance on the road, with four-cylinder and V-6 engines.

But sprightly it is not. In repeat drives, editors have found the Venza's driving experience to be adequate but numb and uninspiring. It drives much more like a minivan than a sport sedan; though you can hustle the Venza along, you won't feel inspired to as the steering feel is quite vague and there's a lot of body roll.

Review continues below
8

2011 Toyota Venza

Comfort & Quality

Passenger space and versatility are the strongest selling points for the Venza; some might wish for a little more refinement, though.

The 2011 Toyota Venza has a design that pays off with tremendous interior space; it can fit five adults comfortably while still having plenty of cargo space for a sizable grocery run.

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, in fact.

While the Venza doesn't have a third row, the story is just as good in the second row. Even when tall drivers are situated up front, there's still plenty of space in back for adults, and the seat further reclines 14 degrees. Of course, it's split and folds (almost flat) easily. Up front there are plenty of cubbies for smaller items, along with robust cup holders and a deep well in the console, but the cargo area in back doesn't come with any standard organizers or flexible packaging other than a tonneau cover.

The bigger disappointment is in the Venza's interior trim—it's oddly textured with lines that highlight its vast pieces of plastic, instead of diminishing them, and overall the materials just don't keep pace with the upscale, luxury-oriented message. Taller drivers need to rest their knees against the hard-plastic ridge on the side of the center stack—an irritating detail. The Venza's tall doors also feel thin and insubstantial—more like those on a Prius—and resonate with cabin noise.

Overall, the Venza goes down the road with a certain isolation that pleases riders, not drivers. The suspension is quite soft, and the Venza steers and brakes safely, though the electric power steering comes across as artificial and lifeless, with no feel of the road. Editors have noticed that four-cylinder models ride a bit better without handling any worse, although in either model wind and road noise aren't up to a luxury-car level either.

Review continues below
7

2011 Toyota Venza

Safety

The 2011 Toyota Venza has respectable safety—though not across-the-board impressive—safety credentials.

The 2011 Toyota Venza is either very safe, or merely a bit above average, depending on which safety agency you put more faith into. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the Venza has earned top 'good' ratings in every category, including the new roof strength test—and it's been given the Top Safety Pick designation for 2011. But in now-tougher federal safety tests, the Venza only performed to a three-star standard in frontal protection, with five-star results in side impact and a four-star overall score.

With seven standard airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes are all on the standard-features list, and visibility isn't the issue that it is in some other crossover vehicles, thanks to the rather high driving position, the Venza does have a complete safety package.

One thing you might want to get in the Venza is the backup camera; thick roof pillars make visibility a bit worse than in sedans and boxier SUVs, though next to many rival models it's not bad.

Review continues below
8

2011 Toyota Venza

Features

The 2011 Toyota Venza is packed with great features, and you don’t have to drive the price over the roof just for one must-have option.

Unlike most Toyota vehicles, the Venza doesn't come in many different trims. But even base versions of the 2011 Toyota Venza include a very generous list of features: air conditioning, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, and a CD changer with satellite-radio prewiring and MP3 playback. And, unlike many other vehicles, most options are available a la carte, without the requirement to buy a pricey package or step to a more expensive trim level—although Toyota has grouped some options for 2011.

V-6 Venzas have standard 20-inch wheels, a first among Toyota passenger cars. Audiophiles will want to upgrade to the JBL Synthesis system with Bluetooth and 13 speakers, coupled to a touchscreen navigation system and XM with NavTraffic. Connectivity was improved last year with the introduction of standard iPod connectivity across the model line, along with Bluetooth hands-free functions. The available, top-of-the-line JBL premium audio system is impressive sounding, and also earns Bluetooth audio streaming.

Highlights from the options list include leather upholstery, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a power liftgate, a Smart Key system with push-button start, leather trim, a cargo mat, and all sorts of pet-friendly accessories.

Review continues below
6

2011 Toyota Venza

Fuel Economy

The Venza needs to be put into perspective: It’s a lot greener than most SUVs, but a typical mid-size sedan is a bit more fuel-efficient.

If you're concerned about making a green choice in your next vehicle, you could certainly do a lot worse than the 2011 Toyota Venza. Four-cylinder Venzas get up to 21 mpg city, 27 highway. But the V-6 with front-wheel drive gets 19/26 mpg. Shoppers should beware that all-wheel drive adds weight you'll be lugging around all the time, so it can subtract 1 or 2 mpg to any driving, for the life of the vehicle.

But the difference in fuel economy between the two engines is likely quite small, especially if you live in hilly terrain that might tax the four-cylinder engine, or if you do a lot of highway driving. In fact, with all-wheel drive both engines get 25 mpg highway.

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April 28, 2015
2011 Toyota Venza 4-Door Wagon I4 FWD (Natl)

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Overall performance is great, handling is wonderful but back view mirror hinders the front visibility
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