- Sleek hatchback look
- Flexible layout
- Gas mileage is good
- Interior is spacious
- Steering is vague
- Materials can seem lower-grade
- Interior noise levels
If you don't need a rugged SUV, the 2014 Toyota Venza is a practical, even stylish alternative with some strong wagon and hatchback leanings.
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.
2014 Toyota Venza
The 2014 Toyota Venza is conservatively styled, but also smooth and sleek.
The Venza's exterior has tall-wagon properties that recall a hint of classics like the AMC Eagle, but with a modern and handsome spin, ending up somewhere between a tall wagon and a hatchback.
Slightly refreshed for 2013 (a new grille and taillights), the 2014 model year removes a couple of color combinations; you can no longer order the Cosmic Gray exterior paint with Ivory fabric or leather interiors, and the Sunset Bronze paint is also no longer available with Black fabric or leather upholstery. Otherwise, there are no aesthetic changes for 2014.
Bearing cues that speak of both Camry and Highlander, but blended into a new form rather than seeming like a kludged mule of the two, the Venza's design and styling have grown on us since its 2009 introduction. The Venza's head-on view is its least attractive angle, with the large and flashy grille giving a toothy look.
Inside the Venza, more car-like cues dominate, with smooth surfaces and curved lines. An unusual center stack splits the front row, while woodgrain trim and conservative brightwork make for a sharp and sophisticated look that's never boring. Our only beef with the interior styling is that wide center console, which takes up a lot of room.
2014 Toyota Venza
Competent and capable, the 2014 Venza drives much like a taller Camry--but don't expect any excitement behind the wheel.
That said, the Venza isn't a slug, either. Comfortable, competent, and confidence inspiring, the Venza offers more stable-seeming and car-like ride and handling than most crossovers. In many respects, it feels like a heavier, taller Camry wagon behind the wheel.
Venza shoppers have a choice of two engines, either of which are available with front- or all-wheel drive: a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, or a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Both engines are close in their EPA gas mileage ratings, with the four-cylinder rating as high as 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway; the V-6 AWD scores 18/25 mpg. Venza V-6 models can add an optional Towing Prep Package that allows up to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity.
Sitting relatively high up, the driver is presented with a driving experience that's more minivan than SUV, with soft suspension tuning and numb steering. Those traits make it easy to drive, but sap any possibility of excitement. The large 20-inch wheels look good from the curb, but add a noticeable degree of ride harshness without any performance benefit. Power is adequate even with the four-cylinder engine, but the V-6 gives the Venza a smoother, stronger feel that resembles the Lexus RX 350's nature.
With all-wheel drive and a high-riding stance, you might think the Venza is up to off-road duty, but you'd be wrong. The all-wheel-drive system is intended for inclement weather, not tackling the Rubicon.
2014 Toyota Venza
Comfort & Quality
Roomy for both passengers and cargo, the 2014 Toyota Venza is comfortable and sturdy, but not quite luxury-car refined.
Near-ideal seating height makes entry and exit easy, and the seating is comfortable for adults in both front and back rows. Head and leg room are ample, step-in height is low, and the back bench seat reclines for greater long-distance comfort. Three adults can comfortably sit across the back row, but there's no third-row option; that's left for larger vehicles like the Highlander.
A low cargo floor makes loading and unloading groceries or other parcels easy, and the rear seat folds down to increase available space. Smartly designed storage bins and cubbies around the cabin make for plenty of small-item stash points. The large, deep cupholders are eminently useful. There aren't any cargo organizers in the rear load area, however, and the shape of the space isn't as versatile as some taller crossovers.
The only notable downside in the Venza's cabin is the abundance of hard plastic in direct contact with the driver's and front passenger's knees, a comfort issue that's surprising in a vehicle that can price out well above the $30,000 mark. Road noise can be an issue on coarse road surfaces, but it's generally not a problem.
2014 Toyota Venza
The 2014 Toyota Venza performs well in NHTSA crash tests, and comes with a strong set of standard safety equipment.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also rates the Venza highly, with top marks of "good" in all categories, though it does not receive a Top Safety Pick designation.
Compared to the crossover competition, the 2014 Toyota Venza offers a strong suite of standard safety equipment, including seven airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. Available safety upgrades include a backup camera, which is very handy in enhancing rearward visibility, which is hampered somewhat by thick roof pillars.
2014 Toyota Venza
Ample infotainment and connectivity features make the 2014 Toyota Venza a strong value.
Well-equipped even in lower-priced trims, the 2014 Toyota Venza offers strong value, but can also be optioned upward into near-luxury territory with add-ons like high-end audio, navigation, a rear-seat video system, and leather seats.
Three trim levels are available: LE, XLE, and Limited. Upgraded in equipment for the 2013 model year, the Venza LE offers a very strong set of features, including a Display Audio (much like that found in the Camry), blind-spot side mirrors, and puddle lamps.
The Venza XLE gets new standard power-folding side mirrors for 2014, adding to the memory power driver's seat, navigation with Entune multimedia and apps function, a 6.1-inch touchscreen display with integrated backup camera, and much more.
The top-line Venza Limited adds LED daytime running lights and a 13-speaker JBL premium audio system as well as an upgraded navigation system. New features for 2014 Venza Limited models include power-folding side mirrors and front and rear parking sonar.
A Premium Package is available on XLE models, adding a panoramic glass moonroof, hands-free Bluetooth phone and music connectivity, and more, essentially capturing many of the upgrades found in the Limited model, but without the mandatory upgrade to the V-6 engine.
Entune is Toyota's name for its infotainment system, which brings not only smartphone connectivity and navigation, but also mobile apps functions including Bing, Pandora, OpenTable, and movietickets.com among others. The Entune system is available on most trim levels.
2014 Toyota Venza
The 2014 Toyota Venza is a greener alternative to larger crossovers, but doesn't compete with smaller sedans and wagons.
Four essential variants are available, crossing the two available engines with either front- or all-wheel drive. All models use a standard six-speed automatic transmission.
The four-cylinder front-drive Venza rates 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for 23 mpg combined, per the EPA. Adding all-wheel drive brings those figures down just a touch to 20/26/22 mpg.
Venzas fitted with the more powerful V-6 engine start at 19/26/22 mpg with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel-drive V-6 Venzas rate 18/25/21 mpg.
The penalty for the all-wheel drive system is very small, so those who live in snow-belt states should have no compunctions about opting for it. In our experience, when driving in hilly areas, the difference in gas mileage between four- and six-cylinder models essentially vanishes, but in flat-land driving, the four-cylinder is the definite choice for greener driving.