It is quite common, even predicted, that a certain model of car will grow and grow as it ages through successive redesigns and updates. Like many of us, cars get bigger as they get older. But it’s not every day that a given model really gets upmarket, offering the same level of functionality and functionality but in a better package. In this way, the new Venza is a bit of a rare bird, its 2021 model reboot will transform this car from a scruffy family hauler to a clean, crisp and truly premium SUV.
- Sharp new looks
- Good efficiency and driveability
- That crazy roof
I do not like
- Entune needs similar retooling
And that’s important because there are so many crossovers and SUVs to choose from these days. Hell, just staying in the family do you have the, RAV4, Highlander, 4Runner, Sequoia and Land Cruiser to choose from. So how does a product like Venza get out of the den of anonymity?
Well, it starts with a fresh new look that is crisp and distinctive while honoring its Toyota DNA, most notably the wide open lower grille and aggressively pronounced rear fenders. Compared to its van-like, family-friendly predecessor, it’s a revelation.
Internal reboot is just as drastic, especially when equipped with the 12.3-inch touchscreen that’s standard on the limited trim model you see here, optional on the lower specs. Below that, the Limited features a smooth panel of capacitive touch buttons that looks fantastic, although the lack of a volume knob is, as always, a disappointment.
Keep moving down to find a Qi inductive charging pad to keep your phone wirelessly charged, located in a large compartment where Toyota engineers curiously found it appropriate to hide the engine start button. That glove box, plus the rest of the interior, is bordered by soft, colorful lighting – useful, because it’s terribly dark otherwise.
Also useful is the panoramic glass ceiling, which not only lets in lots of light, but hides Venza’s best party makeup. That glass is (optionally) electrochromic, which means that at the touch of a button it clicks a hazy opaque. This is guaranteed to get a “whoa” from your most tired passengers, and when was the last time a practical SUV did that?
Unfortunately, the software running here is unlikely to receive such a response. On that large and pronounced touchscreen you will find the tried and true Toyota Entune system. It’s a polite way of saying it looks dated and low-res, especially the navigation interface. Fortunately, with both is aboard, you can at least hide everything pretty quickly.
What’s going on under the hood is much more modern, with each version of the Venza running the same 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder, Atkinson cycle, paired with not one, not two, but three electric motors. The two in front help the petrol engine, while the one in the back provides the all-wheel drive capability of this SUV.
Along with 0.9 kWh of lithium-ion batteries, Toyota says this system provides 219 horsepower, with 176 hp and 163 pound-feet of torque coming from the gasoline engine alone. This means a decidedly frontal power delivery. Interestingly, despite the small battery and not being a plug-in, the Venza can be driven in full electric mode … sort of. Top speed here is somewhere in the 20mph neighborhood, and if you were to swipe the accelerator with anything more than a kitten’s touch, the engine spins and you’re abruptly kicked off the ground which is emission-free. Still, it’s nice for quiet cruises through parking lots or quiet, morning getaways from the ninja.
When pressed harder, the Venza accelerates cleanly and smoothly, the CVT eliminates shifts but results in a typical engine hum. However, that’s not a big deal, and whether you’re in Eco or Sport mode, the Venza has more than enough power to keep you going in traffic. That said, I spent most of my week in Eco mode and got a more than respectable 40.5 miles per gallon. That’s just half a tick ahead of Venza’s EPA-rated 40 mpg highway, 37 city and 39 combined.
From a handling perspective, the Venza is definitely optimized for comfort, gliding through rather than carving corners and absorbing the worst imperfections of the asphalt without transmitting them into the cabin. Whether seated in the front or rear, there is a lot of comfort to be had, also plenty of head room, my only (minor) complaint being the ventilated seats of the “Wait, are they really on?” variety.
The 2021 Toyota Venza starts at $ 32,470 plus $ 860 delivery, while the limited version I tested raises the starting price to $ 39,800. Limited adds treats like a 360-degree camera up top, subtleties like interior lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, and access to that Star Gaze roof, even if it’s an additional $ 1,400.
The great news is that Toyota’s ADAS Safety Sense 2.0 system comes standard on the lower trim level, including lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic warnings. As the powertrain also remains unchanged, you’re paying a premium for the luxuries alone, but given how pampered you feel in the Limited, it still feels good value for money. This is especially true when you compare it to something like the Lexus NX Hybrid corporate cousin, which starts at $ 40,060 plus $ 1,025 in delivery.
So, consider this rebirth a success. The 2021 Toyota Venza impresses on multiple levels. It looks great, drives well and does a great job in the luxury game. He’s extraordinary in an ever-expanding sea of SUVs too.