There’s a lot that’s familiar about Toyota’s latest, a midsize crossover called Venza.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Toyota campaigned a car called Venza from 2008 to 2015.
That Venza was based on the Camry sedan and seemed more Camry wagon than crossover in looks and layout.
No such identity issues attend the new 2021 Venza ($32,470); it belongs squarely in the crossover camp. Based on the compact RAV4, Venza slots into the Toyota lineup between the RAV ($26,050) and the three-row Highlander ($34,810).
Venza is powered exclusively by Toyota’s three-motor hybrid system, which also drives the hybrid versions of the RAV4 and the Highlander.
Sleek and urban
The hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive are both standard.
Venza dispenses with the conventional crossover identifiers — the square shoulders, lower-body cladding and squared-off wheel openings. It’s sleeker than the RAV, more streamlined and urban.
The five-passenger Venza is about 6 inches longer than the RAV4 and 8 inches shorter than the Highlander.
Passenger space is about the same in both RAV and Venza, though Venza’s sloping, coupe-like roofline reduces cargo space and cuts into rear-seat headroom.
Venza’s cabin is dressier than RAV’s, effectively blending hard plastics and padded-and-stitched soft-touch surfaces. The layout is a bit busy but is generally agreeable.
Instead of hard buttons, Venza’s HVAC and audio controls use capacitive-touch technology and look more like labels than buttons. It’s a clean and contemporary look but, because they lack dimension, hitting them squarely can be a challenge.
With 7.7 inches of ground clearance versus RAV’s 8.6 inches, Venza sits lower than the RAV and is less capable off-pavement. It lacks dedicated off-road software, such as hill-descent control or mud-and-snow drive modes.
Venza is available in three well-equipped trims — LE, XLE ($36,000) and Limited ($38,000).
Every model gets LED headlights with automatic high-beam assist; an 8-inch touchscreen (a 12.3-inch unit is available); a 4.2-inch multi-information display; keyless entry and push-button ignition; power-adjustable driver's seat; and dual-zone automatic climate control.
A wireless phone-charging pad and a hands-free liftgate are standard. The infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa smartphone integration.
Key options include a 7-inch multi-information display, a digital rear-view mirror that allows the driver to see the road behind even with a full cargo area and a 10-inch color Head-Up Display.
The available 12.3-inch touchscreen comes with a JBL Premium Audio System with nine speakers, including a rear subwoofer, and powered by a 12-channel, 1,200-watt amp. It’s the most powerful audio system ever launched in a Toyota.
Available on the Limited trim is a fixed panoramic glass electrochromic sunroof that can change from transparent to translucent at the touch of a button.
Venza is equipped with the latest version of Toyota’s three-motor hybrid system, with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and three electric motors.
Total system output is 219 horsepower, which is enough to motivate the Venza from 0-60 in a class-appropriate 7.8 seconds. The Venza earns an estimated 39 mpg in combined driving. It is not approved for towing.
Other than the expected chatter when it’s pushed, the four-cylinder engine is quiet and smooth. While the CVT largely keeps engine speeds in check, the familiar high-revving rubber-band drone surfaces during hard acceleration or when laboring up a hill.
We tested a Limited model, whose ride was firm without being stiff or brittle. Its compliant suspension mitigated the impact of most potholes and other broken road surfaces while allowing moderate body roll.
Venza’s chassis feels sturdy and responsive, but steering feel is light and lifeless.
Venza is softly suspended and has little enthusiasm for cornering. Push it past its comfort zone and it lapses into understeer and body lean.
The Venza is stable and settled at highway speeds. The system has a good on-center groove and the CUV tracks well in its lane.
The name may be familiar but the rig is fresh. If you’re looking for an upscale rendition of the essential crossover, Venza deserves a look.
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2021 Toyota Venza Limited
Vehicle base price: $32,470
Trim level base price: $38,000
As tested: $43,100 (includes destination and handling)
Options: head-up display; rain-sensing wipers; Star Gazed fixed panoramic sunroof
Tow rating: N/A
EPA rating: 39 combined/40 city/37 highway
Regular gasoline specified