The name maybe familiar, but everything else about the uniquely styled 2021 Toyota Venza mid-size sport utility/crossover vehicle (SUV/CUV) is new. All three variants of the Venza range share the Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain, all-wheel drive (AWD), a comprehensive suite of advanced driver-assist (ADAS) systems and convenience features, including available a 12.3-inch color touch screen for the infotainment system.
Our ride was a very-well equipped coastal gray metallic XLE (middle of the range) which was a joy to drive in all types of traffic on all types of roads, as well as being very accommodating for some early holiday shopping and numerous grocery bags during a run to the discount food chain (the remote power hatch really comes in handy for dealing with these errands).
All-wheel drive powertrain delivers power and economy
The new-generation Toyota Hybrid System II in the Venza combines a high-efficiency 2.5-liter double-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine with three electric motors in a compact system. The gas engine employs variable valve timing-intelligent system by electric motor (VVT-iE) on the intake camshaft, and VVT-i on the exhaust camshaft. A variable cooling system (electric water pump, electric thermostat) and a fully variable oil pump further help improve engine efficiency.
This technology delivers 219 total system horsepower and a federal Environmental Protection Agency combined 39 miles per gallon in XLE trim. Our experience was just a shade more than that at 40 mpg.
Performance was up to any task during our experience with the Venza, whether accelerating onto a highway or to overtake another vehicle at speed. Toyota explains the “responsiveness is heightened by the way the electric motor boosts low-speed torque. The hybrid system optimizes the level of electric motor assistance and gas engine RPM without the engine running at high revs.”
The electronically controlled variable automatic transmission puts the power to the road through either the front or all four wheels as dictated by road and driving conditions.
Regenerative braking is baked into the electronically controlled brake system (ECB) to both aid in slowing the vehicle when the driver’s foot lifts from the accelerator pedal as well as recharging the battery (as the electric motors are turned into generators).
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 provides modern ADAS
Standard across the Venza range is the latest suite of ADAS from the Japanese automaker. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 brings the following systems to this SUV:
– pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection
– full-speed, dynamic radar cruise control
– lane departure alert with steering assist
– lane tracing assist
– automatic high-beams
– road-sign assist
Additional ADAS include rearview camera with dynamic gridlines; blind-spot monitor with front and rear parking assist with AEB and rear cross-traffic alert.
A full complement of interior comfort and convenience features
The Venza XLE comes standard with an eight-inch color touch screen controlling the infotainment system, but our evaluation SUV had the optional Premium Audio system with the 12.-3-inch screen and JBL audio system with nine speakers, subwoofer and amplifier.
The panoramic screen allows control of the navigation program (part of the optional package), infotainment features (AM/FM/satellite radio/streaming audio/Apple CarPlay/Android Audio) and some other vehicle systems (like fine-tuning the climate operations).
Supplementing the on-screen controls for these systems are backlit tough buttons on the dash and remote controls, including intuitive voice activation, on the steering wheel.
The steering-wheel’s electric adjustment, as well as the eight-position driver’s seat and outside rearview mirrors can be stored in the two-person memory, while, as part of the optional SofTex Package, the front passenger’s seat, also has electric adjustment. Both front seats, as part of this package, are heated and ventilated and the steering wheel is heated, as well.
The automatic climate control system has dual zones allowing driver and front passenger to tailor the environment to their individual preferences.
Magically Reading the Road for Maximum MPG
The navigation system provides more than a means of getting you from point A to point B thanks to the Venza’s Predictive Efficient Drive (PED) technology. PED analyzes driving habits and memorize road and traffic conditions to help optimize hybrid battery charging.
When the driver selects PED, the system learns repeating routes and is designed to predict when and where the vehicle is likely to slow down or stop. Then, through optimum accelerator pedal release timing guidance, it can help reduce energy consumption.
PED can help optimize battery charging and discharge ahead of hills or traffic congestion. When approaching a downhill section, for example, the system is designed to apply additional engine braking force to charge the hybrid battery more efficiently after the accelerator pedal is released.
I’m not sure how to measure the effectiveness of PED without extensive driving over repeated routes (not really possible in a week of test driving), but the potential for overall operating efficiency is intriguing and, considering the computer capabilities of today’s vehicles, a logical step in their evolution.
Priced to compete
Toyota offers three different offerings in the mid-size SUV/CUV segment: the rugged, body-on-frame 4Runner; front or AWD two- or three-row, gasoline or hybrid powertrain traditionally styled Highlander, or the Venza. Virtually anything a mid-size SUV shopper could desire can be found inside a Toyota dealership.
The Venza XLE like we drove carries a MSRP of $39,735 including delivery processing and handling fee ($36,000 base price) while the LE carries a $32,470 MSRP and the top-of-the-range Limited starts at $39,800.
Add in Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability, as well as standard ToyotaCare (a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance, for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, and two years of Roadside Assistance, regardless of mileage) and there is a lot of value in the Venza.