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The 2021 Toyota Venza is coming to Canada this summer.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

After a five-year absence, the Toyota Venza compact crossover will return to the Canadian market this August. It’s an all-new five-seater, roughly the equivalent of the RAV4 SUV in size, and will be sold only as a hybrid with all-wheel drive.

The Venza is built on the same platform as the RAV4, Toyota Canada’s best-selling vehicle, but it’s intended to be a little more upscale. It shares the same hybrid powertrain as the RAV4 Hybrid, too. In Japan, where it will be built, it’s already sold as the Harrier and with a conventional gasoline engine based on the Corolla powerplant, but that’s not considered powerful enough for North American tastes – the hybrid engine gives it 219 hp and a towing capacity of 1,750 lbs.

“We’ve been saying over and over that by 2025, everything in our lineup will have an electrified option. In some cases, that will mean vehicles that are only available in an electrified version,” says Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada’s Vice-President for Corporate Affairs. Toyota also says 25 per cent of its worldwide sales in 2025 will be hybrid-powered.

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The Venza boasts upscale interior finishes, making it feel more like a Lexus.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

“The whole lineup is busy making that generational shift toward electrification. If we’re bringing in something in this particular product segment that is a little more upscale, we want to give it the technology it deserves, the power it requires and fuel economy.”

Average fuel consumption is claimed to be 5.9 L/100 km. The RAV4 Hybrid has a claimed average consumption of 6.0 L/100 km, with ratings of 5.7 and 6.3 for city and highway driving.

Toyota stopped selling the Venza in 2015 because the American market preferred the RAV4 and Highlander SUVs. It was always a popular vehicle in Canada, outselling even the larger Highlander, but Canadian demand on its own was not enough to warrant building it. Toyota needs to sell at least 50,000 units worldwide of any mainstream model to justify its existence, and that wasn’t happening. The only other market for Venza was Russia, where it was also eclipsed in sales by SUVs.

Now, however, Toyota believes a new market exists for an upscale crossover. The new Venza may be the same size as the RAV4 – it has 38 litres less of rear cargo room but otherwise varies in its specifications only by millimetres, if at all – but it looks and feels more like a Lexus.

Interior dimensions are similar to those of the RAV4, which the Venza shares a platform with.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

“Over the last few years, the tastes of American buyers seem to be catching up to Canadians,” says Beatty. “You’re seeing more demand for all-wheel drive. You’re seeing more market interest in this (five-passenger crossover) space. If you think about how popular the RAV4 Hybrid’s been for us, then having another model of a similar size that’s fully hybrid but a little more upscale in terms of the features and amenities of the vehicle, we think that’s a big opportunity.”

The Venza is intended for drivers who prefer the dynamics of a sedan over an SUV, though the height, width and wheelbase is almost identical to the RAV4 Hybrid. The electric motors of the hybrid boost the lower-end torque, and the all-wheel drive uses a dedicated electric motor to power the rear wheels when needed.

There are Normal, Eco and Sport electronic driving modes that adjust the throttle response and the shifting feel of the continuously variable transmission. An EV mode holds the Venza to only-electric power, but its range is just a couple of kilometres, intended for manoeuvring in parking lots and similar uses.

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The Venza will have an electric-only mode with a very limited range.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

There is no price yet announced for the Venza, but it’s safe to assume it will cost a little more than the RAV4 Hybrid, which currently has a starting MSRP of $32,350 and rises to $42,790.

“It’s a little more stylish, and the feature sets are a little more upscale than the RAV4,” says Vinh Pham, Toyota Canada’s Manager of Product Planning. “It’s the material touch-finish quality. You’ll see that we’ve wrapped the instrument panel in front of the passenger in the soft-touch materials; the centre console has a lot more finishes that are more stylish. It’s a combination of style, design and upscale feel.”

The centre-display touch screen is 12.3 inches across on the Venza’s two highest trims, compared to a maximum of 8 inches for the RAV4, while the LED lights front and back are standard. A tiny spray washer cleans the rear-view camera lens on the outside of the trunk, while an additional camera behind the rear window sends a wide and clear digital image of the view behind to the mirror mounted on the windshield, if selected.

And then there’s the “Star Gaze” panoramic roof, currently available only in the high-end Venza, which can be set to “clear” or “frosted” with the touch of a button. Both settings provide complete UV protection. If it proves popular, expect to see this as an option on many more Toyotas and Lexuses in the future.

Toyota says it has no plans to produce a plug-in hybrid version of the Venza – yet. It’s waiting to gauge the popularity of the plug-in RAV4 Prime, which will begin sales in July, before considering it.

There will be three separate trim levels of the Venza, varying in amenities and standard features. All will have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. All will also have a pre-collision detection system that can react to bicycles in the daytime and pedestrians at any time. The long list of standard aids for driving assistance includes active cruise control at all speeds, lane-departure alert with steering assistance, automatic high beams and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Higher-end Venzas will offer front and rear automatic parking assistance.

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Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

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