While its ancient Chinese origins are probably apocryphal, “may you live in interesting times” is generally considered to be a curse. The saying seems particularly apt today, when five minutes spent scrolling through social media might well cause the average person’s blood pressure to skyrocket.
As if created as an antidote, the new Toyota Venza has been carefully engineered not to be too interesting to own. There are many more exciting vehicles out there, from rugged SUVs to sport-tuned crossovers, and the new Venza isn’t really trying to compete with any of them. Instead, the Venza aims to be the soft background music to daily life, at which it mostly succeeds.
Let’s begin with the sole powertrain offering, a hybridized 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. Essentially identical to that found in the RAV4 Hybrid, it produces a total of 219 horsepower and 163 lb.-ft. of torque. The battery pack is a 0.9 kWh lithium-ion unit, and an electric motor is mounted at the rear to provide all-wheel drive.
Acceleration is acceptably quick but unexceptional. Likewise, the Venza provides average grip and handling characteristics. This vehicle is not one to raise your pulse rate, and in fact, the closely related RAV4 Hybrid feels a bit sportier overall.
Having said that, Toyota’s hybrid system is sufficiently smooth that most shoppers won’t miss the V6 option. Further, the Venza delivered on its stated fuel-consumption targets, hitting a thrifty 6.3L/100kms in mixed use.
Inside is where this new Venza differs the most from the previous version and from the RAV4. It’s less roomy than either, especially in cargo capacity.
The old Venza felt a bit like a Camry Wagon or a Toyota-badged Subaru Outback in that it was an extremely functional vehicle that offered plenty of hauling ability. As such, it was very popular with pragmatic Canadian buyers. The new Venza feels more aimed at the American market, relying on a polished exterior appearance and interior tech to separate it from the RAV4.
Yet the overall feel of the Venza is not necessarily a luxury experience from a mainstream brand. The seats are slightly more comfortable than in the RAV4, but the larger Highlander’s higher interior trims offer a more impressive experience. If Toyota had managed to marry the Highlander’s trimmings with the RAV4′s size, the Venza might have felt more special.
I also wish Toyota had decided to offer the RAV4 Prime’s 302-hp plug-in hybrid offering as an option on the Venza. That powertrain comes with scorching fast performance and would make the Venza an even more compelling offering for people who want a luxury experience without the badge.
What the new Venza does offer is a reliable, fuel-efficient, fuss-free experience. In appearance, it is the city-slicker cousin to the more rugged-looking RAV4 and comes with upscale features. As a package, it does many things well and will likely be quite successful. However, even in these exhaustingly interesting times, you might be looking for a slightly more interesting drive.
Styling is nothing if not subjective. For instance, you may find the Venza’s enormous front grille attractive if you are a marine biologist specializing in baleen whales. Others may not like it to much. The rest of the vehicle plays it safe with a slightly anonymous look. The best angle is the profile.
A 12.3-inch central touch screen dominates the dash on higher-trim models, and the Venza has slick black buttons instead of chunky knobs. There’s no haptic feedback, so adjusting the temperature takes more attention away from the road than it should. The gee-whiz feature is a panoramic roof that electronically dims, something normally found only on luxury brands. There’s also a digital rear-view mirror.
Toyota’s hybrid system is one of the best examples of not having to understand a technology to benefit from it. You never have to remember to plug it in or worry about the weather; it simply returns good fuel economy consistently. The Venza may not be a thrill ride, but you can’t argue with its efficiency.
Standard on the Venza is Toyota’s latest suite of driver assists, which includes lane-keeping, automated cruise control, forward-collision warning, and blind-spot detection.
Perhaps the biggest let down on the Venza is its carrying capacity. At 1028 litres, it’s not exactly small, but trails the RAV4 Hybrid by 31 litres.
A sleek, efficient, and undemanding hybrid crossover.
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