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Toyota crossover is family friendly, with benefits

2013 Toyota Venza


Overall Rating
Not for everybody, but a pleasant vehicle that will serve a family’s needs well.
Looks Rating
Clean lines that look different enough to be interesting.
Interior Rating
Not the most imaginative of layouts, but nice enough dressed in leather, and it is functional, comfortable and quiet.
Ride Rating
Firmly sprung, but compliant and a little more car-like than crossover-like.
Safety Rating
Plenty of mass and high ratings from U.S. safety agencies.
Green Rating
Big-ish, heavy-ish, V-6 powered, but not overly thirsty.

Toyota's Venza isn't a car you're likely to fall passionately in love with, but if what you're looking for is a relationship of convenience, with benefits, this new-age wagon is a comfortable, practical and surprisingly pleasant-to-drive choice, at least in V-6-powered form.

Styled and largely engineered in North America, the Venza was introduced as a 2009 model, and the 2013 version, which went on sale last year, came with exterior styling revisions that freshen its appearance, along with some interior and equipment upgrades.

The $28,690 base-priced Venza slots in between Toyota's $23,790 compact crossover RAV4 and the $31,680, mid-size Highlander in price, size and capabilities. But its unique styling and personality further blurs the already confusing term crossover.

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The Venza is definitely different from its crossover brethren in styling terms.

Like Honda's Crosstour, it has an outside-the-crossover-norm-look that lacks the RAV4 and Highlander's trendiness but, because of that, might appeal to a more conservative buyer. A friend unkindly described it as a senior citizen's ride. I don't agree. It's a good-looking vehicle that would look okay in anybody's driveway. But then, I also like the Crosstour.

Changes for 2013 were limited, just a new grille, fog lamp housings, taillights, heated side mirrors with turn-signal repeaters, a "blind-spot" convex mirror and puddle lamps.

The Venza is decidedly more car-like to drive than either crossover, which also may exert an influence on a certain kind of potential owner. This attribute is hard to describe, but perhaps is a combination of a driving position that isn't as elevated as the two crossovers (but still higher than a car's), and a ride that feels a little softer, more compliant and comfortable.

The V-6 AWD model's electric assist steering feel was a little light and lacking in "feel," but response to input wasn't bad, likely thanks to the hefty P245/50R20 all-season tires. Ride, while compliant, is still firm due to the spring rates required to cope with its heft. Body motion is well controlled, making it feel secure and stable, and it doesn't appear to pitch occupants around us much over pavement undulations.

In size-terms the Venza casts a shadow that just about matches that of the mid-size Camry sedan and the Highlander (both based on a previous-generation Camry platform), and provides seating for five, like the smaller RAV4, while the Highlander can carry seven.

The Venza has a behind-the-front-seats cargo capacity of 1,990 litres, more than useful enough to make it an ideal family vehicle.

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The Venza can be had with a 2.7-litre, four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-litre V-6, both with six-speed automatic transmission, and a choice of front- or all-wheel-drive.

Performance with the 182-hp four will fall into the perfectly adequate category, the six-speed making the most of the power and torque available, and in front-drive-form it scores fuel economy ratings of 10.0 litres/100 km city and 6.9 highway.

The 3.5-litre V-6, which produces 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque, delivers a level of propulsion that makes the not-exactly-lightweight Venza – 1,835 kg with V-6 and AWD – more pleasant and lively to drive. The six-speed automatic shifts slickly and taps into the motor's mid-range torque to help it step off briskly, provide good around-town driveability and easy highway cruising.

This comes at a fuel economy penalty, of course. With the V-6, the Venza's front-drive ratings jump to 11.1 city/7.7 highway and the AWD version's to 11.4 city/7.9 highway. But that's considerably better than a similarly equipped Highlander's 12.6 city/8.7 highway. My average after a week of use was 10.6 litres/100 km, and I'd bet the four-cylinder wouldn't do much better.

The interior isn't particularly rich-looking, but some silver plastic and chrome trim, and the bright Optitron gauges – the turquoise is a bit over the top – dress it up to a pleasant-enough level, and the front seats (the driver's is powered) are comfortable. Three can squeeze into the back, on the easy-to-fold seats. Base Venzas come equipped with usual roster of comfort and convenience features of vehicles priced in the high $20,000 range.

Key new interior features for 2013 are a redesigned and pleasant to look at and use steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, and a new six-speaker audio system with touch screen. It's quiet at highway cruising speed, mirrors and washer system work well, and the headlights are good.

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The test Venza was a V-6 AWD, that has a starting price of $32,245, and came with steering wheel controls, 20-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, and a decent quality audio system. Added was the $4,215 Premium Package that included leather – black with grey piping – upholstery, heated front seats, power rear hatch, back-up camera, Panoramic sunroof and a theft deterrent system. All-in-bar-the-HST it's MSRP was $38,230.

It may not fit any market pigeon-holes, but the whatever-you-want-it-to-be Venza is a vehicle you could easily develop a loving long-term relationship with.

Tech specs

2013 Toyota Venza V-6 AWD

Type: Mid-size crossover

Base Price: $32,245; as tested, $38,230

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 268 hp/246 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11. city/7.9 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Crosstour, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Edge, Hyundai Sante Fe, Mazda CX-9

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