- Spacious interior
- Powerful and efficient V6
- Pleasant ride
- Innovative interior storage
- Well equipped
- A few disappointing interior bits
- Not particularly involving to drive
It's a wagon. It's a crossover. It has cartoony 19-inch dubs, yet has a ride your grandmother would like and a name she'd confuse with a drug she saw advertised during Jeopardy! The 2011 Toyota Venza is a strange creation, one rife with contradictions and difficult to properly define. There is one thing we're sure of, though; it makes a great family vehicle.
The Venza has the basic body dimensions and interior space of a midsize crossover SUV -- think Ford Edge or Nissan Murano -- but with one significant exception: The Venza is nearly 4 inches shorter in height than its rivals, and technically this puts it in the same camp as a wagon, not a crossover. Its wagon-style dimensions also make the Venza feel more like a car from behind the wheel compared to Toyota crossovers like the Highlander and RAV4, although we certainly wouldn't call it athletic. Instead, like other Toyotas, the Venza puts an emphasis on comfort and ease of driving.
The Venza's strange body style isn't the only thing that stands out, however. Unlike with most midsize crossovers, the Venza features a four-cylinder base engine. This provides sufficient power, but given that the bigger V6 achieves similar fuel economy, it would be foolhardy to not at least consider shelling out a few more bucks for the big engine. This is one of the best -- and possibly the top -- V6s in the crossover class. If that weren't incentive enough, going with the V6 gets you even bigger, 20-inch wheels.
In the front cabin, the Venza is filled with a variety of innovative storage solutions. By placing the shift lever up high on the center console, space opens up for several storage bins. You don't get the same sort of versatility in back as you would in the more utilitarian RAV4, though. The Venza's rear seat doesn't slide, it's not split three ways and there's no option for a third row. The backseat does recline, but that's common among its competitors.
That might be nitpicking, as would complaining that interior-materials quality doesn't quite live up to the standards of the class best. Certainly, the 2011 Toyota Venza is a strong contender whether you're in the market for a wagon like the Subaru Outback or a midsize crossover like the 2011 Ford Edge, 2011 Nissan Murano and 2011 Chevrolet Equinox. The Venza is also a more likable and stylish choice than the similarly conceived 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour. When a vehicle is such an indefinable oddity, it's bound to draw comparisons to such a diverse range of vehicles, but against them all, the Toyota Venza stands tall on its big wheels.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
The Toyota Venza is unchanged for 2011.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Toyota Venza is a five-passenger wagon available in two trim levels, which correspond to its two engines. The four-cylinder Venza comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, foglamps, privacy glass, a power tailgate, keyless entry, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat (includes power lumbar), a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a large color trip computer display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Venza V6 adds 20-inch wheels along with its bigger engine.
The availability of Toyota options and packages often depends on region, so check with your local dealer. Mostly grouped into packages, options include a rearview camera, a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlamps with automatic high beams, keyless ignition/entry, a four-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob and a 13-speaker JBL surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer. To that JBL system can be added a navigation system (reduces the CD changer to four discs) and/or a rear-seat entertainment system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2011 Venza doesn't quite exhibit the top-notch interior quality of past Toyota models, but it is a tad nicer than its current Camry stablemate. Its design in particular is rather fetching and practical to boot, with a sleek center console that features a high-mounted shifter that frees up space between the seats. This allows for a large bin, generously sized cupholders and smaller bins perfect for iPods and other small devices. The audio and climate controls are a new design for Toyota, but they remain user-friendly.
Although it lacks a third-row seat, the Venza provides loads of passenger space, particularly in the rear, which features reclining seatbacks. A bit more driver seat adjustment would be nice, though. The cargo area can swallow 70 cubic feet of stuff with the rear seat folded and a healthy 34.4 cubes with the seats up. These numbers put the Venza a smidgen ahead of the Ford Edge and just a bit behind the decidedly more utilitarian RAV4.
Every 2011 Toyota Venza comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and front-seat active head restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, the Venza came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet regardless of engine.
The Venza has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 rating (which isn't comparable to 2011 ratings) was a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Venza its highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2011 Toyota Venza is available with a four- or six-cylinder engine and can be had in either front- or all-wheel drive. All versions feature a six-speed automatic transmission. The 2.7-liter four-cylinder produces 182 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, a four-cylinder, front-drive Venza went from zero to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds -- an average time compared to similarly powered crossovers. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 20/25/22 with all-wheel drive.
The 3.5-liter V6 produces 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, it accelerated an all-wheel-drive Venza from zero to 60 mph in a quick 6.9 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19/26/22 with front drive and 18/25/21 with AWD. This is strong for a vehicle of its size and power.
It shouldn't come as a shock that the 2011 Toyota Venza is hardly a wagon in the ilk of sporty European models. Instead, like the Camry upon which it is based, the Venza is designed for comfort and ease of driving. Unlike the Camry, however, this crossover wagon gives the impression of being robust, with a more solid feel over bumps. The electric power steering also provides a bit more feedback than its sedan cousin, but it still feels pretty disconnected from the front wheels. Parking lot maneuvers couldn't be easier, however. Both engines provide ample power to move this sizable vehicle, although the V6 is obviously the way to go if passing folks on the highway takes precedence over achieving the best fuel economy.
The 2011 Toyota Venza is hard to define, but whether you call it "wagon" or "crossover," it's a competitive and comfortable family vehicle.