2011 Toyota Venza AWD

This is the place where the review opens with some clever comment about the vehicle in question.

This is the place where the review opens with some clever comment about the vehicle in question. Something that is a real “hook” to get you to engage with the rest of the piece.

But there’s one problem, I think.

And that’s that the Toyota Venza is probably the best car you’re not aware of.

Seriously.

According to Toyota, through September 2011 it sold 29,831 of the five passenger vehicles. By way of comparison, it sold 96,120 RAV4s—and RAV4 sales for 2010 through the September timeframe are down 24.3% compared with 2010.

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Which is to say there aren’t a heck of a lot of Venzas rolling around out there.

The Venza is a “crossover.” And in its case, it really is a cross between a car and an SUV, something that can’t be said as clearly about most of the “crossovers” on the street.

That is, the Venza looks like a car, not a wannabe SUV. It is more aero than boxy, more French curve than T-square. But it has a much higher seating position that, say, a Camry sedan, which makes it more utility like. And in the version as driven, it had all-wheel-drive that ups the utility ante, especially if you live in places where inclimate weather can be an issue. (Nowadays, one might ask where it isn’t an issue.) Otherwise, the car is a front-driver.

The Venza was designed and engineered for the U.S. market, having been designed by Toyota’s Calty Design studios in Newport Beach, California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was primarily engineered at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor. And it is built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, which also produces the Camry. Which is probably a pretty convincing collection of evidence that points to the fact that this is a car that is tailored for the U.S. market.

Inside, there is plenty of room for grown people, and while I wouldn’t want to be the fifth passenger for any length of time, when there are four inside, no one is in the least bit space challenged. A quibble that I have with the interior is that while the materials from the top of the instrument panel on down were fresh and attractive (even the carbon fauxber trim bits looked good, not cheesy), the A-pillar and headliner were not up to snuff in the materials category.

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The electric power steering system is well suited for the car. That is, it is a sizable vehicle, and when maneuvering something with its dimensions, it is always good for have assistance. Given the higher seating position visibility is outstanding; given its car-like architecture seeing out and back is not like trying to see something in the next county.

There is a good amount of cargo space, with 34.4-cu. ft. behind the second row or 70.1-cu. ft. with the second row folded down. And speaking of storage: 10 cup holders.

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The vehicle as-driven was fitted with the 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 instead of the 182-hp 2.7-liter in-line four. Given that the engines aren’t that far apart as regards miles per gallon, with the V6 stickered at 18/25 mpg and the four at 20/28 mpg (in both cases, all-wheel-drive drivetrains), the fact that the AWD V6 weighs 4,045 lb. and the four just 100 lb. less, the extra oomph is useful.

So what’s the problem with Venza? I suspect it is this: someone goes into a showroom looking for a utility vehicle, and the Venza is far from what they’d expect. Too bad for them.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V6 with Dual VVT-i

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 246 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with sequential shift mode

Wheelbase: 109.3 in.

Length: 189 in.

Width: 75 in.

Height: 63.4 in.

Base curb weight (AWD): 4,045 lb.

EPA: 18/25 mpg city/hwy