11. January 2013
A friend of mine was talking about a crossover that he recently bought, one that he wasn’t particularly happy with, but as he worked for a certain OEM, he had to buy it, from both a financial and, well, vocational points of view. When I suggested that there were other vehicles on offer from that manufacturer that were much nicer, he agreed that was so, but he was looking for a “feeling of roominess,” and that’s what the vehicle he bought provided.
Note he said “feeling.” Sure, he wanted cargo space, as anyone who is going to buy a vehicle of that type ought to want. That’s objective. But there is a perceptual aspect that comes into play, as well.
Oftentimes, larger crossovers provide a sense of isolation from the road and all else on it. This is not necessarily a good thing. Sometimes, the OEM wants to make it seem like the vehicle is not a big one, so it becomes a “driver-oriented” crossover. Which may be good only for people who write for automotive enthusiast magazines, not for those who have to hustle the kids to soccer practice, violin lessons, the orthodontist, etc. etc. etc.
And at the risk of coming off like a variant of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” I’ve got to say that with the Toyota Venza, they’ve got it just right.
There is a feeling of roominess. Yet it isn’t to the degree that one seems cosseted in foam. There is the ability to maneuver in tight parking lots without a whole lot of twitchiness.
And there is desirable cargo space: 70.2-cu. ft. behind the second row and, assuming that you’re actually going to have people back there, 36.2-cu. ft. behind the second row.
From a styling perspective, the Venza, which was designed at Calty Design in Newport Beach, and engineered by Calty design engineers in Ann Arbor, looks far less truck-like than most of the vehicles that are crossovers. It looks more like a station wagon, which is probably not a term that is used at a Toyota dealership near you, as that seems to carry with it some sort of stigma of the 1960s. But from the side view, the Venza seems lower and longer than the more upright competitors (even though most of those competitors have rounded the edges of their rectangular approaches). The A-pillar is angled back and it is echoed by the angle of the rear hatch.
In photos, the Venza seems to look a lot like a Ford Edge. In actual sheet metal, the resemblance is difficult to discern.
The interior, which is designed to seat five, has a fresh design. Because there is a discernible focus on storage of various and sundry objects, from iPods to beverage cups, there was especial focus on the center console. One of the ways that space was opened up in that area is through the placement of the gearshift lever for the six-speed automatic higher up, onto the vertical surface of where the center console meets the HVAC and infotainment system. Consequently, there is plenty of space for cupholders as well as for a bin below the cushion-like armrest between the two front seats.
The vehicle is available in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations. There are both four- and six-cylinder powertrains. The vehicle I drove was an AWD V6. It should be noted that the Venza is a bit on the heavy side when so configured (curb weight: 4,045 lb.), but the 268-hp engine is more than ample so that the weight is all but imperceptible. One useful characteristic in the powertrain category is the fact that the Venza uses regular gas.
It features seven airbags, active headrests, an alphabet soup of safety technologies (ABS, VSC, TRAC, etc.), and is based on a high-strength-steel structure. So for the person looking for roominess and safety, the Venza is the ticket.
And not only was the Venza designed and engineered in California and Michigan, it is built at the Toyota assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, along with the Camry, with which it shares a considerable amount of DNA.
What’s curious about the Venza is that it is not particularly visible on the market. From January to December 2012, just 43,095 Venzas were sold by Toyota, which is actually an 10.8% increase over the same period in 2011. So even though it has increased in number, it comes in behind the 4Runner in sales (48,755 January through December), and unless you’ve been watching Back to the Future, you’ve probably not thought a great deal about that vehicle.
Engine: 3.5-liter, DOHC, six cylinder
Material: Aluminum block and heads
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 246 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 189 in.
Width: 75 in.
Height: 63.4 in.
Curb weight: 4,045 lb.
MSRP : $34,630 (destination & handling : $810)
EPA: 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined