12/1/2008 | 6 MINUTE READ

Venza Revealed

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Even though the market is down--yes, even for Toyota--the company is introducing a new model with a new nameplate: the Venza.


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When Toyota revealed the production version of the Venza, it had two non-drivable vehicles on hand. One was the Venza SportLux, styled by Street Image (Baldwin Park, CA; www.streetimage.com) and the other was the Active Sports Versatility version, styled by Five Axis (Huntington Beach, CA; www.fiveaxis.net). The former includes such things as a six-piece lip kit, integrated hood scoop, custom grille, a TRD supercharger, height adjustable coil over tuned suspension, and 24-in. wheels. The latter is less street and more sports oriented, such as having new front and rear bumpers, over-fenders, and an integrated cargo carrier stow-away rack on the back that was created by Magna Car Top Systems (Rochester Hills, MI; www.cartopsystems.com). The cars were created for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas. The SportLux appears ready for Las Vegas Blvd; the latter for handling the terrain due west of the city.

Neither looks like a station wagon. Neither looks like an SUV. Neither looks like a Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, or Nissan Murano. Neither does the production version of the Venza. OK. Maybe a little like a station wagon.

But that seems as though it might be alright so far as Toyota executives are concerned for the five-passenger vehicle that was designed by Calty Design Research facilities in Newport Beach, CA, and Ann Arbor, MI. The exterior design was directed by Ian Cartabiano in Newport Beach. The interior design was handled by Ben Jimenez in Ann Arbor. The work was predicated on the FT-SX concept vehicle shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2005. What they don't want it to be considered is a crossover (CUV).

Bob Carter, Toyota Div. group vice president and general manager, said, "There are 60 crossovers on the market. We don't want the Venza to be considered the 61st." He explained that it is more "car-like than an SUV," that it is "car-optimized, 70% car and 30% SUV."

Yes, it is being produced at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, along with Camry, Solara, and Avalon, all cars. And while some people might imagine that because it is being produced on the Camry line that its platform is that of a Camry, which would make it, perforce, a CUV, assuming that that type of vehicle is based on a car platform. Those people would only be one-third right. Because chief engineer Michihiko Sato created a platform that is one-third Camry in the front floor, one-third Highlander crossover as regards to suspension, and one third unique. (Or, for those who are into the inside nomenclature, it is a refined "K-Platform.") "It was never a Camry derivative," Sato stated.

The chief engineer started work immediately after the Detroit show. He talked to consumers back then when gas was still comparatively cheap. He said they were looking for "a vehicle that would sometimes be a car and other times an SUV." Meaning they were looking for comfort, driving fun, utility, and a dash of luxury. This led Sato to create six development goals for the Venza: styling; ease of ingress and egress; driving pleasure; roomy interior space; fulfilling features; excellent utility.

So looked at individually:

Styling: The Toyota "Vibrant Clarity" design approach is used. While it is more car-like than the Highlander, as in having a lower roofline (63.4 in. vs. 68.1 in.), it has the same ground clearance, 8.1 in. Still, whereas the Highlander is more blocky, the Venza has a sweeping side-view more akin to the Camry, even though it is only 0.6 in. longer than the Highlander (it is 189 in. long; the Camry, incidentally, has a 5.3-in. ground clearance, is 57.9-in. high, and is 189.2 in. long). While there are similarities with the CUV, as in distinct wheel arches, once again the wheel arches are less aggro and more aero. (It should be noted that the Venza looks far better in sheet metal than it does in photographs, which make it look like a typical CUV.)

Ingress/egress: They've used a sweeping rocker. Explained Sato, "With this feature, the floor is basically the same level as the rocker. And since the rocker is narrower than on sedans, we were able to eliminate a high step over."

Driving pleasure: A column-type electric power steering system is used. There is a rigid-mount rack and pinion setup to control the wheels. The Venza has front suspension based on MacPherson struts with L-shaped lower control arms. The rear suspension is a dual-link MacPherson strut setup. There are two engines available. One is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 246 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm; this engine is also used for the Camry, Highlander and RAV4. Then there is an all-new 2.7-liter I4 that produces 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm and 182 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm. Both engines are available with either front-wheel or all-wheel-drive setups. The AWD system is an on-demand system that uses a electromagnetic coupling; it can distribute a torque ratio of up to 50:50 front to rear. (This system is similar to that used for the RAV4 and Matrix.) Each engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission; both transmissions use a lock-up torque converter.

Interior space: While an increasing number of vehicles are using a cockpit-style approach to the instrument panel such that the driver is surrounded by the IP, Ben Jimenez said he's developed what he calls a 60/60 center dashboard, such that "Both driver and passenger feel as if 60% of the space is in their personal zone." Yes, that sums to 120%. Essentially, he explained, the driver's space seems to range to where the center-stack air vent is on the passenger's side, while the passenger's space goes to the high-mounted shifter position on the left side of the center stack. The passenger volume is 108-ft3. There is seating for five.

Features: "Potential Venza customers are also seeking a high level of convenience features, such as increased storage areas, choice of sound systems, and more safety," said Sato. There are cup holders and map pockets and other bins galore. Base audio is a AM/FM/CD/satellite/MP3/WMA player, which then climbs to JBL Synthesis surround sound. In the safety arena there are a variety of technologies, including ABS, traction control, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, and seven airbags.

Utility: This is essentially a cargo characteristic. There are release levers in the cargo area that permit the second row of seats (they're split) to be flipped down. The seat fold-down angle is just 4.5°. The EPA cargo volume behind the first row of seats is 70.1-ft3.

Looking toward calendar year 2009, Bob Carter said they expect to sell 60,000 Venzas. And a word about Venza. Carter says it is not an SUV. Not a CUV. Not a station wagon. "I really think the vehicle has a strong enough character to it and strong enough attributes that I'm not afraid to go out and establish a new nameplate," he said, then added, when asked why it didn't have a moniker related to another model-the Solara is the "Camry Solara," for example, and when the Matrix appeared it was the "Corolla Matrix"-"To call it a ‘Camry' might not fully describe what the vehicle is."

Simple Strategy

Manufacturing complexity is driven by choices and options. For the Venza, simplicity is key. In effect, there is one model that is available in four versions: four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive; a six-cylinder engine with the same. There are nine colors. There are eight packages (Tow Prep; Security; Convenience; Lighting; Leather; Comfort; two Premium); four stand-alone options (JBL audio; navigation; panoramic glass roof; rear-seat entertainment); and 20 accessories. According to Bob Carter, Toyota Div. group vp and general manager, “We anticipate that 55% of all Venzas will be front-wheel drive with four-cylinder front-wheel drive and V6 all-wheel drive models leading sales. Our simple one-grade, four-model strategy gives consumers a nicely equipped vehicle right from the get-go and allows us the flexibility to offer simple packages and stand-alone options.” It also makes things comparatively easier at the Toyota Georgetown assembly plant. 




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