2009 Toyota VenzaPosted on July 12th, 2009
Four-cylinder crossover combines exceptional fuel economy with a versatile interior
By Nina Russin
The Venza fills the gap between Toyota’s mid-sized Camry sedan and the Highlander sport-utility vehicle. Toyota calls the Venza a five-door sedan because it rides on the Camry platform. But it’s really more of a crossover vehicle in terms of its appearance and function.
Last fall, I had the chance to drive the six-cylinder Venza in southern Pennsylvania during a media preview. Recently, I drove the four-cylinder version on a weekend trip between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.
While the four-cylinder Venza lacks the power and towing capability of the V-6, its fuel economy is significantly better. The Venza is a fairly heavy car: curb weight on the front-wheel drive model is 3760 pounds: 3945 pounds for the four-cylinder all-wheel drive model.
I wanted to determine whether the smaller engine would have the power to keep up with high-speed traffic, and have adequate torque to perform emergency maneuvers. The speed limit between Phoenix and Tucson is 75: the average speed of traffic on the 10 freeway is about 80 miles-per-hour.
The other big difference between the current test drive and my experience last fall was the climate. The weather in Pennsylvania during the media preview was a pleasant 70 degrees. As I write this story, the temperature outside is 114 degrees: hot enough to melt running shoes in the trunk of a car, and make the average 12-volt battery come unglued.
After driving the four-cylinder, front-wheel drive model, I’d recommend buyers wanting all-wheel drive to buy the V-6. The larger engine will provide much better performance, and have enough torque to maneuver through thick mud or snow.
An optional towing prep package on the test car ($220) gives the Venza a 2500 pound towing capacity. Once again, I’d recommend the six-cylinder car to buyers who plan to tow trailers. The larger engine with the towing package gives the Venza a 3500 pound towing capacity, meeting our minimum ALV standards.
Other options on the test car include an audio upgrade that includes MP3 connectivity, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface ($1090), a convenience package including keyless start and a power rear door ($860), and high-intensity discharge headlamps with automatic high beams ($815).
The power rear door is a great feature for anybody who plans to load large cargo in back; keyless ignition saves fumbling for keys, which can have safety benefits after dark.
The HID headlamps are worth the investment for buyers living in remote suburbs with poor lighting, and people who live in snowy climates. The high beams automatically dim for approaching traffic, making it much easier to drive at night on rural roads.
Exceptional fuel economy
The four-cylinder Venza did not disappoint me when it came to fuel economy. My average mileage on the round trip between Phoenix and Tucson was about 30 miles-per-gallon, slightly higher than the EPA estimate. Our trip included about 230 miles of highway driving and twenty around town.
Power is adequate for most occasions, though the engine feels anemic at wide open throttle. While power in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range isn’t exceptional, I had no problems merging into high-speed traffic. Since we were travelling on flat terrain, I didn’t get to test the car’s performance on hills of any size, nor did I test it at altitude.
The standard six-speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly: the only noticeable shift shock is during hard acceleration. The transmission’s large overdrive gears enhance the Venza’s fuel economy.
A front and rear MacPherson strut suspension is compliant without feeling mushy. Standard stabilizer bars enhance the car’s cornering performance. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion. Four-channel antilock braking keeps the wheels from spinning on wet and snow-covered roads.
Electronic power steering saves weight and space under the hood when compared to a hydraulic pump. The system on the Venza has good steering response at all speeds: on-center feel on the highway is quite positive.
Visibility around the car is good, despite its thick rear pillars and narrow greenhouse. I had no problems seeing vehicles in the adjacent lanes, and parking was quite easy. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in wet weather.
The Venza feels very spacious inside: designers did a great job with the ergonomics. The standard cloth upholstery is a welcome sight on a hot Phoenix day since it stays cooler than leather. I found the driver’s and front passenger seats easy to adjust, with plenty of lower back support.
Hip and headroom is excellent in the second row. Despite a floor tunnel, three adults can sit in back on short trips.
The center console includes two large bins: under the movable armrest, and a second bin under the cupholders. Steering wheel-mounted audio and Bluetooth controls minimize driver distraction. A standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.
A gated shifter at the base of the center stack includes manual gear selection. Above that, dual temperature and audio controls are easy to reach from either front seating position. A digital display at the top of the center stack lists audio selections, time and ambient temperature. Drivers can choose between English, French and Spanish language displays.
The dual gauges in front of the driver are easy to see in any light. In bright sunlight, reflection off the windshield makes the digital display at the top of the center stack difficult to read. Dual overhead reading lamps up front and in the second row illuminate the interior at night.
The glovebox is exceptionally large: big enough for a pack or purse. All four doors have bottle holders and map pockets. There are three 12-volt power points: in the bin under the cupholders, on the passenger side of the front center stack, and in the cargo area.
A standard rear tonneau cover conceals items stored in back. Release levers on the bottoms of the second-row seats fold them flat in a 60/40 pattern. A second set of release levers on the sides of the cargo area makes it easy to extend the cargo floor when loading in items from the back. The spare tire and jack are mounted under the cargo floor.
All models come with standard front, side, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, electronic stability and traction control, antilock brakes, and daytime running lamps with an off switch.
Toyota builds the Venza alongside the Camry sedan at its Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant.
Likes: A spacious, versatile crossover vehicle with seating for five. The Venza combines sedan-like ride-and-handling with a taller cargo area that is bicycle friendly.
Dislikes: Four-cylinder engine lacks power at higher speeds. Floor and cargo mats are a $269 option.
Model: Venza four-cylinder five-door sedan (FWD)
Base price: $25,975
As tested: $29, 949
Horsepower: 182 Hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 182 lbs.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/highway
Comments: MSRP does not include a $720 delivery charge.
One response to “2009 Toyota Venza”
I am very pleased with my new Venza. This is a very thoughtfully built vehicle. There are several holders for my phone, ipod and other stuff. The ride is smooth although it does not pick up very quickly.
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