2009 Toyota VenzaPosted on December 1st, 2008
New five-door car shares the Camry platform
By Nina Russin
2009 Toyota VenzaThe new mid-sized Venza looks like a crossover vehicle, but Toyota engineers call it a car. The Venza shares Toyota’s K platform with the Camry: it will roll off the same Kentucky assembly line as the automaker’s best-selling sedan.
It’s two box design gives the Venza more cargo space than a sedan. It sits lower than the Highlander, making the car more aerodynamic. Lower door sills ease access and egress.
There are two available engines for the front-wheel or all-wheel drive platform: a V6 that rolls into dealerships in November, and an all-new 2.7-liter four-cylinder that comes out in January. Both come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Having driven both versions, I’d opt for the four-cylinder, which costs less and gets and better fuel economy than the V6, with surprisingly good performance. The only exception would be buyers who plan to tow trailers. The V6 meets our minimum ALV towing requirement of 3500 pounds, while the four-cylinder does not.
Touring Pennsylvania Dutch country
At a recent media event, I drove both the four and six-cylinder Venzas on a forty-mile route in southern Pennsylvania. The route, which included two-lane roads and highways over hilly terrain, gave me ample opportunity to compare engine performance.
Although the four-cylinder engine is a better value, there’s nothing wrong with the performance of the V6. It’s a tried-and-true product that Toyota also uses in the current RAV4, Camry and Highlander.
Average fuel economy for the front-wheel drive model is twenty-two miles per gallon, versus about twenty-five for the new four cylinder. All-wheel drive versions get slightly less gas mileage, though the four-banger still averages twenty-eight miles-per-gallon on the highway.
What makes the four-cylinder car such a good value is its proximity to the six-cylinder in terms of performance. Thanks to a lot of low-end torque and the six-speed automatic transmission, it doesn’t do any of the annoying things four-cylinder cars are known for.
The car is surprisingly quick off the line, with excellent acceleration in the twenty-to-fifty mile-per-hour range. It doesn’t feel anemic going up a steep hill. The transmission doesn’t hunt excessively, and there’s less shift shock than one might expect.
Another thing to love about the four-cylinder Venza is that it meets California’s stringent partial zero-emissions vehicle requirements, and federal SULEV vehicles standards. The six cylinder is slightly less green: it complies with federal ULEV II requirements.
Steering response is positive without being dicey, and the brakes perform in a firm, linear fashion. The big wheels and tires provide a nice wide footprint for stable cornering without too much road noise.
Designed for American roads
Toyota’s Calty design studio in Newport Beach, California played a major role in the Venza’s design, beginning with the FTSX concept car at the 2005 Detroit auto show. Both the concept and the production model incorporate styling cues that push the buttons of enthusiasts stateside: big wheels, a wedge-shaped profile, and a rear spoiler.
The V6 model comes with standard twenty-inch wheels: the largest standard rims of any vehicle in its competitive segment. The four-cylinder model gets nineteen-inch wheels: big enough to have the same visual effect, and more flexible for buyers who want to get a more aggressive set of winter tires.
Like most new two-box cars, the Venza has a thick D pillar to enhance its profile. Unfortunately, the thick pillar also makes for bigger rear blind spots. It’s more noticeable when backing into a parking spot without the optional backup camera, than when the car is moving forward.
A clearer view of the sky
An optional panoramic sunroof has separate glass panels for first and second-row passengers, giving the back of the car a more spacious feel. The center stack is the focal point for the wing-shaped instrument panel, topped with the screen for the optional navigation system.
Controls above the navigation screen allow drivers to access comfort and convenience software previously limited to dealership technicians. Using a button, the driver can scroll through settings for door locks, keyless entry, interior and exterior lighting and display brightness. A second button allows the driver to change settings, adjusting the relock timer, the number of doors that unlocks with the keyless entry, and lighting configurations.
A cleverly conceived floor console has a sliding armrest and two large bins: under the front cupholders, and under the armrest. I was especially intrigued by the bin under the cupholders, since it would make a great hiding spot for valuables at the trailhead.
A cell phone or iPod holder at the base of the center stack has a feed hole for wires, which plug into power outlets underneath. All four doors have bottle and map holders. The middle seatback in the second row down to create an armrest, with two more cupholders.
A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel keeps the wheel from obstructing the forward vision of smaller drivers. Redundant steering wheel controls allow the driver to use Bluetooth wireless phone technology, program the audio, and engage the cruise control with a minimum of distraction.
Configurable cargo area
There are two sets of levers to fold the second-row seats flat: on the sides of the seat cushions, and on either side of the liftgate. Both sets of controls fold the seats flat in a single step. The tonneau cover is easy to remove, creating plenty of space to load a bicycle inside.
A twelve-volt plug in and cargo area lamp are handy for buyers who plan to take their vehicles camping, or need unload gear before dawn for an early-morning race.
Four tie-down loops secure large cargo. A full-sized spare under the cargo floor is easy to reach, and can take the driver further than undersized spare tires in some competitive products.
All cars come with seven airbags, active front headrests, four-channel antilock brakes, traction and vehicle stability control.
A new automatic high beam automatically dims the lamps for oncoming traffic, allowing the driver to use the brighter lamps more often on dark roads, while remaining courteous to other drivers.
Pricing for the Venza begins at $25,975 for the four-cylinder car and $27,800 for the V6, not including a $720 destination charge. All-wheel drive adds $1450 to either model, while the panoramix sunroof costs $1050.
Likes: An attractive, versatile car with good fuel economy and available all-wheel drive. Second-row seats are easy to fold flat to extend the cargo floor. A standard power liftgate makes it easier to load up the cargp area.
Dislike: Thick D pillars create larger blind spots to the rear of the car.
Base price: $25,975
As tested: N/A
Horsepower* 182Hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 182 lbs.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: Yes (V6 only)
Fuel economy:21/29 mpg city/highway*
Comments: Horsepower, torque and fuel economy ratings listed are for the four-cylinder model.
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