The new 2009 Toyota Venza invites a quick at the term “crossover vehicle.” When we first heard it, the crossover was a cross—hence the name—between a sport-utility vehicle and a sedan, plus a dash of minivan for good measure. Toyota’s original entry was/is the Highlander, a Camry automobile platform gussied up with an SUV-look body. It consumers what they wanted: the utility and appearance of a sport-ute but without the truck-like ride and SUV’s love affair with the gas pump.
Meanwhile time goes by. SUV’s become socially less desirable and so too anything that looks like one. Vehicle shoppers still want the room but something styled with a little more zoom. It’s a fickle and perhaps overindulged market, perhaps, but that’s what it is. So Toyota arrives almost unerringly with the Venza.
With Toyota’s typically arcane naming rubric, “Venza” is first person singular present subjunctive for “conquer or win over” in Spanish, which is perhaps as much as one needs ask about that. After all, we ask rhetorically, what’s a “Camry?” More important, of course, is what a Venza can do. This is a car review, not a meeting of the etymology society.
In brief, the Toyota Venza is a stylish five-passenger, five-door versatile people and things mover. Designed and engineered primarily in the United States (California and Michigan respectively, and fortunately not the other way around), it’s also built here (Georgetown, Kentucky) from more than 70 percent U.S. content. It’s available with four or six-cylinder power, a six-speed automatic transmission and front or all-wheel drive.
Toyota has taken a “one model” approach to packaging the Venza. Everything is a well-equipped “base model,” with drivetrain choices setting the starting price, then standalone and option packages adding to that.
Our tester Toyota had the four cylinder engine with all-wheel drive, a good combination for all-weather mobility and good fuel economy. As a four-cylinder model, it came with 19-inch wheels. The V-6 powered cars come standard with 20-inch wheels, the first on any Toyota passenger car.
Painted a soothing Aloe Green Metallic, our test Venza came with dual-zone automatic climate control, SAT-ready AM/FM/6-CD changer 6-speaker audio, a 3.5-inch multi-information display, four-window auto up-down power windows and more, all for a starting price of $27,425. Assorted options and packages raised the total price to $32,238.
That’s not an inexpensive neighborhood to play in but the Toyota Venza is well equipped to do so. A prime competitor is the Nissan Murano, about the same length and width though the Nissan is taller. It’s the Nissan’s extra height, plus the Venza’s greater emphasis on horizontal lines, that makes the Venza look longer. The Murano starts at roughly the same price as the Venza but has a V-6 engine as standard equipment. On the other hand, a fuel-thriftier four isn’t available in the Murano.
But just as the Murano has Space Warrior styling, the Toyota Venza has its own Skytrooper elements, including the gill-like grille with headlamp cluster epaulets. The Venza is stylishly raked with pronounced fender contours and the most complex taillight cluster since the Romulans got out of the sports car business.
If the taillamps have a lot of contours, plotting the surfaces of the Venza’s dash would be at least a Calc III problem. The instrument panel is in a big nacelle with a large central speedometer inside a turquoise ring. A tachometer is an almost-a-semicircle to the speedo’s left echoed by engine temp and fuel gauges to the right. Audio controls top the center stack with climate controls offset to the right below them. The shifter quadrant is carved into the left of the center stack.
Moving the shifter up from the center console frees that space for a truly Toyota-like assembly of bins and illuminated cupholders. The cupholders, however, can be slid back to reveal a large storage compartment underneath, illuminated by LED, complete with an aux plug. There’s an iPod holder built into the center stack, with a grippy clamp to hold the iPod and a channel for the wires to go down into the storage compartment under the cupholders. The sliding armrest opens yet another large bin. The center console has more rooms in it than a Manhattan efficiency apartment.
Our test Toyota Venza had the $2,100 Comfort Package which includes the leather seating, in our tester neatly set off with contrasting piping, matching the charcoal over camel interior treatment. The Venza’s insides are liberally decorated with what Toyota calls “satin mahogany wood-grain-style interior trim.” It’s plastic wood…but at least they’ve done a good job of it.