Second Chances: Toyota Gives the Venza Another Shot

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
second chances toyota gives the venza another shot

The Venza was an interesting product for Toyota. With the benefit of hindsight, we can agree it was a model just slightly ahead of its time.

A car-based, ever-so-mildly upscale crossover with two rows of seating and a choice of powertrains, the Venza offered buyers a more stylish alternative to the smaller RAV4 and midsize Highlander. Alas, the model ended its six-year run in 2015.

Well… it’s back.

Its arrival heralded by rumors, the second-generation Venza debuted in the driveway of Toyota’s U.S. brand boss, Jack Hollis, on Monday morning. Brimming with unbridled enthusiasm and making his neighbors nervous by talking far too much with his hands, Hollis revealed the Venza not just as a white space filler, but also as part of the automaker’s electrification strategy.

Along with the next-generation Sienna minivan (more to come on that), the 2021 Venza will boast a standard hybrid drivetrain, as well as standard all-wheel drive. It’s just one round in a salvo of electrified products launched by Toyota, part of the automaker’s effort to see 25 percent of its sales come from electrified vehicles by 2025.

Positioned where it was before, between the RAV4 and Highlander, the resurrected model retains its two-row interior and sharply raked rear glass. It sits on the TNGA-K platform found beneath the Toyota Avalon and Highlander.

Somewhat conservative up front, with a wide lower air opening (it’s a Toyota, after all) and a plastic-covered upper grille, the Venza’s larger dimensions wear the brand’s corporate styling well. Beneath the hood you’ll find a 2.5-liter four cylinder paired with two electric motors, with one more found out back, powering the rear axle. No need for a mechanical connection between the engine and rear axle.

That rear motor, by the way, can provide up to 80 percent of the vehicle’s torque, depending on driving conditions and the amount of front-end slip.

While Toyota won’t say what speeds you ca attain (and what distances you can travel) in EV mode, like other hybrids, it won’t be much. The aim of the triple-motor hybrid drivetrain is to have the driver walk away from a trip having used less gas. In this respect, the Venza seems to have succeeded. No doubt a heavy vehicle, the Venza nonetheless delivers an estimated 40 mpg in combined driving.

Total system output is a modest 2019 horsepower. Three drive modes are on tap, with each offering different levels of regenerative braking. It’s worth noting that the abundance of electric motors allows boosted regen to act as a “downshift” when the driver takes manual control of the transmission in hilly or wintry conditions.

Inside the Venza, you’ll find 36.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row, which comes close to matching the RAV4’s 37.6 cubes. Careful attention has been provided to sound deadening, Toyota claims, with every nook and cranny filled with decibel-absorbing insulation. Look up, and you might find an optional Star Gaze panoramic roof that turns opaque at the touch of a button.

Offered in LE, XLE, and Limited trims, the Venza goes on sale this summer with standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 in tow. That suite of driver assist niceties, as well as a standard backup camera, rounds out a tech roster that includes a standard 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and available 13.3-inch unit, plus a hands-free power liftgate. Buyers can order up a 10-inch head-up display if that sort of thing’s their bag.

In its time, the Venza seemed more popular than its sales figures suggested (maybe there just happened to be a lot of Venza fans in my city). The model’s best sales year was its first full year of sales — the economically challenged year of 2009, in which the Venza found 54,410 homes. By 2015, that annual tally had fallen to just over 21,000. Interestingly, Toyota kept racking up new sales for the Venza ever since, with 2019 sales data showing the automaker unloading nine new Venzas.

Where those vehicles were hiding all this time is unknown.

[Images: Toyota]

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  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on May 21, 2020

    The Venza wasn't quite ahead of its time as the Malibu Maxx beat them to the concept of a (gasp!) station wagon. But, of course Toyota did the "Maxx" concept right, and I bought the cheaper Malibu and had many regrets. The Venza styling has grown better over time and this looks remarkably awkward up on its tippy-toes.

  • 415s30 415s30 on Jun 01, 2020

    Venza sounds a lot like, "toilet seat" in Japanese, just saying...

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