Like Hollywood, it seems the car world can’t really help themselves these days from bringing back retired nameplates for another go.
Toyota is hopping on that bandwagon with the new 2021 Venza, here to do battle with the likes of the Honda Passport, Ford Edge and Nissan Murano. It comes in three trims, all hybrid and all with AWD: LE ($38,490), XLE ($44,490) and Limited ($47,690), pictured here.
Like the last Venza (the model bowed out after the 2015 model year), this new vehicle shares a platform with the current Camry – Toyota TNGA-K – for a lower centre of gravity, firmer chassis for better on-road manners and a maximization of interior space. Which is important because being AWD-only and hybrid-only, they needed to find room for all that running gear.
Stylistically, the latest Venza is a massive departure from the last version that was a somewhat cockeyed-looking thing across both its generations.
The new car’s ultra-slim headlights and low-profile grille are highlights that catch your eye almost immediately, while the long nose and steeply-raked rear window help provide a squat, athletic stance which is a polar opposite of the bulbous proportions found on the old car. A slightly-less-than-subtle crease down the side, meanwhile, culminates by tapering down just above the leading corner of each side of the full-length taillight lens.
Inside, it’s not quite as eye-catching but in my Limited-spec tester, it sure is well equipped and plush. Heated and cooled front seats, two-tone SofTex seats and interior trim, a wide, 12.3-inch touchscreen display (up from 8-inch on base LE models), and big TFT display in the midst of the gauge cluster all do their part to lend an air of luxury to the proceedings. Further, everything’s fastened together so nicely I heard hardly a squeak or rattle. That’s good because when you’re cruising in electric-only mode, noises like that tend to ring a little louder.
The touchpad-based climate and audio controls are easy to find, but since there’s no haptic feedback when you “press” each one, it’s sometimes hard to determine if the command’s been received or not. It also feels unnatural to poke and prod a plastic panel and some kind of panel vibration would have helped, here.
What about interior space, though? Well, that’s a bit of a mixed bag. The seats are comfortable, but the transmission tunnel rises quite high into the cabin which does lead to some somewhat cozy confines up front when it comes to the hips and knees. Headroom is not an issue up front, though the somewhat funky sunroof (more of which in a minute) does cost rear seat passengers about 50 mm of headroom. Like the front, however, both the legroom and hip room in the rear of the cabin are generous enough to fit adults comfortably. Rear seat occupants also get two USB ports, but no heated seats. That’s surprising, considering some CUVs with a lower MSRP than my tester have heated rears. It’s a feature Canadians find important.
Speaking of the sunroof, it’s electrochromic, meaning that with a push of a button, it gets completely frosted over to allow for protection from the sun, but without the darkness of your typical sunshade.
This being a new Toyota, Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 comes as standard and it includes lane-centering assist, road departure mitigation, dynamic cruise control (that will take you all the way down to stop in traffic) and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection. Both the lane departure warning and lane-centering feature can be shut off with the press of a button – one on the steering wheel, one by the driver’s left knee – which I like as having to scroll through menus to perform which is annoying.
Limited spec, meanwhile, gets a foot-activated tailgate (as does XLE) and adds a digital rear-view mirror. When I first sampled one of these, my eyes took some time focusing. Now, I find it natural and the benefit of mirrors like this is that they offer a wide view out, unobstructed by rear passengers heads, luggage piled high or a small rear window. And, no matter who’s driving, the view is always the same so different drivers need not adjust the mirror. Luckily, you can change back to a traditional mirror by flipping what’s normally used as a dimmer switch because the image is too grainy to be used at night.
Power is rated at 219 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque, thanks to the combination of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and three EV motors.
The Venza’s powertrain is a smooth and quiet one, even when the gas motor kicks on. Of course, the real party trick here is the ability to cruise in all-EV mode that you can do so long as you aren’t travelling too fast (you can cruise in EV mode up to 119 km/h) or hitting the throttle too hard. The EV mode button, meanwhile, asks the computers to allow the Venza to stay in EV mode that much longer than they otherwise would.
Power is sent to the wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), so while acceleration is smooth and surprisingly brisk, it goes about its business smoothly and efficiently and I saw 6.5L/100 km of fuel usage during our drive. That’s a little more than Toyota’s 5.9L/100 km claims, but I’m willing to bet there are few out there that will bemoan that 0.6L.
This latest Venza is a top-notch effort. It’s well equipped, I love the looks and the drive is right on for a vehicle in this segment. Yes, there could be a little more room inside and there are a few niggling user-interface issues but I’m sure those will be overlooked in favour of the great hybrid system and standard AWD. A hybrid with AWD for less than 40 grand? Sign us up.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.