At the end of the previous decade’s sport-utility craziness, Toyota pulled back from the SUV breach and committed anew to applying its Camry platform to the crossover style with the Venza. Now entering its sixth year on the market, the Venza still has much more in common with station wagons than SUVs, and so it continues to fight the stigma of one while hewing toward the style of the other.
The Venza occupies a funny place in the market. Beyond its crossover styling, a look at its specs shows that it is transparently a taller wagon version of the Camry, and its $30K-ish price point puts it squarely in the sights of many popular crossover contenders, Toyota’s own RAV4 included.
Back in the 1980s, if you were looking for a feature-rich Toyota wagon, you’d choose the Cressida wagon.
In the 1990s, the Camry XLE wagon would have fit the bill.
The Camry platform birthed the Highlander in the 2000s…
…and then the Venza came along for 2009 to occupy the wagon space and clear the way for the Highlander to grow larger.
The intro line on the Venza was that it was chic and sleek, with style and power to spare. Your own eyes will determine the success of the visuals – the Venza has gone this long with minimal revision because it is so thoroughly middle-of-the-road in its shape and proportions – and so it’s probably either just fine or somebody else’s car.
There was power to spare with this Venza Limited and its V6 engine, and so this Venza ended up feeling like the V8 wagons of yore, the ones that housewives hated then and that enthusiasts lionize now. This Venza had power and smoothness aplenty, and if you can look past its limitations, you may find a connection with it.
The Venza offers two V6 engines, a 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder with 181 horsepower, and a 3.5-liter V6 with a substantially greater 268-horsepower rating. The V6 adds less than 200 pounds to the Venza’s curb weight and at 21 mpg sacrifices only one mpg EPA overall, so we see the V6 as a no-brainer.
The V6 is one of the Venza’s best aspects. With it, the Venza takes off with none of the lag of smaller turbo engines, and it pulls with muscle all the way to redline. The six-speed automatic moves through the power curve with firmness.
Handling? Here’s where we discuss the merging of the Camry’s vanilla flavoring with the Venza’s raised center of gravity. Raise up a car that is tuned to help everyone from teens to grandparents drive safely and in turn keep Toyota lawsuit-free, and you get a car that has a particularly steady gate.
Not to say that the Venza won’t do what you want – those 20-inch wheels combined with the suspension’s reasonable amount of jounce control make the Venza baseline competent – but there are few rewards for probing the limits. Dial into a curve, and you’re fishing for road feel. Just as you find your bearings, the Venza begins pushing past its front tires. Actually the Venza, even with its V6, is so averse to enthusiasm that it is a likely match for the one in your family whose speed wings you are looking to clip.
How about that chic interior? It is nice. The Venza’s front environs are cozily shaped, with a near-45-degree downward angle of the center stack into the console.
The front seats are less like buckets and more like individual benches. Even with its power adjustments, the driver’s bottom cushion is flat enough to leave taller folks’s thighs a-dangling. Why can’t the Venza seats have the ample thigh support of the Camry’s?
The rear seat joins the V6 engine in being one of the Venza’s best aspects. Lots of room all around. The Venza should be a staple in the Uber fleets on the strength of its rear accommodations alone, blind spots aside. The smooth ride reinforces the Venza’s attention to its riders.
The center console is deep and full of sliding-surface tricks…
…and that slanting console has a snug home for your smartphone…
…where it has access to its own power point.
These clever details are expected when you’re spending $40K for a car. Overall, the Venza checks just about all the boxes. It looks great on paper and mostly keeps you satisfied.
But we couldn’t help feeling like there was something missing, as if there was some spice that had been scrimped on or some bit of forthrightness that had been squelched. Like the wagons of yore, which buyers for the most part couldn’t wait to throw over, the Venza is logical and dutiful. There is a market for that, and the Venza’s staying power shows that it is capturing enough of it.
2014 Toyota Venza Limited V6 AWD
Base Price: $39,570
Price as Tested: $40,940
Tow Prep Package: $220
Floor Mats and Cargo Mat: $290
Strong V6 response
Comfortable rear seat
Muddy handling response
Limited rear visibility
Shallow-cushioned driver’s seat