By Al Vinikour
There are many descriptions used to describe Toyotas: bulletproof, dependable, trouble-free, vanilla, et al. One word one never hears is “underappreciated.” Well add it to the stack because I’ve recently tested one of the best-looking vehicles Toyota currently builds—the 2013 Venza. It’s underappreciated because it’s a sibling of the Camry. Therefore, it inherits all the attributes of its better-known family member, and every comment made about the Camry, except regarding looks, can be said of the Venza. Few are the times when I don’t object to being stuck behind someone in traffic but, whenever it’s a Venza, it “softens the blow.” That’s because the Venza’s design is highly practical, and quite stylish. It has a load-in height that is almost as low as Toyota’s Sienna minivan, but it’s a crossover SUV, not a minivan; more tall midsized sedan than cargo hauler.
The 2013 model gets new upper and lower grille designs, revised fog lamps and updated rear lights. The small number of modifications emphasizes the freshness of the original design. It still looks good, and stands out from more “upright” competitors like the Ford Edge. The basic shape is squat, almost stubby, with sharp, chiseled edges overlaid on it. It’s not what you would call classically beautiful, but the Venza takes on a menacing look in darker colors. You can tell that it is a product of Toyota’s Calty Design studios in Newport Beach, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s even built here, coming off the line at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant.
The 2013 Venza continues to be available in LE, XLE and Limited trim levels, and with front or all-wheel drive. The base engine is an all-aluminum 2.7-liter inline four cylinder with four valves per cylinder and dual variable valve timing. That may seem a little small for a vehicle that can weigh 3,945 lb with all-wheel drive, but it puts out 181 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque. If that’s not enough, you can order the 3.5-liter V6, the only engine available on the Limited. It’s also made from aluminum, has four vales per cylinder and dual variable valve timing, but it produces an impressive 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. And here’s the dirty little secret: the more powerful V6 has nearly the same EPA fuel economy ratings as the 2.7-liter engine! Plus, Venzas equipped with the four-cylinder engine ride on 19-in wheels, while V6-powered versions get 20 inchers with P245/50R-20 tires.
If you’ve ever driven a Toyota Camry, you know what to expect form the Venza. The powertrain is exceptionally smooth, powerful, and the 3.5-liter/AWD fuel economy rating of 21 mpg combined is easily reached. If you’re one of those drivers who have to find something to complain about, it will be that there’s nothing to complain about! So sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride.
Like so many vehicles today, the Venza has electric power steering. It’s light, direct and doesn’t have much feel. This is another good reason to pop for the V6-powered version; putting 20-in wheels all around adds a bit of heft to the steering. It feels more substantial. Also, the combination of four-wheel independent suspension and full-time all-wheel drive means this is a sure-footed vehicle. You point the Venza where you want it to go, and it handles the rest. However, because it also can carry five passengers and up to 34.4 ft3 of cargo (70.1 ft3 with the second row folded flat), the Venza can be a bit stiff-legged when empty. And not only does the occasional harshness over sharp bumps and uneven or scarred pavement make itself known, the sound that accompanies it is heard. These problems are lessened in the Limited with its greater sound deadening
Safety items are plentiful. They include Toyota’s STAR Safety System that features enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-lock Brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology. Which is all nice, but of no use of the brakes aren’t strong enough. No worries here. The Venza has 12.8-in ventilated disc up front, and 11.7-in solid discs in the rear. In most real-world situations, they should be more than adequate. If they aren’t, the Venza comes with seven airbags, active headrests on the driver and front-passenger seats, and Hill-start Assist Control. Just add driver awareness, a commodity Toyota doesn’t supply, and Venza provides a safe haven for all its occupants.
As good as Venza’s exterior styling is, it’s only half the pleasure. The increased height of the five-door body style means you don’t drop down into the seat or climb up to it. You just slide across. Nothing could be easier. Some potential buyers may be put off by the interior styling, however. The gear lever sprouts from the dash and is surrounded by a bezel that cuts into the center stack. Those expecting restraint will see a jumble of seams, shapes and finishes, but you quickly get used to it. On the upside, there are a lot of spaces to store your stuff, especially personal electronics
The Venza has easy-to-use pull handles in the cargo area that quickly drop the second row seatbacks for greater cargo capacity. The cargo cover is a bit fiddly, but it not only hides what’s in the load area, it helps lessen noise transmission into the main cabin. Speaking of cargo, whether people or things, the Venza not only carries a surprising amount with relative ease, it does so without making you feel like you’re driving a delivery van.
Seating in the base-model LE features fabric-trimmed front seats with seatback pockets, an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, a four-way adjustable front passenger seat, and fabric-trimmed 60/40 split, reclining, one-touch fold-flat rear seats with a center armrest with cup holders. Amenities include dual zone automatic climate control w/air filter; a 3.5-in LCD Multi-Information Display that shows outside temperature, clock, climate control settings, fuel economy information, average speed and trip distance; plus a warehouse full of storage space and the usual power features.
Moving up to the XLE adds: leather-trimmed seating including multi-stage heated front seats; leather-trimmed tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and voice-command controls; Smart Key System w/Push Button Start and remote illuminated entry, and a leather-trimmed shift lever w/inlay. If that’s not enough, there’s always the Limited.
It includes everything the XLE provides plus: Premium HDD Navigation w/Entune, a 7-in high-resolution touchscreen w/split-screen capability, an AM/FM CD Player w/MPE/WMA Playback Capability, and a raft of other items that will make an audiophile believe in a higher power. Furthermore, Limited models also come with a panoramic glass roof w/front power moonroof, high-intensity discharge headlights with automatic high beam dimming and LED Daytime Running Lights.
Still not satisfied? There are various packages available as well. The warranty is equally good; 3-year/36,000-mile comprehensive, 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain, and 5-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion perforation. It also includes Toyota Care, a complimentary maintenance plan. For two years or 25,000 miles (whichever comes first), every new Toyota will be covered for all normal factory-scheduled service as well as 24/7 roadside assistance. Finally, Venza can be ordered in one of nine exterior colors and three interior colors (cloth or leather). Prices range from $27,850 for a Venza LE FWD to $39,020 for a Limited AWD.