It’s funny about automotive nameplates. Some, after years in retirement, are returned to the fold for a repeat engagement. That’s the case with the Toyota Venza, which for 2021 is back after a five model-year absence, but only in spirit and general body proportions.
The new version — available early this fall — is a clean-sheet design that’s only available as an all-wheel-drive hybrid. You read that correctly.
In Toyota’s hierarchy, the five-passenger Venza wagon (which originates in Japan where it’s called the Harrier) slots between the RAV-4 and Highlander utility vehicles. The RAV4 is smaller, but its interior is actually more spacious by virtue of the vehicle’s boxier shape.
Compared with the previous Venza, the new model’s smaller dimensions translate into less cargo volume, with the rear-seatback in place or folded flat. The wheelbase — the distance between the front and rear wheels — is the same as the RAV4’s.
The passenger environment is typical of most Toyota vehicles, offering a blend of modern styling with traditional overtones. The 20- and available 31-centimetre touch-screens are perched well above the dashboard, potentially blocking (especially with the bigger screen) the driver’s field of vision.
On the plus side, the Venza uses a traditional console shifter instead of trendy (but frequently confusing) dials or switches for gear/direction selection.
That process engages the standard all-wheel-drive hybrid propulsion system consisting of a 176-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder and three electric motors (including one supplying power to the rear wheels) for a combined output of 219 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. That seems a bit light to handle the Venza’s 1,775-kilogram heft, but the electric motors provide significant low-speed power.
The gasoline-electric combo works through a continuously variable transmission with selectable Normal, Eco and Sport drive modes.
The lithium-ion battery pack is beneath the rear seat so it doesn’t interfere with cargo stowage or passenger room.
What the Venza might lack in outright performance, it makes up for in lower fuel consumption. Toyota estimates 5.9 l/100 km in combined city/highway driving. That’s better than any of its non-hybrid competitors by a wide margin.
When launching from a dead stop or in slippery/icy road conditions, awd sends up to 80 per cent of the system’s torque to the rear wheels. In normal steady-state cruising, 100 per cent of the hybrid’s power is sent to the front wheels. When cornering, light braking pressure is applied to the inside rear wheel to slow it down (a form of yaw control), which helps the Venza turn with less understeer and therefore more stability.
Venza pricing starts at an estimated $38,000, including destination charges, which compares with $34,200 for the RAV4 hybrid and $47,300 for the larger Highlander hybrid (that has three rows of seats).
The base Venza LE comes with a decent degree of content, such as a power-operated front seat, interior ambient lighting, wireless phone charging, hands-free power liftgate and a six-speaker audio system. You also get most of Toyota’s active-safety technology and driver-assist features.
The XLE adds roof rails, front- and rear-parking assist, heated and ventilated power front seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror and fancier interior/exterior trim.
Along with the 31-centimetre touch-screen, the Limited gets a 360-degree surround-view camera, puddle lights (to illuminate the ground when the doors are opened), heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and a nine-speaker, 1,200-watt JBL-brand audio package.
Optional for the Limited is Toyota’s Star Gaze panoramic glass roof that can go from clear to frosted at the flip of a switch.
If you’re in need of cavernous cargo capacity with off-road capability, then other Toyota utility vehicles are likely better suited to your needs. But with all-weather versatility combined with upscale looks and content, the reconstituted fuel-sipping Venza is definitely a contender.
What you should know: 2021 Toyota Venza
Type: Four-door, all-wheel-drive midsize hatchback/wagon
Engine (h.p.): 2.5-litre DOHC I-4 and three electric motors (219)
Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)
Market position: Toyota has revived the Venza name and the general shape as an addition to the company’s range of utility vehicles. Making a hybrid power team and all-wheel-drive standard is unheard of.
Points: A modern interpretation of the Venza is as good looking as the original.
• Standard hybrid system plus AWD is a gutsy move, but should pay off.
• Horsepower and torque output is on the modest side, but fuel economy should make up for any perceived shortfall. • Wide assortment of standard active-safety tech.
Driver assist: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (std.); front and rear emergency braking (std.); lane-departure warning (std.); pedestrian/bicycle detection (std.)
L/100 km (city/hwy combined 5.9; Base price (incl. destination) $38,000
- Base price: $44,500
- Shorter version of the Pilot comes with a 280-h.p. V-6 and standard AWD.
Chevrolet Blazer AWD
- Base price: $41,800
- Good-looking model seats five people and offers a choice of three engines.
VW Atlas Cross Sport
- Base price: $40,900
- Atlas offshoot comes with standard AWD, and a 235-h.p. I-4. A V-6 is optional.
-written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media