The center console is home to a dedicated resting spot for a mobile phone or digital media player, with a cable pass-through leading to two very large storage spaces. We really like this, because it allows us to plug an MP3 player into the auxiliary input or charge a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone without cluttering up the cabin.
Five adults can be comfortably seated in the Venza, thanks to its spacious second-seating row. Owners in need of a third bank of seats should look upmarket to the larger Toyota Highlander or Sequoia.
When the time comes to carry bulky loads instead of people, owners will appreciate the Venza's optional power rear door and standard fold-flat seats that flip down at the pull of a lever.
Under the hood
Our Toyota Venza AWD V-6 was equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 that creates 268 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. Power flows through a single-option, six-speed, automatic transmission with manual-shifting mode before being distributed to all four standard 20-inch wheels.
With a few exceptions, Toyotas aren't known for their inspiring power and handing prowess. Despite its sporty 20-inch wheels and manual shift mode, the Venza is no exception to this rule.
The V-6 has good power for quick blasts and highway merges, but it can't mask the Venza's obvious heftiness. The automatic transmission creates a noticeable lag between accelerator-pedal inputs and drive train action. Handling tends toward safe and controllable understeer; and the electronic-power steering is overboosted to the point where the vehicle feels a bit squirrelly at speed.
Despite these shortcomings, we still came away with positive impressions from our experience with the Venza. It's safe and predictable, which is exactly what we think its target demographic wants.
We had an opportunity to drive the 2.7-liter four-cylinder model, which downgrades to 19-inch rolling stock, and found the engine to be merely adequate. Drivers wanting to put some grunt under their right foot should steer clear of this configuration. Both engines are available in front- or all-wheel drive.
Thanks to a combination of Toyota's VVT-I variable-valve timing and direct-injection technology, the Venza achieves an EPA estimated 18 city and 25 highway mpg when equipped with AWD and the V-6 engine. During our real-world testing, we averaged 18.3 mpg over a mixed cycle of city and highway commuting. Fuel misers will want to look to the FWD 4-cylinder, which manages to wring 21 city and 29 highway miles out of a gallon of fuel.
It won't carry as many people as a van, dance around corners like a sedan, or haul as much cargo as an SUV, but the 2009 Toyota Venza hits a sweet spot between the form factors.
We liked the spacious cabin and forward-thinking technology, such as the Bluetooth audio streaming, but detracted points from the comfort category for the omission of iPod/USB connection. While we weren't wowed by the Venza's performance, we weren't disappointed, either.
Pricing starts at $25,975 for the four-cylinder, front-wheel drive model. Our all-wheel driven V-6 Venza comes in at $30,425 before adding a monster of a $7,587 Premium package--which includes leather seating, power rear door, smart-key entry, the JBL Synthesis premium audio system, and DVD-based navigation--bringing us to an as-tested price of $37,720.
That puts the Venza in the same price range as a fully teched-out Nissan Murano SL or, for those who need a bit more people-carrying ability, the Ford Flex Limited. If that's too rich for your blood, check out Mazda's top of the line CX-7 Grand Touring, which costs about $6K less than the Venza, but also has considerably less tech.
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