For buyers who find themselves caught between the allure of adventuring responsibly in the Toyota RAV4 hybrid or commuting in luxurious comfort in the Lexus NX300h, Toyota Motor Corporation has the answer to your dilemma. 2021 brings the return of the Venza, Toyota’s midsize, two-row crossover utility vehicle. But this second-generation Venza is powered exclusively by a hybrid powertrain. What does that mean for the actual consumer? We spent a bitterly cold week trying to find out.
Toyota’s Hybrid System II powertrain and Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive (eAWD) propel the Venza seamlessly with a combined 219 total system horsepower. The 2.5L four-cylinder is paired with three electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seats. The internal combustion engine itself powers the front wheels with assist from two of the electric motors. Without a transfer case, the third electric motor powers the rear wheels as needed. The system is optimized to adjust the level of electric motor assistance to boost low-speed torque and provide up to 80 percent of the driving force to the rear wheels. Toyota has mastered the hybrid drivetrain and the 2021 Venza makes seamless transitions between combustion, hybrid, and all-electric propulsion.
The Venza seeks to differentiate itself from the RAV4, with which it shares its platform, by being more luxurious and less utilitarian. On the positive side, that means a plusher cabin with softer materials, a nicer audio system, and more sound dampening. Our tester, an XLE trim, featured the 12.3″ touchscreeen display and upgraded 9-speaker JBL sound system. The 1,200-watt system is the most powerful audio system in a Toyota to date, featuring unique speakers and tuning for the Venza. The system impressed our ears for a standard system in this market. But our ears were also impressed with what we couldn’t hear. Extensive use of sound blocking and absorbing materials under the carpet, above the headliner, and around the engine compartment, plus an acoustic glass windshield, help minimize noise from the engine and the outside world. Other than a bit of wind noise around the door seals, its difficult to tell if the Venza is running or even moving at times. But the Venza’s shape means rearward visibility, cabin brightness, and rear cargo volume all suffer compared to the RAV4. The Limited trim offers a rear camera mirror and electrochromatic panoramic sunroof, but our XLE offered no such benefits. We were also disappointed to find that the Venza lacked the in-dash shelf storage found in the RAV4 and Highlander. So if substance over style is your prerogative, you’ll likely want to stick with the RAV4.
I’m fairly confident there’s no preconceived notions of sporty driving from the midsize hybrid crossover segment. With that said, the Venza does exhibit the same excellent chassis as the RAV4. The balance and control make for a good handling CUV, even if the drivetrain doesn’t push the boundaries of performance. The Venza rides a little on the stiff side over bumpy pavement, likely a side effect of the larger 19″ wheels. We challenged the Venza’s capabilities by taking it on a snowshoe adventure at a local nature preserve. The entrance road is typically dirt, but happened to be snow packed on this particular day. The eAWD system managed to help the Venza up the grade and to the trailhead without much struggle. In all normal driving, and in most of our wintery adventures, it is impossible to tell the front and rear axles are being driven by separate and mechanically unconnected means.
A cold and wintry week saw us only drive 196 miles in the Venza, almost exclusively on local roads. For it, we saw 33.8 mpg. Expect averages closer to the 40 city/37 highway in more normal driving. Oddly enough, the seating position in the Venza feels a bit high, perhaps due to the svelter roof line compared to the RAV4. Irregardless, the seats are comfortable and supporting with soft touch points. It isn’t quite a Lexus-level luxury cabin, but it does exhibit quite a bit of inspiration from the new Highlander. And after a week behind the wheel, that’s ultimately how we best summed up the Venza; a small Highlander. So if its efficiency, comfort, and style you’re after, the all-new Venza might be the RAV4 for you.
|2021 Toyota Venza XLE||$36,000|
|Ruby Flare Pearl||$455|
|Premium Audio w/ Dynamic Navigation and JBL and SoftTex Package||$2,560|
|As Tested MSPR||$40,160|