What's New for 2009
The 2009 Toyota Venza is an all-new crossover wagon based on the Camry sedan.
The 2009 Toyota Venza has a certain "what is it?" nature to it. This five-passenger vehicle is clearly not a wagon, but it's not a crossover SUV, either. However, as with the RAV4, Highlander and Lexus RX before it, Toyota has a knack for creating desirable new types of vehicles before the public realizes they actually want them. That's called being a trendsetter. Of course, only time will tell if the Venza turns out to be the latest trend in family transportation, but it certainly seems like a strong contender.
In terms of size, the Venza falls in between two mechanically related Toyota products. It is the same length as the Camry sedan, shares the Highlander crossover's width and ride height, and is 5.5 inches taller than the Camry and 4.7 inches shorter than the Highlander. Like those two vehicles, the Venza offers four- and six-cylinder engine choices. Although the V6 option is basically identical among all three, the Venza shares the Highlander's larger 2.7-liter inline-4 -- albeit with 5 fewer horsepower. In terms of interior space, the five-passenger Venza provides a bit more spread-out space (particularly for hips and shoulders) than the Camry, but it lacks the Highlander's third row. Its 70 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity is obviously way bigger than its sedan sibling but is far short of the Highlander (it's about the same as that of the Ford Edge).
One area in which the Venza stands out is in interior design and quality. It bucks the recent downward trend exhibited by Toyota products, with better materials and improved fit and finish. The nifty multi-bin center console design is unique to the Venza, as are the high-mounted console shifter and simplified climate controls.
This middle ground established by the Venza is intended for Toyota customers who need more vehicle than the Camry offers but don't need as much as the Highlander. We think this is a recipe for success, and in fact, the Venza seems more desirable and better-rounded than both its siblings. Also, compared to similarly sized crossover SUVs like the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano, the less cumbersome feeling that goes along with the Venza's wagonlike lower center of gravity is much appreciated. Even if we're not quite sure how to describe what the 2009 Toyota Venza is, we can say this: It is quite good.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Toyota Venza is a five-passenger wagon available in two trim levels that correspond to the two available engines. Standard features on the 2.7-liter Venza include 19-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off headlights, rear privacy glass, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver seat, reclining and folding 60/40 rear seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage-door opener, cruise control, trip computer and a six-speaker stereo with in-dash six-CD changer and auxiliary audio jack. The V6-powered Venza adds 20-inch alloy wheels.
The availability of Toyota options and packages often depends on region, so check with your local dealer to determine what is offered in your area. Nevertheless, options on the Venza (mostly grouped into packages) include a power tailgate, a rearview camera, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, HID headlamps, a power passenger seat, leather upholstery and steering wheel, wood trim, heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. A 13-speaker surround sound audio system with Bluetooth and satellite radio is also available. It can be ordered separately or bundled with the optional voice-activated touchscreen navigation system or the rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Toyota Venza is available with four- or six-cylinder engines, as well as front- or all-wheel drive. All feature a six-speed automatic. The 2.7-liter four-cylinder produces 182 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. Estimated fuel economy with this engine and front-wheel drive is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway (combined has not yet been released); all-wheel drive drops those numbers by 1 mpg. The 3.5-liter V6 makes 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. Its fuel economy with front-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 19 city/26 highway and 22 combined. Once again, all-wheel drive produces a 1-mpg loss in all categories.
Each 2009 Venza comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and front-seat active head restraints.
Interior Design and Special Features
While other recent Toyota products have disappointed us in their build and materials quality, the 2009 Venza manages to avoid these problems. The front cabin's sleek center console is important to note, as its high-mounted shifter located next to the climate controls frees up space between the seats for a large bin covered by cupholders and a smaller bin designed for iPods and other small devices. There's another compartment designed specifically to hold Blackberrys, other PDAs and MP3 players. The audio and climate controls are a new design for Toyota, but they remain user-friendly. A high-mounted LCD screen shows trip computer and climate control information along with the optional back-up camera display.
Although it lacks a third-row seat, the Venza provides loads of passenger space -- particularly in the rear, which features a reclining seatback. A bit more driver seat adjustment would be nice, though. The trunk can swallow 70 cubic feet of stuff with the rear seat folded, while boasting 34.4 cubes with the seats up (both numbers are a smidgen more than those of the Ford Edge and just a bit less than a RAV4).
It shouldn't come as a shock that the 2009 Toyota Venza is hardly a wagon in the ilk of sporty European models. Instead, like the Camry on which it is based, the Venza is designed for comfort and ease of driving. Unlike the Camry, however, this crossover wagon gives the impression of being robust, with a more solid feel over bumps. The electric power steering also provides a bit more feedback than its sedan cousin, but it still feels pretty disconnected from the front wheels. Parking lot maneuvers couldn't be easier for a vehicle of this size, however. Both engines provide ample power to move this sizable wagon, although the V6 is obviously the way to go if passing folks on the highway takes precedence over achieving the best fuel economy.