No doubt about it, the SUV craze is here to stay. When you have companies like Ford ditching all car-based vehicles except the Mustang, you know Americans like sitting up higher compared to a car. The Toyota Camry is still the best-selling car-based vehicle in the United States. But Toyota’s wildly popular RAV4 now even eclipses the sale of the Camry. So, Toyota wanted to introduce a vehicle similar to the Camry in terms of ride, size and utility. For the Japanese market, Toyota’s Harrier is built on underpinnings of the popular Lexus RX SUV. For America, it’s the Venza.
Hybrid of a Hybrid
The Venza has been in our market before but had been on hiatus from 2017 until now. The new iteration is the perfect choice for those customers looking for Toyota reliability but something a little more car-like than the RAV4. In essence, the new Venza is a hybrid-powered car that is also a hybrid of a car and SUV. The result is something most Americans will appreciate for daily commuting.
Because the Venza also has the underpinnings of the Lexus RX, a quiet and serene ride were of utmost importance to Toyota engineers. Some really cool tech resulted in library-like levels of quiet.
According to Toyota’s engineers “Rather than simply aiming at a ‘numbers’ goal for sound level (decibels), Toyota engineers created a calm atmosphere conducive to enjoying easy conversation or hearing music in cleaner detail. The high-strength platform is the first defense against noise intrusion, curbing vibration through the steering, floor and structure. Suspension tuning resists road surface disturbances, tire noise is reduced via strategically placed insulation, and an acoustic glass windshield helps minimize wind noise.”
Toyota used next-generation sound-blocking and insulation under the carpeting and above the headliner. As one example, the floor silencer pad is one large piece rather than separate segments. As a result, surface coverage reaches about 92 percent. Holes and gaps between parts are filled in with sound-damping material for greater road noise reduction.
Toyota Hybrid System II
We recently reviewed the Toyota Sienna minivan with a similar hybrid powertrain. The Venza adds Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive. In my driving, I was averaging about 39 mpg, which is terrific for a crossover vehicle. The powertrain is smooth and was designed to deliver a luxury-like sedan performance.
Using a sequential shifting feature, the driver can “downshift” to increase the regenerative braking in steps, which fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas. As a bonus, the hybrid system enhances ride comfort by finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration. Toyota even figured out how to bury the battery components of the hybrid system under the rear seats so that the hatch area is still very useful.
Ready for the Big Screen
The interior features contrasting-color leather inlays that make it look luxurious. There is a large 12.3-inch touchscreen. One cool trick of the screen is that the driver or passenger can swipe the screen to bring the data to their side. So, if the passenger wants to be the DJ, they can swipe the screen to the left and have the controls closer to them.
The big new parlor trick is the Star Gaze fixed panoramic glass roof. You can press a button on the roof controls to engage an electrochromatic dimmer. Star Gaze electrochromic glass technology allows drivers to switch from transparent to frosted modes within one second using the on/off button. In the frosted mode, Star Gaze brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight.
JBL Bringing the Power
Toyota and JBL have been working together for years, but they wanted to unveil a flagship system for the Venza. The JBL Premium Audio System features nine speakers, including a rear subwoofer, powered by a 12-channel, 1,200-watt amp – the most powerful system launched in a Toyota to date. It was designed exclusively for Venza, with speaker architecture and tuned to the specific cabin space. For a car designed for the mass market (compared to the Mark Levinson Lexus systems), the JBL system really cranks. Imaging is good and soundstaging is realistic but could be a bit wider. Audiophiles can check out an upgrade from their local mobile electronics retailer. The only other niggle is the touch buttons instead of a volume control knob. That’s just another thing that can be remedied by a good retailer.
Sum of the Parts
The Toyota Venza might not be a familiar name for those shopping for SUVs or sedans. But it gives the best of both worlds, with great fuel economy to boot. It features all the safety equipment Toyota offers. Coming in around $40K, it’s a sensible choice for a great all-around vehicle.