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ALL FLASH AND NO SASS: 2021 TOYOTA VENZA HYBRID

It has been a long while since Toyota has dipped its toes into the mid-size, two-row crossover segment since the departure of the previous generation Venza some years back. Other automakers were sure to fill that gap for little Miss Goldilocks for those that felt the compact-utes were just too small, but the three-rowers were just too big. However, while it may seem that Toyota’s newest take on the hybrid-only Venza would compete against the Ford Edge, Honda Passport and Chevrolet Blazer, things aren’t exactly quite like they seem.

The new Venza certainly breaks away from Toyota’s modern mantra of design elements having a more suave element to its structure. That’s partly because it was designed, engineered and developed for the Japanese market – over there it’s known as the Toyota Harrier. Certain elements help it stand out like the full, body-wrapping LED taillight and crisp design of the front grille that has us oooh and aaah’ing. But it isn’t till we look further; we discovered the Venza is nothing more than just a fancy pants version of the RAV4, just with a few stretch marks.

Riding on the same TGNA platform, there is so much similarity between it and the RAV4 that causes us to raise more than just an eyebrow. The Venza utilizes the same hybrid powertrain, all-wheel-drive system and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The set-up is identical with two electric motors at the front and one at the rear for a total of 219-combined horsepower. The only difference between the two is how the energy is stored. The Venza uses a more sophisticated, modern set up of batteries under the floor board that end up making it heavier and in return, slower and less efficient than the RAV4.

So then driving the Venza would feel a lot like the RAV4? No – It sort of feels like the old RAV4 in a strange way. Delivery of power is linear without too many thrills. Because it’s larger its handling feels lazy with less refinement from the suspension. Unwarranted road harshness and wind noise gets fed through the cabin quite noticeably as well. Even the brake pedal feels sloppy with a squishy uneven balance – something old Toyota hybrids used to be known for having. 

So then fuel economy should be roughly the same? No – well, that’s not true, it’s about 50% true. During our test of the 2019 RAV4 XSE Hybrid, we managed to average a fuel consumption of 37.5-mpgs. In our test with the Venza, it returned roughly the same figure with 37.8-mpgs. Fuel economy however was much different during our highway test. After a 200-mile loop at 75-mph, the RAV4 concluded an astonishing 45.6-mpg; however, on that same exact run, the Venza returned 38.0-mpg on the highway.

Even though the Venza grows out a few inches, it feels much smaller than it actually is, even smaller than the RAV4. In the attempt to make the Venza feel like a larger, mid-size crossover, they took away the most important thing, space. Climbing into the driver seat, things suddenly feel claustrophobic. The dash bulges out like a steroid pumping weight lifter. The use of space is obnoxiously taken up by odd little things like the push button start that engulfs 25% of the dash storage space. The rear seats even feel smaller with the sloping roof line and small window design with a higher belt line in the body design.

There is a sense that the Venza is trying to snazzy things up by offering a more premium cabin space with enriched, soft touch materials, leather wrapped surfaces and unique trimming on the door panels. The large 12.3-inch touch-screen display is quite prominent as it sits centered in the dash with the use of touch sensitive buttons below. Have we learned nothing from Honda and Cadillac on touch sensitive buttons? They are annoying to use with every function being a complete distraction and starts too look grungy with fingerprint smudges everywhere.

Toyota has done well with the Limited featured here by featuring up-to-date offerings like a 360-degree camera, ventilated front seats, 10-inch heads-up display and an inaccessible wireless charger located under the push-button start. The flashiest of features however, lie behind their new switch-glass panoramic sunroof. It’s a $1400 option exclusively available on the Limited model that can change from a frosted opaque to a semi-translucent glass. It’s a nifty feature that can allocate natural light into the cabin without the suns harsh beating rays.  

Despite the Venza being seen as a glitzier, upscale version of the RAV4, it is similarly equipped across its line-up; it holds a $4000 premium over an entry RAV4 LE with the Venza LE starting at $32,470. Our sampled Limited arrived carrying an as-tested price of $43,100, which leaves us to the conclusion, if one wants a dressed up hybrid crossover, perhaps look in the direction of the RAV4 Prime with its $7500 tax credit and satisfyingly charismatic performance.

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS

Vehicle: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited Hybrid
Base Price: $32,470
As-Tested Price: $43,100

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 2.5-liter Four-Cylinder Hybrid
HP | Torque: 219- Combined Horsepower
Transmission: CVT Automatic
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
MPG: 40 | 37 | 39 (City | Highway | Combined)
As-Tested MPG: 37.8-MPG Combined | 38-MPG Highway (200-miles AT 75-MPH)
Fuel Range: 370 miles
0-60 MPH: ±7.5 seconds

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