The Venza looks good, but falls short in some key areas.
The 2021 Toyota Venza is essentially just a nicer Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. It rides atop the same modular platform, uses an identical electrified powertrain, and shares many corresponding key components. And those aren’t necessarily dings against the Venza – in fact, the RAV4 Hybrid is a great starting point. It is generally very nice to drive, with a 2.5-liter hybrid setup that’s one of the most efficient in the business.
But what the Venza gains in good looks and posh amenities over its boxier RAV sibling, it loses elsewhere. Even though it’s longer overall, the Venza is actually smaller in some key areas, like overall passenger space and cargo room. The new technology is also pretty finicky, the performance suffers a bit, and the sharp looks and lush interior force a markup that makes the Venza nearly the most expensive option in the class.
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The Toyota Venza looks great. The front end wears slim headlights with LED flourishes that wrap around the large (mostly fake) grille. The side profile features sharp body lines that afford the SUV a tapered look, and the sloping roofline blends seamlessly into a svelte rear end. There's also a full-width LED light bar in the back that we quite like. Overall, the design looks very luxurious; If they'd told us it was a Lexus at launch, we'd have believed it.
The cabin of the new Venza doesn't feel any less upscale. A unique mix of black and Java Brown faux leather covers the seats, center console, door panels, and dash – and it feels soft and supple like real cowhide. Trapezoidal accent trim adorns the armrest and portions of the center console, and there are some high-quality brushed aluminum elements dotted throughout. Really, the only thing we don't like visually is the 12.3-inch touchscreen – it looks hastily applied atop the dash and breaks the otherwise nice flow of the cabin. Maybe something embedded within the dash would have aided the look.
Off the bat, we need to discuss dimensions. The Toyota Venza is what we'd call a tweener. Although it shares its platform with the smaller RAV4, the Venza is 186.6 inches long, which makes it nearly as big as mid-sizers like the Ford Edge (188.8 inches), Chevrolet Blazer (191.4 inches), or Nissan Murano (192.4 inches). But in terms of overall passenger space, Toyota’s crossover is actually on par with – or in some cases, smaller than – compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V (which is why we classify it as a compact hybrid CUV).
The Venza's 38.6 inches of front headroom and 40.2 inches of front legroom are worse than the RAV's 39.5 inches of headroom and 41.0 inches of legroom. The Honda CR-V also has more space, with 40.1 inches of front headroom and 41.3 inches of legroom. The Venza's 39.0 inches of rear headroom and 37.8 inches of legroom at virtually identical to the smaller RAV and slightly down compared to the CR-V. Making matters worse, the Venza has less cargo room than the RAV4 – 37.6 cubic feet versus 28.8 cubic feet. What we're saying is don't be fooled by the Venza's larger exterior.
That said, the Venza doesn't feel cramped, it just isn't as spacious as its dimensions might suggest. The front compartment is airy with lots of surrounding glass – including a unique, $1,400 frosted moonroof – and the rear bench has a low seating position, which counteracts the sloping roof and makes it comfortable for average-sized adults. The seats in the Venza are great, too. Even though there is no leather option, the faux leather is soft and supple, and it offers solid support atop the well-shaped seat pads.
The cushy suspension and inoffensive steering also make the Toyota Venza the perfect vessel for whiling away highway miles and puttering around town. The pure EV mode affords it a quiet and smooth demeanor at low-speeds, and even though the transition between electric and gas can sound a bit harsh, the Venza's powertrain is exceptionally smooth otherwise.
On the base Venza is a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen with baked-in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility – and a volume knob. We mention the volume knob specifically on the base setup because the Venza's larger 12.3-inch screen (standard on our Limited tester and a $2,050 option on XLE) loses it entirely, and the system is worse off.
Instead, it uses finicky touch-capacitive controls that don't respond well to inputs and are difficult to use while driving. The setup also ditches the tuning knob in place of the same frustrating controls that are closer to the passenger than the driver. Toyota moved many of those buttons to the steering wheel at least, but now the steering wheel feels like a cluttered mess.
What's more, the infotainment setup itself is difficult to use. The screen responds well to touch inputs and is within reach of the driver, but the interface is extremely convoluted, with odd rounded edges, contrasting colors, and a split-screen function that's too invasive (all borrowed from the larger Highlander). While other systems confine their split-screen settings to a smaller corner box, Entune takes up nearly half of the display when running CarPlay or Android Auto.
Powering the Toyota Venza is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid setup with three electric motors (two up front and one in the rear). Unlike the RAV, the Venza is hybrid-only, and that exclusively electrified powertrain produces 219 horsepower and 163 pound-feet, with power at all four wheels. The Venza isn't quick, nor does it feel zesty – even in the Sport driving mode – but the instant torque from the electric motors does give the crossover solid verve off the line. Even though the Venza tips the scales at a weighty 3,900 pounds, it doesn't feel slow.
For better or worse, the Venza handles like every other compact crossover – it’s pretty dull. The steering is lightweight, overboosted, and not super responsive. Body roll is noticeable and the suspension is super squishy, which gives it a rather lifeless feel in the corners. At least the Venza does have Active Cornering assist, which engages the stability control to help with understeer. And again, the Venza is no sports crossover. Toyota designed this vehicle for comfort, and it’s good at that.
The Venza comes standard with Toyota’s advanced Safety Sense 2.0 suite, which includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and road sign recognition. And all of those systems work well for the most part, but we have to ding the lane-keep assist feature for being too aggressive – whisper on a lane marker and the system gives off a warning. The lane-tracing function, meanwhile, isn’t aggressive enough; the Venza ping-pongs pretty harshly.
With a rating of 40 miles per gallon city, 37 highway, and 39 combined, the Toyota Venza achieves a perfect 10 in this category. Like nearly every hybrid option in this class, the Venza is extremely efficient, beating the Honda CR-V Hybrid (38 combined), and only slightly behind its sibling the RAV4 Hybrid (40 combined) and its rival the Ford Escape Hybrid (41 combined). And like those three alternatives, the Venza has a low-speed EV mode for city driving.
The base Toyota Venza LE starts at $32,470, which makes it a pricey proposition for the class. The Ford Escape Hybrid starts at $28,265, the RAV4 Hybrid costs $28,500, and CR-V Hybrid costs $30,560. Our range-topping Limited model is even pricier, starting at $39,800. Comparable Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring ($36,350), Ford Escape Hybrid Platinum ($33,500), and RAV4 Hybrid Limited ($37,18) models are all more affordable. But, the range-topping Venza does have a number of standard features that the lesser trims don’t.
On the Limited model specifically, things like power-adjustable seats with heating and ventilation and the larger 12.3-inch touchscreen come standard, whereas they cost extra on the mid-range XLE model. The only two options on this trim are the $725 Advanced Technology package that includes a head-up display (not equipped on our tester), combined with the $1,400 Star Gaze fixed panoramic roof, which our vehicle does have as a standalone option. All told, our car costs $42,375.
Gallery: 2021 Toyota Venza: Review
2021 Toyota Venza Limited