Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 8, 2021
Call it a wagon or an SUV - the Venza has always found a home in both camps, and Toyota has thoroughly revamped it for 2021 with stylish new looks, a wonderfully crafted interior, and a massive trunk to boot. If you always wanted something slightly larger than a RAV4 but smaller than a Highlander, the Venza has always been the one to split the differences. In Canada, it’s available exclusively as a hybrid with all-wheel drive.
The new Venza is sharp, with a protruding front nose that serves to accentuate the car’s size, as well as a full light bar spanning the entire width of the rear, again to expand its stance. It’s almost as if Toyota wanted to make the Venza look as large as possible, rather than shrink its footprint like most other manufacturers. Looking more like a jacked up wagon than it does a substantial SUV, the new Venza appears larger than a RAV4 despite sharing the same wheelbase, and is about the same size as a Subaru Outback or Chevrolet Blazer. The Venza’s styling received more compliments from passengers and friends than those two as well.
Inside takes the RAV4 approach to sensibility and ergonomics but with a slightly more upscale flair. We’re not talking Lexus levels of material quality and cabin amenities, but it’s certainly up there. The wide dashboard and expansive center console serve as an indicator of the cabin’s breath of space, and there’s a deep storage cubby underneath that center stack. It’s a refreshingly different design than what you find in the RAV4 and Highlander. The steering wheel is the same but the layout with beautiful bare wood trims on the Limited models really make it stand out from the pack. The optional grey leather is a neat touch too, shying away from the bland black and beige combos from the outgoing model.
The Venza unfortunately uses haptic and acoustic feedback touch points for high-traffic features, covering everything from the audio volume to the temperature settings. If you’re not a fan of it, the RAV4 uses conventional dials instead. Ironically enough, the heated and ventilated seat buttons in the Venza, located just above the center armrest, are actual buttons, but you can set them to turn on automatically anyways. The exceptionally wide touchscreen in the Limited models features a sleek layout and the interface is easy to use and feels more responsive and intuitive than Subaru Outback’s vertically-oriented screen.
As a hybrid-only model, the Venza makes use of the same powertrain underpinning the RAV4 Hybrid. That means a 2.5-litre inline-four paired with a lithium-ion battery and electric motor to produce a grand total of 219 horsepower. This output is driven via an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (e-CVT) that sends power to all four wheels. The on-demand all-wheel drive system is clever, sending power to the front wheels when power and grip demand is low, while sending up to 80% to the rear when slip is detected.
The Venza operates smoothly just like the RAV4 Hybrid but it behaves noticeably heavier, like there’s more mass in its rear end. As such, acceleration is nothing to write home about, but the four-cylinder aided by on-demand electricity ensures there is enough front line thrust to appease those coming from a turbocharged competitor. And while the e-CVT is never a positive sign with driving enthusiasts, it’s quiet and refined in this application, never acoustically taxing in high RPMs, also thanks to the Venza’s impressive cabin insulation. Though, the futuristic whirring noises that the Venza emits when driving in electricity-only mode sounds a bit like an ambulance siren, forcing me to constantly check my mirrors to see if one actually materialized.
That’s not to say the Venza is clunky and unpleasant. It rides well and is smoother and more absorbent on rougher pavement than the RAV4. Undulations show up less, and the Venza seems to mellow out the jitters through its 19-inch tires and suspension. Toyota knows their customers, and instead of spec’ing out the Venza with outdoorsy equipment and sport packages, they focused on building a package with smooth ride, refined looks, and a mature, grown-up powertrain. The brakes are springy though and while not terrible to use, they do require a small learning curve to nail down a smooth stop. Nothing we can’t get used to. The regenerative braking that automatically kicks in when you lift off the gas pedal is light in strength, and while not adjustable like in other EVs, it works just fine and shouldn’t make passengers nauseated.
As with all Toyota hybrids, we averaged exceptional fuel economy numbers, with a mix of both highway and city driving giving us 6.9 L/100km. That’s very impressive for such a large five-passenger vehicle. While you can’t plug it into your household socket, its regenerative battery works in tandem with the gasoline motor to deliver a fuel-efficient drive. There’s even a selectable EV mode above the gear shifter, allowing you to drive in electric-only mode, but it automatically shuts off once you go past 30 km/h, and it’s only available for short distances. It’s quite useless if you ask me, but it has been installed on every Toyota hybrid for the past few years. The only time I found it useful was when browsing around the parking lot or when waiting in line via a drive-thru, but you tend to be too distracted to remember to hit the EV button anyways.
The Venza is larger, more stylish, and more expensive than its RAV4 counterpart, but it offers a generously sized, more upscale, and quieter interior with sleeker, almost stand-out looks to match. The hybrid-only powertrain isn’t a bad move by Toyota as it’s incredibly fuel-efficient, and I don’t think the intended clientele will mind the fuel pump savings just one bit. Those wishing for a more potent and engaging powertrain might want to look elsewhere, but I think Toyota nailed down this package perfectly, effectively filling a void in the Toyota lineup that I never thought existed.
Model: 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid Limited
Paint Type: Blueprint
Base Price: $47,690
Price as Tested: $47,690
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,740 / 1,855 / 1,675
Curb weight (kg): 1,775
Engine: 2.5-litre inline-four with Hybrid Synergy Drive
Horsepower: 219 combined hp
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 5.9 / 6.4 / 6.1
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 6.9