2021 Toyota Venza Limited Review

High style and efficiency but lacks some substance


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Elegant styling looks like a more refined Lexus crossover, rich interior, standard all-wheel drive across all trims, fancy Star Gaze panoramic roof, great mileage.
Negatives: Smaller than a RAV4 inside, not especially engaging to drive.
Bottom Line: The Venza looks and feels upscale and rides comfortably. It's not exactly dynamic in its driving experience, though. It's also a bit tight on second row room and cargo space. It is, however, impressively efficient.
The Venza name might sound familiar because it's been resurrected from the wagon-like crossover Toyota sold from 2009 to 2015. The 2021 Venza is actually the American version of the Japan-only Toyota Harrier, so what's old is new again. Here in American, the new Venza is a hybrid-only crossover that slots between the ultra-popular RAV4 and the three-row Highlander. Its styling departs from the edgier siblings to a more muted, fluid style. It also benefits from standard all-wheel drive across all trim levels, a huge plus. We drove the top trim Limited version for a week, and our full review below provides our detailed impressions of this all-new model.
 

Driving Experience

7.6

 

The Venza drives like it looks. Fluid, elegant, and refined. It's not a street carver, nor does it elicit any adrenaline-filled drives. But it delivers a Lexus-like experience for less money. If you wear sustainable loafers, enjoy a good cup of Chai, and wear the latest Apple Watch, this could be your ride.

Ride Quality: The Venza is smooth and comfortable on the road when it comes to dampening and shock absorption. It felt settled on imperfect surfaces and managed pavement gaps on sweeping turns with composure.

Acceleration: It feels quick off the line wit the electric motors, but 60 mph arrives in about 7 seconds. That's not bad, but the RAV4 Prime is significantly quicker. There's a small delay in throttle response.

Braking: The regen brakes don't inspire confidence in terms of feel (there's a bit of deadness at the top of the pedal), but it's manageable.

Steering: There's a hint of effort, but it's generally light and uncommunicative, about what we'd expect. Turn-in is good, if not quick, but the precision could use some work.

Handling: There's obvious lean, but it's not overly dramatic. Just don't hammer it into a turn, and all will be fine.

Technology

6.9

 

There really isn't a Toyota infotainment setup we absolutely love, and that's too bad because it seems they're trying to improve but still remain behind competitors like Mazda, Hyundai, Kia, Ford, and Chevy. All of those companies have figured out how to make attractive, responsive systems that are easy to operate.

Infotainment System: The big 12.3" screen in the Limited trim is plenty visible, but its graphics and responsiveness leave something to be desired.

Controls: The haptic feedback buttons on the shiny, piano black center stack are just ok. We would rather have conventional knobs and buttons, especially for tuning and volume. These require you to look at them when driving which is frustrating. The fingerprints and dust collected on the surface are unacceptable.

Styling

8.3

 

Coupled with the Venza's efficiency, this is one of the model's strong suits. It manages to cut a crossover/SUV design path that's non-existent in the Toyota stable, one of fluid elegance and refinement. It's even more upscale-looking than the Avalon sedan.

Front: The nearly solid black grille and the long headlights blend together nicely with the chrome bar than joins them. We don't especially like the huge plastic maw in the lower fasica, though.

Rear: This is the Venza's best angle with the long taillight element and the contoured tailgate. The twin exhaust pipes on a hybrid don't make sense, but they sure look good.

Profile: The right amount of styling in terms of creases and contours makes for a handsome side view. The tapered rear side glass also looks great. The wheels, however, don't seem to fit the wells appropriately.

Cabin: The two-tone interior looks fancy, and the herringbone pattern on the SofTex seats gives it a special look. We don't like the oddly thick center console framing that seems like a waste of potential storage space.

Comfort

7

 

The seats in the Venza are very good. We just wish there was more room in the back. It's tighter than a RAV4, which seems odd since this slots above it in the lineup.

Front Seats: The seats look and feel like real leather and have good bolstering and cushioning. We had no problem adjusting them for optimal driving position.

Rear Seats: There's not a ton of legroom here, but average adults will do just fine. The middle position has a transmission hump that's intrusive. It's also a pain to recline with the lever located at shoulder level instead of down below the hipline.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Venza is hushed at highway speeds and doesn't exhibit any errant noises or creaks.

Visibility: Visibility is generally good but the thick D-pillars obscure views out the side rear windows.

Climate: The HVAC system works well and the heated/ventilated seats are also quick to activate.

Safety

9

 

The Venza does very well in crash testing, and Toyota always delivers an incredible set of standard safety tech for virtually all it's vehicles. The Venza is no exception in this regard.

IIHS Rating: It attained the second highest rating from the IIHS with a Top Safety Pick award. It scored "good" in all crash tests and "superior" in both Front crash prevention: vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian. Only its "marginal" and "acceptable" headlight ratings (depending on trim level) prevented it from getting the top award.

NHTSA Rating: The Venza was awarded five stars from the federal testing body.

Standard Tech: Our Venza Limited came with a long list of features including Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Road Sign Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert and Lane Tracing Assist, Backup Camera w/ Dynamic Gridlines, Blind Spot Monitor w/ Front and Rear Parking Assist w/ Automated Braking, and a Bird's Eye View Camera w/ Perimeter Scan

Optional Tech: Our tester came with the Head-Up display as part of the Advanced Technology Package.

Storage/Cargo

6.2

 

The cargo section is woefully disappointing for a vehicle that's supposed to be larger than its cheaper stablemate, the RAV4. At least there are decent interior small storage choices, but the RAV4 is still much better in this department.

Storage Space: The armrest is plenty deep for bigger items, and the door pockets are good for water bottles thanks to a taller pocket. The center console tray is medium-sized, and the cupholders are good for other small items within reach.

Cargo Room: The Venza gets 28.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row and 55. 1 with the seats folded flat. It's too bad that's smaller than the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid with 36.4/72.1 in back, as well as just above every other competitor in the segment. The load floor is also too high for our liking.

Fuel Economy

9

 

In terms of range, the Venza is massively impressive with 565 miles on a full tank. Wow. The fuel economy is also excellent, beating the larger Highlander Hybrid in EPA estimates (39 combined vs. 36).

Observed: 33.8 mpg

Distance Driven: 164 miles.

Audio

8.6

 

The upgraded (but standard on Limited trim) JBL system is loud, clear, and very good. The inclusion of an amplifier and subwoofer is a nice touch for a vehicle that looks premium inside and out.



Final Thoughts

The Venza is an interesting member of the Toyota lineup. Its greatest strengths are the refined design, smooth road manner, and the excellent efficiency. It's just too bad there isn't more room in the back for people and luggage. Those who want a Toyota hybrid crossover that looks like a Lexus, this is your steed. For those who want more grunt and more space, opt for the RAV4 Prime.
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