On the Road Review: Toyota Venza Hybrid

Toyota’s second-generation Venza, now available after a three-year gap in production, returns as a hybrid-powered offering only. A slightly stretched version of the RAV4 — 6 inches longer — Toyota claims the Venza remains a midsize crossover despite interior measurements no larger than the compact class RAV4. 

Endowed with styling that will remind many of a Lexus — inside and out — the Venza features AWD in all trim levels, along with several selectable driving modes. The Venza is propelled by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine plus three electric motors that produce a total of 219 horsepower ahead of an electronic CVT automatic transmission. Base pricing starts at $33,475 for LE trim, $37,275 for expected best-selling XLE and $41,075 for top Limited. 

As is custom now, every trim counts a plethora of electronic driving aids such as automatic high beams, range-dynamic laser-guided cruise, lane departure alert, pre-collision braking assist with pedestrian detection, plus lane-tracing assist. Blind-spot monitoring, front- and rear-parking assist with automated braking, plus push-button ignition also make the grade on XLE models.

XLE trim adds power liftgate, 19-inch chrome alloy wheels, projector LED lamps, plus more interior frills. Our Coastal Grey sample boasted of heated and cooled Softex seating, dual-zone climate and dual screens. Limited model options include an electrochromic panoramic sunroof that can be clear or opaque as you wish, plus Alexa joins the JBL powered Apple/Android/SiriusXM entertainment portfolio.

With over 20 years perfecting the hybrid powertrain, the latest Toyota hybrid proved to be a capable road companion. Power is ample, cruising is relaxed, plus the ride/handling dynamic will please the majority of drivers. There is some soft electromagnetic murmuring from the battery pack/electric motor combo, along with the regenerative braking, yet this is only evident because you hear it when the gas engine isn’t running. It is the sound of relative silence and not at all disconcerting. Especially after considering that our Venza never returned lower than 40 mpg during its visit — a solid showing when compared to the EPA rating of 40/37/39 mpg. 

There are some contrasts. The batteries and rear-mounted electric motor for the AWD raise the rear load deck a few inches higher than in a RAV4, yet there is a well under the floor with an almost full-size aluminum spare wheel, wearing a space-saver temporary tire. The rounded contours of the console sacrifices some functionality for design, plus the push-button start button location seems like an afterthought, protruding notably from the dark space at the forefront of the pocket ahead of the conventional shift lever (thank you).

The steering wheel is heated, button hidden to the left behind the wheel, while the seat heaters and cooling rockers rest on the console. Up top, the Venza uses the same massive 12.3-inch screen recently experienced in the Highlander, with gobs of info, yet Toyota elected to replace the tactile convenience of knobs and buttons with a completely touchscreen-only interface. It seems counterintuitive.

Clearly looking more upscale from the RAV4, the Venza uses the LED rear lighting panel to create a distinctive air spoiler to improve aerodynamics. It is a much better design statement than several other rear lighting arrangements. 

The Venza is happiest operating between 60-65 mpg, where it seemingly maximizes its inherent efficiency as well as suppresses excess road noise generated by the hard compound Bridgestone Ecopia tires. Despite weighing 300 pounds more than a similar RAV4 hybrid, the mileage is as good or better, while Toyota equips the Venza with a 10-year/150,000-mile battery warranty. Maintenance is complimentary for two years. 

While the Venza is not as roomy inside as several of its intended rivals — Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, Kia Sorento — it is quite comfortable and it certainly is different enough from the RAV4 to warrant inspection.

In about a year, a third variation of this platform will debut. The oddly named bZ4X (surely Toyota will create a better label) will be the brand’s first battery-electric crossover. Spy photos show a stylish execution similar to the Venza yet with dual electric motors, front and rear. No range projections are available, yet price estimates are close to this Venza — around $40,000. 

The RAV4 is now Toyota’s top selling vehicle in the USA, as well as the country’s top-selling crossover/SUV. Basing alternative power vehicles on this platform, like the Venza hybrid and the bZ4X, makes consumer and automaker sense. Toyota has yet to make boastful claims about its product plans 10-15-years ahead, eschewing the headlong march to BEVs. Given the consumer’s hesitation to join the BEV parade, it appears that the automaker (the world’s largest hybrid automaker) will have the appropriate product ready when all factors are conducive to success.

Next week: Lincoln Navigator Reserve Edition

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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