For the gear heads reading this column, the Venza still comes with either a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine that cranks 182 horsepower or the bigger 268 horsepower aluminum alloy block with aluminum alloy head 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder engine. Both powerplants are linked up to an improved six-speed automatic transmission and either engine can be used with the optional AWD. None of this hardware has significantly changed for 2011 but all of it is good for a car/crossover this size. The real question is what category and size is a Venza? Is it a sedan with a minivan ride-height for adults and children or a lower-to-the-ground crossover designed for the streets of suburbia?
Most people don’t care what category the Venza falls into. Most adults over 40 think it is just right for their transportation needs and even a few of their wants. For example, the standard dual zone automatic climate control system and supportive, wide power seats make this 5-door so comfortable to get into and out of, most love it at first sit. The seat height and short kick panel makes wearing dresses a breeze and no one gets mud on the backs of their legs or pants. The large interior and great visibility make the car seem cavernous so everyone and everything can come along. Venza’s wide stance adds to its stability and interior volume.
What I love about this car is that everything the driver needs is right in front of him/her with all the controls in easy reach. Toyota’s integrated gear shift selector used on the Sienna and Venza is intuitive for people who used to shift from the steering wheel column and those used to a floor selector, both. The gauges are large and uncomplicated. The standard audio needs some preset buttons for the Venza’s demographic target buyer but it is still simple and includes an auxiliary audio jack. The 3.5-inch multi-function display gives helpful info like outside temperature, average fuel economy, distance-to-empty, average speed, and air conditioning settings high on the dash so drivers don’t have to look down.
The 2.7-liter is estimated at 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway (FWD) and achieves a PZEV-clean emissions rating (California models). This engine is pretty zippy and makes sense for most buyers because towing with this vehicle is limited to 2,500 lbs. which is basically one personal water craft (PWC) and the trailer. The more powerful V6 is capable of 3,500 lbs. towing but the mileage loss is significant with Toyota’s choice of gear ratios. EPA estimates are 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined and I averaged 23.5 after 500 miles. Both engines run on regular 87 octane gasoline.
If it weren’t for the higher price point, the Venza would be the perfect car/crossover for Toyota’s hybrid system. With a starting price of $27,125, the hybrid system found in the 2011 Highlander AWD would be the perfect fit for the Venza but it would drive the price past the Highlander Hybrid itself and close to the Lexus RX. However, I believe that most people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s would prefer a softer riding Venza over an SUV these days.
Other standard amenities include automatic power windows with jam protection in all positions, power door locks with remote keyless entry system, and tilt/telescopic adjustable steering wheel with audio and voice command controls built in. The fabric seats are actually very comfortable and luxurious for a fabric-trimmed 8-way power driver’s seat. Even the “carbon fiber” interior trim is fairly classy and fake wood trim has thankfully been reserved for the top-end model. Even the Lexus-style “Optitron” speedometer/tachometer is functional and elegant at the same time.
Our test 2011 Venza came with every option including integrated fog lamps, chrome exhaust tip, rear power lift-gate, and a panoramic glass roof with a power tilt/side moonroof up front. The 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels and P245/50R20 tires might draw a word of enthusiasm from the younger crowd but most adults asked me if they could get the Venza in a smaller wheel with a larger (and less expensive) tire. The fairly quiet ride would also become quieter and smoother with lower performance tires.
Ours came with the optional voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system with integrated backup camera, JBL® AM/FM 4-disc CD changer, 13 speakers, XM Radio with NavTraffic, and music streaming via Bluetooth® wireless technology. Why a hands-free phone system is not standard fare these days is a mystery to me. Our Venza did not come with the rear-seat DVD entertainment system with JBL Synthesis® surround sound, but this is available.
Overall, the 2011 Toyota Venza is not sporty to drive. It is quick enough and the low first gear can get the front wheels to squeal like a pig before the standard traction control kicks in but it is designed for comfort. Handling is not sloppy and the emergency maneuvers are handled with just a little body roll. The four-wheel independent suspension uses MacPherson struts front and rear instead of a multi-link rear bar so the chassis stays planted even in high winds. The Venza does soak up the pavement on all kinds of roadways and lends itself to road trips with four or five people on board. The all-wheel drive system and roof rack makes winter trips even more appealing.
Our test vehicle came to $37,800 with the Tropical Sea (Blue) and beige leather interior. The Leather Package includes a 4-way power adjustable passenger seat with power lumbar support, satin mahogany wood-grain-style interior trim, leather-trimmed steering wheel and a leather-trimmed shift knob with mahogany inlay. This Venza V6 FWD was the subject of many driveway conversations during my week with the car. Apparently, some people are looking for family-friendly transportation with room and bigger windows, and not so much zoom. The 2011 Toyota Venza delivers just this.