YELLVILLE, Ark. -- For this four-wheeling thrill ride, we grab an all-wheel-drive Venza and propel it over Ark. 14, a way-curvy strip of asphalt carved into granite-crusted slopes of the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas.
This unusual moniker -- sounding like some Venetian war lord -- when applied to a vehicle represents an unusual kind of car from Toyota.
The mid-size Venza five-passenger crossover wagon, assembled at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, mixes the plush comforts and easy-driving performance of a refined Toyota sedan like Camry with the cargo space, utility and trailer-towing capacity of a crossover utility vehicle.
In a twist away from the expected, the profile of Venza brings to mind those mid-century forerunners of the minivan -- the big and long five-door station wagon. But there's something different working in Venza's package design -- curves, curves and more curves imposed on the horizontal format of a two-box wagon.
Theme for the exterior shape of Venza is a fluidity of lines drawn in rectangular format but capped by an arching canopy over the cabin with low-slung windows and side pillars muted to create the impression of a sleek but long and low coupe.
Front and rear overhangs have been whittled away and the new 19-inch wheels on front and back corners of the 2013 Venza convey an impression of strength and performance.
Overall, it seems as if stylists at Toyota's design studios in California and Michigan borrowed the format of a station wagon and rearranged the structure to forge a slammed and entirely fresh variation skewed to a sporty stance.
We prefer to think of Venza simply as a contemporary easy-driving car which also carries the convenience of a wagon's rear cargo quarters.
The front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform of Toyota's best-selling Camry four-door sedan supports the slick aerodynamic structure of this low-riding wagon rigged with four flank doors like a sedan and flexible seating in a spacious cabin plus cargo space in the rear bay with access through a tail-side liftgate.
Venza's body measures 3.3 inches wider and 5.5 inches taller than Camry, although it shares Camry's wheelbase length of 109.3 inches and has the same overall length of 189 inches.
The passenger compartment contains seats for five riders and the rear bay has 36.2 cubic feet of stow space behind second-row seats, or 70.2 cubic feet in the expanded bay with rear seatbacks folded down.
And Toyota offers powertrain options -- a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine designed to deliver good fuel economy scores or a 3.5-liter V6 that romps -- as well as sure-grip traction from the optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) system.
The aluminum-block 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine employs dual camshafts with DVVT-i (dual variable valve timing with intelligence) to optimize cam timing and maximize power production at all engine speeds.
It produces 181 hp at 5800 rpm plus 182 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
The four-pack plant qualifies for LEV-II ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) status and delivers fuel economy numbers as high as 27 mpg.
Transmission for the four-pack engine is an electronically controlled six-speed automatic with intelligent shift control and sequential shifting.
Toyota's 2GR-FE aluminum 3.5-liter V6 engine becomes the optional power upgrade for Venza. The V6 also totes dual camshafts with DVVT-i. And it zips with 268 hp at 6200 rpm and the torque pushing to 246 lb-ft at 4700 rpm.
The exclusive transmission for Venza's V6 is the electronically controlled six-speed automatic with intelligent shift control and sequential shifting.
For optional AWD traction, Toyota's electronically controlled system switches continuously and automatically between FWD and AWD for sure-footed traction. It can distribute the engine torque equally 50/50 between the front and rear wheels for slow-go momentum in dicey situations, as well as apply extra electronic assistance from the hill-start assist control (HAC) device.
Toyota maxes hardware for safety on Venza, with the cabin surrounded by hidden air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and one more to shield the driver's knee, then curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows. Standard on all Venza editions is Toyota's Star Safety System with an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), plus a vehicle stability control (VSC) device and Traction Control (TRAC).
Venza offers three trim levels -- price-leader LE, well-equipped XLE and deluxe Limited -- plus extensive standard gear and optional packages of add-on equipment.
More standard content apply to 2013 Venza models, like a touchscreen interface, dual-zone automatic climate controls, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar, blind spot mirror and exterior mirror turn signals with puddle lamps for base LE trim; heated front seats, driver memory functions and Display Audio with Navigation and Entune for XLE, and LED running lights plus a premium HDD Navigation with Entune and JBL multimedia system for the V6-only Limited.
The price chart for Venza 2013 extends from $27,700 (LE 2.7-liter engine with FWD) to $38,875 (Limited 3.5-liter engine with AWD).