The Toyota Venza is back for the 2021 model year after being discontinued in 2015, and it’s bringing some style to the hybrid SUV category.
Related: 2021 Toyota Venza Review: The Camry Wagon We Deserve, Not the One We Want
The last time the Venza was available, it was a Camry sedan-based, two-row crossover. This time is no different, only it’s available exclusively as an all-wheel-drive hybrid in the U.S. market. Competing with other crossovers like the Ford Edge, Honda Passport and Hyundai Santa Fe, the hybrid Venza has a serious leg up when it comes to fuel efficiency. Still, some of the issues we’ve seen in other Toyota hybrids have been inherited by this newest model.
Looking for the full rundown on the Venza? Click through the related link above for Brian Normile’s thorough review. For the short version, here the things we like (and don’t) about the 2021 Toyota Venza:
Things We Like
1. Premium-Feel Interior
On the inside, the Venza looks a bit like a Lexus, Toyota’s premium brand. The near-premium quality is evident: The doors and center console of the Limited trim get blond wood accents, and up front, the seats are comfortably sculpted to fit most adults. As with most cars, you do see a drop-off in quality below eye level, but even still, most of the touch points aren’t plastic.
2. Gas Mileage
Toyota estimates the Venza will get 39 mpg, though official EPA numbers have not yet been released.
3. Decent Power
A 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine is paired with two electric motor-generators that power the front wheels and a third that powers the rear wheels. All together, the output is 219 horsepower. This may not seem like enough oomph for an SUV, but it’s more than enough to power the Venza from a stop and for highway driving and passing.
4. Isolated Cabin
This SUV has a bit of a firm ride, but its cabin does well in isolating occupants from bumps and uneven road conditions.
5. Standard Safety Features
Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 suite of safety and driver assistance tech comes standard in the Venza. It includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane keep assist and lane-tracing assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and more. Plus, the features themselves work well without encroaching on the driving experience.
6. Predictive Efficient Drive
This feature uses the native navigation system to learn routes and traffic information to help reduce your energy consumption. The jury’s still out on how well this might work in reality, but it’s an interesting feature nonetheless.
The optional Star Gaze roof is an electrochromic glass panel you can switch between translucent and transparent. In its transparent mode, the cabin feels especially open and spacious — which is good, because unlike a moonroof, you won’t be able to open it.
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Things We Don’t
1. Control Issues
The climate and audio controls are touch-sensitive, but when you touch them, there’s no haptic feedback. While there is audible feedback, it’s hard to hear while driving. Depending on lighting conditions, the icons can also be difficult to see. The electric parking brake switch and drive mode selector sit behind the gear selector and might be hard for the driver to reach, as well.
2. No Cargo Extras
The cargo areas of most SUVs get amenities like catchall nets or tiered organizational systems, but the Venza doesn’t have anything to help you wrangle your stuff. Underfloor storage is almost entirely taken up by the spare tire.
3. Multimedia Screen
The top trim gets the optional 12.3-inch touchscreen, though an 8-inch screen is standard. The large screen might as well be 8 inches because you can only really use two-thirds of it. The navigation or whatever other function you choose will sit in that portion of the display, while the other third is taken up by a window for climate controls or audio information that you can’t collapse.
4. Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission
A lot of hybrid vehicles have a CVT, and it’s something of a Toyota tradition for that transmission to be less than stellar. This is true of the Venza, as well: When you accelerate, the CVT feels rubbery. If you switch to Sport or Eco driving modes, or move the gear selector to “S,” the problem feels even worse.
5. Brake Feel
Another issue common among Toyota hybrids that was passed onto the Venza is a vague brake pedal feel. While the actual stopping power is there, the spongy feeling of the brakes will take some getting used to.
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