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Now for Something Different

by Keith Burton

You can't visit a gas station today without wondering what will the price be for a gallon of gasoline. Will it be more, or less than yesterday? That confusion, along with the uncertainty of times has people fleeing from large SUVs. But not fast enough, as vehicle sales have plummeted with the world financial troubles.

But take heart. Toyota has something new for folks looking for a vehicle that can handle the gear and do some light towing in the new 2009 Venza. Here's a vehicle that combines the car-like handling and comfort of a regular sedan with the utility of an SUV in a style that says "Look at Me" and gets much better fuel mileage than a SUV.

Launched late in 2008 and now in dealer showrooms across the country, the Venza is a large wagon-like vehicle that has class leading style with the amenities and fit and finish that speaks more of Lexus than Toyota. It is a five passenger vehicle with a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, which is ideal for small camping trailers and ski boats.

Toyota officials tell us that they basically combined two vehicles to make the Venza. The Camry sedan and the Highlander SUV were merged to give the Venza a car-like ride and handling with the utility of a SUV.

“Venza establishes an exciting new direction in passenger car design that will combine the finest attributes of Toyota’s diverse vehicle lineup,” said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager. “It caters to buyers who are looking for the value and reliability of a Camry, the comfort and upscale refinement of an Avalon, and the utility and flexibility of a Highlander in one very stylish and sporty package.

In addition to an array of standard equipment, Venza will use a single grade strategy with simplified packages and stand-alone options that will include an impressive list of comfort and utility features. Many are new to the Toyota lineup and typically found on luxury vehicles.

Some of the features include: high intensity discharge headlamps with an automatic high beam feature that detects oncoming vehicles and automatically switches the headlamps from high- to lowbeam; chrome-accented door handles on the front side doors that lock and unlock all four doors and rear hatch door; panoramic roof with power tilt/slide function and a separate fixed glass panel over the rear seats; and power windows with auto up/down function and jam protection on all four doors.

Other firsts include, a multi-information display that can be customized to adjust the font size and content. The navigation voice instructions are available in Spanish, French or English. Venza is the first Toyota passenger car to offer Star Safety as standard equipment for all models.

Toyota says that all aspects of Venza’s engineering and design were targeted specifically for the North American market, where it will be sold exclusively. For us larger-rumped Americans, the Venza feels just fine with lots of interior space and expansive interior vistas.

The exterior design begins with an imposing front end featuring a distinctive grille, headlights and fog lamps for an aggressive, yet refined appearance. Overall, the vehicle has an aerodynamic shape with short overhangs, forward A-pillar, crisp character lines, and a low roofline and ground clearance. Continuous brushstroke lines run from the front grille to the D-pillar.

From behind, Venza’s sophisticated and confident appearance is complete with an angled rear hatch, spoiler and wide wraparound tail lights that interconnect with the hatch door.

Venza’s sweeping rocker panels achieve a lower step-over height for improved ergonomics. Its sizeable rear hatch opening enhances the vehicle’s utility. The Venza rides on large wheels, providing an aggressive and surefooted look.

Inside the center console creates a unique 60/60 design that gives both driver and front passenger the look and feeling that 60 percent of the space is accessible from their seating position. Venza’s standard Optitron speedometer and tachometer and multi-color center instrument panel (IP) display can be paired with an optional satin mahogany wood-grain style trim. Dual-zone automatic climate system controls are centrally located on the upper console, providing easy access for both driver and passenger. The leather seat option includes a very upscale look with contrasting piping on the seat edges. To our editorial eye, this is a Toyota that has luxury that compares to the company's premium Lexus division.

Every Venza is equipped with an assortment of standard features. Among the many exterior features are the integrated fog lamps, privacy glass and roof-mounted XM satellite radio antenna.

The standard rear door includes an easy-close function or electrically-powered cinch function that ensures the vehicle’s hatch door is not left partially ajar. Interior features include dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter and second row seat vents to create a sense of enhanced comfort. A tilt/telescopic adjustable steering wheel with integrated audio controls is also standard.

More standard features include cruise control, an overhead console with map lights, rear seat adjustable personal reading lamps and three 12-volt power outlets combine to offer a nice array of standard features.

Venza’s surprising utility includes several clever storage locations and functional lighting. Standard storage features such as an adjustable center console with sliding cover and armrest, three MP3 player holders with wire concealment features and large storage compartment remove clutter. The compartment is also equipped with an auxiliary audio jack and 12-volt power outlet.

And don't worry a bit about where to put a drink. Toyota says there are a total of 10 front and rear beverage holders (six bottle holders and four cup holders) that include a really cool dual illuminated sliding front cup holders in the center console.

Three different audio systems are available. The standard audio system includes an AM/FM six-disc, in-dash CD changer with integrated satellite radio, MP3/WMA playback capability and six speakers.

Performance: Engines and Drivetrain

Venza offers two engines to give customers more flexibility when considering their driving needs. In both engines, advancements in fuel economy are achieved by utilization of lighter weight materials for the cylinder block and components.

New to the Toyota line-up and standard on Venza is the fuel-efficient 2.7-liter four cylinder engine which will deliver 182 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 182 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. Toyota’s internal estimates for Venza fuel economy are 21 MPG city/29 MPG highway on the FWD model. A 3.5-liter V6 that will produce 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 246 lb.-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm is also available.

The V6 FWD has EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 19 MPG city/26 MPG highway. Both engines are mated to a six-speed sequential-shift electronically controlled automatic transmission. The six-speed ECT-I provides a fun driving experience and helps improve fuel economy. On all models, Venza also employs uphill/downhill shift logic control that selects the proper gear for driving conditions and helps provide moderate engine braking during downhill driving. 

The V6 and four-cylinder models are available in front- and AWD configurations. Venza’s Active Torque Control AWD System optimizes torque distribution between the front and rear wheels to help ensure stable acceleration and smooth cornering. AWD offers enhanced traction and helps provide excellent overall handling in inclement weather.

On the Road

We only had time to drive the V6 version of the Venza around the back roads near Jacksonville, FL. We found the Venza to be nearly silent over the road, even bad roads, much different than a Toyota Highlander. Rear seat noise was also low. Road noise in a Highlander is particularly bothersome in the rear seats, but not so in the Venza.

Steering and acceleration was good, though I still feel that Toyota needs to do more work on their electro-mechanical power steering. The steering is nicely weighted and the feel is good, but the on-center feel is too sharp. That is, it only takes the slightest of movements to redirect the vehicle's direction and wind gusts and pavement differences can result in you zig zagging down the road ever so slightly. It isn't a big deal, and some drivers may not notice this performance issue, but I do and I have seen this problem on several Toyota models with electric power steering.

The Venza literally towers above a Camry, it is also much wider. But remarkably, when viewed on its own, it doesn't appear to be a large vehicle. The Venza's proportions are truly well integrated and sweeping character lines and the standard large wheels do much to reduce the visual mass of what is really a large vehicle.


If safety is your biggest concern, and it should be, Toyota has you covered their as well with the new Venza. Toyota’s STAR Safety System is standard on all Venza models and features ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution , enhanced Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control  systems with a cutoff switch, and Brake Assist. VSC automatically adjusts engine output and the vehicle’s braking force at each wheel to help control loss of traction during cornering.

Venza is also equipped with a comprehensive list of other standard safety features. It provides a total of seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, driver and front passenger front seat-mounted side airbags, and front and rear roll-sensing side curtain airbags. Front seat belt pretensioners with force limiters cinch the seat belt at the time of a frontal collision, and the dual-stage force limiter helps limit the seat belt force applied to the driver and passenger’s chest.

Driver and front passenger seats employ active headrests. If the vehicle is struck from the rear, a cable-actuated mechanism will move the headrest upward and forward to help limit the movement of the occupant's head.


The 2009 Venza is covered by Toyota’s 36-month/36,000-mile basic new vehicle warranty that applies to all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. Additional 60-month warranties cover the powertrain for 60,000 miles and corrosion perforation with no mileage limitation.


Seating Capacity 5 5

Legroom (f/r) 40.2/39.1 40.2/39.1

Shoulder Room (f/r) 60/59 60/59

Hip Room (f/r) 56/56.5 56/56.5

EPA Passenger Volume 108 cu. ft. 108 cu. ft.

EPA Cargo Volume

Behind 1st row seat   70.1 cu. ft.

Behind 2nd row seat    34.4 cu. ft.


Curb Weight (FWD/AWD) 3,760 /3,945 3,870/4,045

GVWR (FWD/AWD) 4,960/5,160 5,095/5,270

Maximum Towing Weight 2,500 lbs (L4) w/tow package 3,500 lbs (V6) w/tow package

Maximum Tongue Weight 250 lbs 350 lbs

Fuel Capacity 17.7 gallons 17.7 gallons


Type, Materials 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder, aluminum alloy block with aluminum alloy head

3.5-liter, 6-cylinder, aluminum alloy block with aluminum alloy head

Valvetrain DOHC, 4-valve/cylinder with Dual VVT-i

DOHC, 4-valve/cylinder with Dual VVT-i

Displacement 2672 cc 3456cc

Bore x Stroke 3.54 x 4.13 3.70 x 3.27

Compression Ratio 10.0:1 10.8:1

Horsepower 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm 268 hp @ 6,200

Torque 182 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm 246 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Ignition System Toyota Direct Ignition (TDI) Toyota Direct Ignition (TDI)

Fuel System SFI SFI

Recommended Fuel 87-octane unleaded 87-octane unleaded

Emission Certification ULEV-II, Tier 2 SULEV-II (PZEV, Calif. only) ULEV-II

EPA Estimates

(city/highway/combined mpg) 21/29 (FWD)   20/28 (AWD)   19/26/22 (FWD)++   18/25/21 (AWD)++


Layout Transaxle/FWD/AWD Transaxle/FWD/AWD

Transmission Type 6ECT with sequential shift 6ECT with sequential shift


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