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Thread: 2009 Toyota Venza

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2009 Toyota Venza

    Toyota was one of the first car companies to sell vehicles that combined SUV-esque styling and utility with car-like ride and handling - what everyone today calls "crossovers" - long before people started calling them that. Models like the RAV-4, which has been around since the mid 1990s. And the Matrix.

    Only one problem - they were on the small side.

    Solution? The new Venza - a family-sized crossover wagon.

    WHAT IT IS

    The Venza is a mid-sized, five-passenger wagon that's based on the Camry sedan but offers a roomier interior, more storage space and its own unique styling. It is available with a four or six-cylinder engine and front wheel drive or all-wheel-drive. Prices range from $25,975 for a base model with FWD and four-cylinder engine to $29,250 for one equipped with the optional V-6 and AWD.

    It is similar in general layout, price range and features to other wagon-like crossovers such as the Chevy Traverse (and the Traverse's GM cousins from Buick, GMC and Saturn), the Ford Edge and (on the smaller end of the scale) Honda's CR-V.

    WHAT'S NEW

    The whole car.

    ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

    Even though the Venza is a pretty big - and heavy - vehicle, it comes standard with a 2.7 liter, four-cylinder engine. Several of the Venza's crossover competitors - including the Ford Edge and the just-launched Chevy Traverse - come standard with six-cylinder engines.

    But the Venza's four is reasonably powerful - 182 hp, which for perspective is about what 5.0 liter V-8s were making in the early 1980s - and it gets considerably better gas mileage than the six-cylinder engines used in competitor models like the Traverse and Edge. (EPA rates the Toyota's four at 21 city/29 highway - vs. 17 city, 24 highway for the Traverse and Edge.)

    Those who want more than merely reasonable power can step up to the Venza's optional 3.5 liter V-6, which is rated at 268 hp. Gas mileage with this engine is still ok, despite the substantial power uptick - 19 city, 26 on the highway. That's still a few clicks ahead of the V-6 equipped Traverse and Edge.

    Both Venza engines are teamed with six-speed automatics; no manual transmission is offered.

    Max towing capability is par for the class - 3,500 pounds with the optional V-6.

    RIDE & HANDLING/DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

    You're a little higher up than you would be in a Camry - but the Venza feels much more car-like on the road than the Traverse or Edge, both of which behave more like traditional SUVs. The Venza's not a corner-burning autocrosser, but it can be driven faster without showing signs of unhappiness than either the Edge or the Traverse.

    The Venza's electric-assist power steering is very helpful during low-speed maneuvering - and doesn't feel overboosted once you're moving fast.

    Honda's CR-V is as or more nimble, but it's physically smaller vehicle and because it does not offer a V-6 hasn't got the punch (or highway legs) of the V-6 equipped Venza.

    The Toyota's four also has a 16 hp advantage over the Honda's 166 hp, 2.4 liter four - a difference you can definitely feel, especially during mid-range passing attempts.

    Don't, however, confuse the Venza with German (or even American) sportwagons like the Audi A6 Avant or Caddy SRX.

    Bottom line, it's a bit more athletic than an Edge or Traverse - but like the Camry it's based on, the Venza's designed for Middle American tastes and driving habits - not European ones.

    And that's ok. We are, after all, Americans - and for most of us, driving (really driving) is just a frustrated (by traffic, cops) fantasy. Or we just don't think about it much anyhow.

    Toyota could have spiced things up a bit by offering a manual transmission option with the four-cylinder engine. A five-speed is available with the same basic engine in the Camry, so it probably could have been done. Then again, America is the land of cell phone gabblefests, Bluetooth, DVD navigation and endless traffic. Fewer and fewer people are interested in shifting for themselves - or frankly, even paying much attention to driving.

    So it makes sense that Toyota decided to keep the Venza automatic-only.

    On the other hand, the six-speed automatic is a top-drawer slushbox, both in terms of efficiency potential and how it behaves. Shifts are quick and precise-feeling, without those see-sawing drops (and rises) in engine RPM you sometimes get with lesser five-speed automatics - and always got with four-speed automatics.

    STYLING & UTILITY

    Toyota wanted to come up with something different, not just another crossover - and in terms of appearance at least, the effort has been successful.

    While the Venza shares some of the styling themes common to today's mid-large crossovers - "fast" windshield, "chopped" looking roofline, etc. - it's less ponderous and blocky-looking than most of the models it competes with, including the Edge and Traverse.

    There's some Coke-bottle sculpting in the middle section, for example, that sexes things up. The grille shape is kind of interesting, too. Looks-wise, if not driving dynamics-wise, the Venza is closer to something like an Audi A6 Avant than an American SUV.

    You'll see this in subtle design tricks such as the low-built rocker panels (and slimmed down B pillar between the front and rear doors) that reduces step-in height for passengers while still giving the higher-up feel once you're actually sitting down. The rear cargo area's load height is also lower than the Camry's - which helps when you're trying to lug heavy items on board.

    The Venza's five-seat interior is also different drummer in that it actually has more cargo space with the second row up than the physically bigger Chevy Traverse - 30.7 cubic feet vs. the Chevy's 24.4 cubic feet. The Traverse does have considerably more total cargo capacity - 118 cubic feet vs. 70 cubic feet - but that's with the second row down and folded flat. Which means you've got to give up carrying people in order to gain the ability to carry a lot of stuff.

    The Venza's second-row seats also feature a recline function - so you or your passengers can take a nap back there on long road trips.

    Honda's CR-V is the toughest competitor for the Venza on utility. Though it is smaller than the Venza (and much smaller than the Traverse and Edge) it has more cargo capacity, both behind the second row (35.7 cubic feet) and with the second row folded flat (73 cubic feet).

    Ford's Edge has slightly more cargo-carrying space behind the second row (32.2 cubic feet) and slightly less with the second row folded flat (69 cubic feet).

    QUALITY & SAFETY

    Though it shares DNA with the Camry, the relationship is not obvious. Not that that would be a bad thing; the Camry is an excellent car (and America's best-selling mid-sized sedan for many years now, too). But the point is that Toyota didn't just weld together a custom body and drape it on a Camry chassis. The Venza's interior, for example, is unique to this model- and not just grafted in from the Camry with some different trim plates added here and there. Thoughtful features that show Toyota's commitment to functional design include the center console and shifter, which is off-center to the left (toward the driver) as opposed to the common - and space-wasting/harder to reach - centrally mounted location.

    The Venza's also the bargain of the bunch - with its base price of $25,975 well below the $29,255 base price of the Chevy Traverse and the $26,635 price of the Ford Edge. A loaded Venza with V-6 and AWD is still under $30k - vs. $41,965 for a comparably equipped Traverse and $36,605 for a similarly outfitted Edge.

    Venza's base price includes 19 inch rims, dual-zone climate control AC, power windows, door locks, cruise control and a very nice six-speaker stereo with six-disc CD player and iPod jack.

    Only Honda's CR-V undercuts the Venza on price - $21,245 to start, $28,945 loaded - but it's a smaller vehicle and only has a four-cylinder engine, even top-of-the-line versions.

    "Quality" also ought to include depreciation and resale value - and on this score, Toyota has long been one of the consumer's best bets. There is nothing wrong, per se, with either the Edge or the Traverse. But the fact is that for the most part, American-brand vehicles usually depreciate much more rapidly than Toyotas (and Hondas).

    All trims come with traction and stability control, full-row curtain airbags, front seat side-impact air bags and a driver's side knee air bag.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    Though the crossover field is getting crowded, the Venza does fill an open spot in Toyota's model lineup. And it gives buyers outside of the Toyota family another option to consider, too. Something a bit less "SUV" than the Edge or Traverse.

    And more than a bit less expensive, too.
    Last edited by Eric; 02-12-2009 at 01:24 PM.

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