2021 Toyota Venza – The New Is Not the Old

by Aaron Turpen

The previous generation Toyota Venza, a wagon-like crossover that was not exactly well received, was discontinued in 2015. But for the car buying public, six years is long enough to forget the past and see a new model with fresh eyes. Or so Toyota hopes. The 2021 Venza has some similarities with its previous-gen sibling, but it improves on many of the things that the older model fell short with. 

For starters, the 2021 Toyota Venza comes standard as a hybrid and with all-wheel drive. This means it’s an efficient all-weather option. Compared to the previous version, the new Venza is also more SUV-like and less wagon-ish, though it does still clearly aim for the Subaru Outback as its primary competitor. 

For that goal, the 2021 Venza also has a much-improved, premium-level interior matched by a quiet and comfort-oriented ride quality. This second-generation Venza is far ahead of its predecessor and all the better for it.

Styling 

Like the old Venza, this new model Venza sticks with wagon-esque styling. Unlike the old version, though, this one adds more SUV to the mix with a larger ground clearance, bigger wheel wells for more aggressive gaps between tire and fender, and a sturdier set of plastic lower guards. 

The front fascia of the 2021 Venza is sharply tapered vertically, with the upper portion showcasing the blue Toyota marque to indicate the hybrid powerplant behind. The lower portion is angled sharply back, deemphasizing the size of the intake vents for the car. Tall side slits give the appearance of brake coolers, housing LED fog lamps as a primary function. 

The bodywork along the sides of the 2021 Toyota Venza is simple, but well-done, with a thick beltline shelf thinning towards the rear to cap off the tail lamps. The rounded roofline adds to the sporty car-like design quality of the almost saloon-appearing overall silhouette of the Venza.

It’s a pleasing look overall, but does give the impression that the Venza has less interior room than it has and it’s not likely that Subaru shoppers will see this Toyota as design competitive with their beloved Outback.

Interior 

There are few mid-size SUV entries, outside of the premium segments, that can rival the 2021 Venza’s interior. Upscale materials, roomy seating, and smart appointments are all found inside the new Venza. The bright accents to bring bling to the interior are well-placed while the contrast stitching and easy-to-find controls are all nice touches. It’s no wonder the Venza has often been compared to a Lexus for its interior. It’s not a stretch to see that comparison.

Cargo room is the Venza’s weakest point, however. It offers only 28.7 cubic feet behind the second row and 54.9 with the second row folded. That’s far below most in this category and is more akin to the compact category below. 

For taller folks, we’d recommend foregoing the optional panoramic glass roof, as it impedes on interior space by a couple of inches. The interior of the Venza is otherwise accommodating to tall people in most seating positions.

Performance 

The 2021 Venza is not athletic, but it’s certainly not sluggish either. The hybrid powertrain consists of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors which combine to provide 219 horsepower. Because a portion of that is from electric motors, the starting pace of the Venza is better than that found in most Toyota vehicles. With all-wheel drive as standard, grip is also good, aiding that early acceleration’s appeal. 

When pressed, the Venza will not throw any heads back with G forces. The goal of the Venza’s powertrain is to deliver smooth power over a long curve, making it comfortable and predictable to drive. One has to focus almost entirely on the shifts to feel the transition from electric to engine power, clean as they are.

MPG is where it’s at with the Venza, though, the hybrid system delivering excellent numbers in most situations. The EPA rates the Venza at 40 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. At high altitude, we tested the Venza on the highway, under a judicious right foot, and returned close to 40 (39.7) MPG. So gaining the listed fuel economy is not difficult and should be easy for most.

Practicality 

The Venza offers all of the practicality of an all-weather crossover along with easy entry and exit thanks to its car-like design. It’s greatest miss is in cargo capacity, which is less than nearly all of its competitors. A high load height also impedes the cargo’s usefulness. The Venza otherwise checks all of the expected boxes of a mid-size crossover.

The most obvious high point for practicality in the 2021 Venza is in its hybrid powertrain. The combined engine and electric motors mean far less stops at the fuel pump without the sometimes complicated requirement of finding a plug. The Venza’s MPG ratings are much higher than most of its competitors.

Comfort 

The interior of the 2021 Toyota Venza is at the premium level. Even the base model has more upscale accouterments and materials than some entry-level luxury rides. Seating in the front is beyond well done while the back seats, at the outboard, are much better than average. The middle of the back seat is OK, but like most middle seats, it’s where whoever lost the rochambeau ends up.

Ride quality in the Venza is equally as good. The drivetrain is smooth, the road absorbs into the suspension well before entering the cabin, and the interior is quiet. 

Tech 

Technology in the new Venza is a new high point for Toyota. Standard features are plentiful and include a wireless device charger, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate, an 8-inch touchscreen interface, four USB ports, a WiFi hotspot, and more. The infotainment screen can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch touchscreen with navigation and a JBL audio system is also an option.

The new Toyota Entune infotainment interface is easy to use, though its capabilities don’t run very deep. The large icons and easy to access menus respond quickly and do well, however, and most will find the learning curve to be small. We note that the larger screen foregoes many of the physical hot buttons around the smaller screen, making it a little less easy to quickly access common items like radio tuning or apps. 

The connected services for the 2021 Toyota Venza are limited mainly to the safety systems on board and wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The standard WiFi hotspot is a plus, though, and connectivity there is usually steady. 

Active Safety 

Nearly every driver assist and safety system available from Toyota is standard in the 2021 Venza. A high-definition rear view camera matches the screen well and includes rear cross-traffic alerts. Blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning and mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, and traffic sign recognition are also standard features in the Venza. Most of these are part of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system. 

Additional features such as a head-up display, surround-view cameras, and added front and rear parking sensors for better sensitivity are also available in the Venza.

Value 

The value proposition for most Toyota vehicles is high and that’s definitely the case with the Venza. At a price tag between about $30,000 and $40,000 between each of the three trim levels, there’s a lot of variance for the budget minded despite the large amount of standard features the lower-end Venza includes. The high resale value Toyota vehicles (especially hybrids) have should also translate to the Venza, further upping its value.

Summing Up

Most buyers will find the 2021 Toyota Venza to be an excellent fit for small families or those who need a second family vehicle. Its MPG ratings are through the roof for the segment and aside from its smallish cargo space, the Venza has everything one could want in a mid-size crossover-SUV. The lower stance means easier access to roof racks for extended storage on long trips while interior comfort is equal to the large array of standard features to be found. 

On long road trips, the Venza proves steady and quiet for the driver and conversations or music are greatly enjoyed as a result. Though it lacks sportiness and fun factor, the Venza does deliver a luxurious experience without the lux price tag normally associated with that.

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