2009 Toyota Venza : A 1000 km trek

Those in charge at Toyota are putting a great deal of hope on their latest model, the Venza.  We have already published a first look at this vehicle on this site by Sylvain Raymond.  I had the opportunity to take this crossover for a round trip between Montréal and Rivière-du-Loup of a little more than 1000 km.  I know that is not the exact distance between these two places, but I made several detours along the way which added to the trip.  Here are some impressions of the ride and my introduction to the vehicle after a full day test drive that began early in the morning and did not end until the evening.

A real looker

There is no question that Toyota’s stylists were really inspired when they were working on this model, especially the dynamic and modern front grille.  Don’t forget that this vehicle is essentially a minivan with outward-opening lateral rear doors.  The result is positive and very well balanced.  Our test vehicle was reasonably well equipped, powered by a 286-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 engine and paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with all-wheel drive.  On board, the front seats are comfortable and the back seats are very generous.  However, the upholstery, while it is good quality, has a very unique texture that may not please everyone.  On the other hand, as we expect from Toyota products, the quality of materials and finish is excellent.  However, there is however one small exception to the rule that was right under my nose throughout the entire trip: a piece of plastic on the dashboard was poorly laid out, so there is an unwanted space of several millimetres.  It’s a tiny detail, but when you’re dealing with a company that makes claims of perfection, you have to be demanding.

On the road

The driving position is good, like that of a minivan, with a relatively high seat and good vision of the road.  Unfortunately the footrest is badly positioned and hard to find.  Another irritating detail, is that the A-pillar is excessively wide and, despite a small window shaped like the letter A incorporated into the base of this pillar, visibility is relatively difficult at intersections when you want to verify if a vehicle is coming on the cross road.  Fortunately the exterior rearview mirrors are very large.  The gauge dials in front of the driver have very large dimensions and are very easy to read.  We should also note that there is an information centre placed in the middle of the top part of the dashboard.  With its white display on a black background, it can even be seen when hit by sunlight.  This little screen also projects the images provided by the rear view back-up camera. 

This accessory is marginally useful since the very poor screen resolution prevents us from seeing it clearly, especially when the sky is cloudy or at night.  At first glance, the layout of the dashboard controls and the positioning of the stick shift integrated in the vertical console seem an ideal combination.  While that proves true for the stick shift, the layout of the multiple controls and buttons can be confusing, especially when driving at night.  In many vehicles, whether you want to adjust the climate control or change one of the settings of the audio system, you find the button instinctively.  In the Venza, it’s a totally different story.  On a more positive note, kudos to the practicality of the horizontal console between the two front seats where you can store numerous items.  You can even slide open the cover without even removing the drink in the front cup holder.

To conclude this tour, I should mention that my test vehicle was equipped with a motorized hatchback, which is very useful when you have several objects to put in the trunk and your hands are full. Up to this point I haven’t mentioned handling, steering or overall fun.  These tend not to be Toyota’s strong suit.  The V6 engine is very smooth, it is also quiet and it is hardly noticeable at all when you shift from one gear to another with the automatic transmission.  As for the steering, it is precise but you’ll have to live without the feedback from the road, which is practically non-existent.  On the other hand, the turning circle is good, which is appealing for a vehicle of this size with all-wheel drive.  As for the brakes,

I didn’t find them particularly powerful, but they are well adapted and they let you brake progressively and without incident. On the road, there is nothing to bring to your attention.  This vehicle runs smoothly and dutifully, its comfortable suspension rolling over potholes and bumps with ease.  This Toyota’s overall comfort made the more than 1000km of this trip seem relatively short.  It is true that the feeling of driving and the fun of being behind the wheel of a responsive vehicle are all but non-existent, but the gain in comfort and peace of mind is such that we got home fresh as a daisy despite a trip of more than ten hours in the same day.  As for fuel consumption, we recorded 11.1 litres per 100 km.  Included in this figure is almost an hour of time spent on the streets of Rivière-du-Loup.  Basically, this test drive has yet again demonstrated the intrinsic qualities of most Toyota products.

And if you are wondering why I took this trip, it was not to meet the former leader of the ADQ, Mario Dumont, on this home turf, but to pick up the new family dog, a wirehaired pointing griffon from legendary griffon breeder Serge Dumont’s Élevage du Feu Follet.  By the way, he is not related to Mario.  So from now on, the Guide de l’auto will have a mascot who began his career with several hours on the road before arriving at his new home.

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