The 2009 Toyota Venza: The search for a hot Toyota product

I recently had the opportunity to write about the Venza while attending its official launch. I admit that I was charmed by this vehicle right off the bat, and I even predicted that my mom, who is in the market for a new vehicle this summer, would most certainly be interested in the Venza, despite never being much interested in Toyotas. Well, guess what? After trying out a few different models in that category, she is now determined to get one!

The same goes for one of my neighbours who has always gone for American cars. He says he’ll look for a Venza once his current vehicle lease is up. Add to that all the looks of approval that I got while behind the wheel of this vehicle (something that doesn’t happen every day in this type of vehicle), and I’m forced to conclude that Toyota has done the job right. I say it often: regardless of what manufacturers do, their reputation depends on their products.

In terms of looks, the Venza is something between a station wagon and an SUV, making it part of the trendy crossover category. It was built on the platform of the Camry (Toyota’s popular intermediate sedan) and also has several of the Camry’s mechanical components. This puts the Venza in the runnings against some other sweet vehicles like the Mazda CX-7, the Ford Edge, the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Nissan Murano.

Four or six cylinders?

When choosing your Venza, you first have to determine which version you want. There’s the base model with a four-cylinder engine and either 4WD or FWD. At only $1,500 more, the 4WD is your better bet, since the front drive version is not particularly appealing in this country. (You’d be better off with a station wagon!) Under the hood, you’ll find a 2.7-litre four-cylinder engine – all-new for this vehicle – which churns out 182 hp and just as much torque. This is coupled with the same automatic six-speed gearbox that all Venzas come with. Overall, this engine performs surprisingly well and saves you money at the pump. Even with 4WD, this engine is up to the task. Toyota did well to bring out this new engine instead of giving this vehicle the Camry’s 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, which most certainly would not have been adequate given the Venza’s weight.

If, however, you want a little more power, opt for the Venza V6, equipped with a 3.5-litre six-cylinder engine that pumps some 286 hp and 246 lbs.-ft. of torque. Naturally, this boost in power comes with a hike in price, making the Venza a considerably more expensive vehicle, particularly if you tack on some options. Another strike against this version is the fact that it comes standard with 20-inch wheels. Sure, they add style, but they’ll also add to your expenses when it comes time to buy winter tires. With 19-inch tires, the four-cylinder Venza is just as good looking and more practical. One plus about the Venza V6, however, is its towing capacity: 3,500 lbs. compared to the base model’s 2,500 lbs.

Designed for North America

From the get-go the Venza was designed and developed specifically for the North American market. In fact, it won’t be sold anywhere but our continent. Designed at Toyota’s Calty studio in California, the Venza’s style was inspired by the FT-SX concept car shown at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show. Quite a departure from what we’ve seen from Toyota lately, the look is a tremendous success thanks to eye-catching lines, a serious front grille and a raised belt line.

Inside, Toyota is true to its tradition with attention to quality. The excellent materials used make for a luxurious effect. That said, a few pieces on our test vehicle were fitted together poorly, most notably the section of the dashboard that joins to the speakers. Other than that, the Venza comes standard with a decent list of equipment, including automatic temperature control, telescopic steering and a Smart Key system. The Premium Package offers some interesting options, but the backup camera comes up a little short of explectations as the image is displayed on a teeny-tiny screen at the top of the dash.

On the road, the Venza offers reassuring performances. The suspension strikes a good balance between comfort and road handling. I would have preferred a little less assistance for the steering, but it's not extreme in any way. With less window area and a higher beltline, visibility is reduced in the rear-which you'll notice all the more when trying to park. In fact, that's when you'll fully realize just how big the Venza is. Several of its rivals, however, face the same problem. The final drawback is the turning diameter. As the expression goes, the Venza does not turn on a dime, which makes parking it all the more challenging.

Overall, this vehicule offers the best of nearly all words. Offering an improved sense of safety in all conditions, the 4WD allows the vehicule to handle like a front wheel drive in normal conditions and sends part of the torque to the rear wheels when needed. This in turn results in fuel savings without a noticeable decrease in power. In fact, this is the same system found in the Toyota RAV4.

I'd say that Toyota has done well with the Venza. It's well thought-out, stylish and good-looking. The proof will be its ability to draw new buyers to the Toyota brand, something that is most definitely important to the manufacturer.

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