2009 Toyota Venza: It’s versatile, but don’t call it an SUV
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Toyota generally has its marketing plan in order when it refreshes an older member of its line or when it creates a new linemate, so the public eagerly awaited the arrival of the all-new Venza and the campaign that would accompany it.
The 2009 Venza was to begin its assault on one market segment, or maybe two … but which ones? Toyota clouded the issue when they announced that Venza was a 4-wheel-drive 5-door “vehicle”, and on the sticker, Toyota classifies it as a sedan. But when viewing and driving the new vehicle, sedan is not what comes to mind. True, it is based on the Camry’s frame and features a mid-sized hood and a winged grille that sweeps back to contoured headlights, but it certainly doesn’t look like a sedan. Is it really a small SUV? A crossover? A mini-van? A tall wagon? It essentially resembles a wagon more than any other genre, but CUV could probably be a good fit.
Built in Kentucky, with about 70 percent of its parts of domestic origin, my Golden Umber Mica (a brownish metallic color) test vehicle inspired interested looks from the public who responded favorably to the rear roof-attached spoiler, a chrome exhaust pipe, hatchback with rear wiper and the wingesque grille. Measuring a mid-size 189 inches in length, 75 inches in width and 63.4 inches in height on a 109.3-inch wheelbase, with 8.1 inches of ground clearance and a step-in height of 15.3 inches, it certainly fits the parameters of a small SUV. In fact, it is Highlanderesque in size but about 5 inches lower.
The exterior is enhanced with large front doors, multi-reflector projector-beam headlamps with auto on-off feature, integrated fog lamps, 20-inch aluminum alloy 5-spoke wheels, UV reduction glass windshield, privacy glass on the two rear side windows and back window, rear window with electric defogger and intermittent wiper, roof-mounted satellite radio antenna and easy Auto Closer on rear door.
The versatile Venza is powered by a 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder DOHC engine with dual VVT-1, and an aluminum alloy block with aluminum alloy head. This plant makes sense for the 3870-lb. vehicle, but Toyota also offers an economical 4-cylinder 2.7-liter, 170hp version that increases fuel efficiency, but is not brawny enough to maintain a CUV demeanor – maybe the 2.7-liter edition IS a sedan. My 3.5-liter test vehicle rumbled out 268hp and 246-lbs.-ft. of torque and was accompanied by the Toyota Direct Ignition system. EPA rated at 18mpg in city driving and 25mpg on the highway, a week of mixed tests yielded an average of 23.1 mpg for my press fleet vehicle after roughly 500 miles of driving.
The extra brawn enables the Venza to earn a 3500-lb. tow rating, which is also in CUV range. Acting like a sedan, however, the powertrain was muscular enough to turn a 7.2-second zero-to-60mph run and the quarter-mile can be achieved in 15.3 seconds.
While the cabin was a bit noisy, and the engine’s efforts are heard inside, the Venza accelerated easily and steadily and offered passing gear strength when called upon. Steering in S-curve and weave tests should better than average responsiveness, though you have to work to make severe moves at high speed. The steering is fluid and accommodating when parking or at low speed but sluggish at higher velocity. During quick or sharp maneuvering, the Venza stays on the road and a relatively low center of gravity provides a confident ride.
Road irregularities are handled well by the MacPherson strut front suspension and a dual-link MacPherson strut rear set up combined with electronic power rack-and-pinion steering.
Safety is always a Toyota strength and Venza attends to this discipline with front and rear crumple zones, collapsible steering column, side-impact door beams, energy-dissipating interior trim, driver and front passenger advanced airbags, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear seat side curtain airbags, and driver’s knee airbag. Venza is also outfitted with ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist and Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (with cutoff switch and traction control.
Inside, Venza has a small mini-van feel to it. It is roomy with seating capacity for five. Venza’s interior space measures 39.6 inches of front headroom with 39.3 in row two; 40.2 inches of legroom in the first row and 39.1 behind, while shoulder room is 60 and 50 inches.
Venza is decked out with a CFC-free dual-zone automatic climate control system with air filter, multi-function driver information center, power windows and door locks and remote keyless entry.
The basic Venza sells for $29,250 and my test vehicle, with mahogany wood grain, leather, power seats, push button start, back-up camera, voice activated touch-screen DVD navigation system, panoramic glass roof with front power tilt/side moonroof, JBL Synthesis® surround sound AM/FM 4-disc in-dash CD changer with integrated satellite radio, MP3/WMA playback capability, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and 13-speakers as well as rear entertainment, bottom-lined at $37,993.
It is a very upscale, versatile vehicle; Toyota just doesn’t want it classified as an SUV.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
# # #
Journalist note: Information about the Carlisle Events Group, its event listings, auction offerings and expo center is available to journalists by phone:
Carlisle Event Marketing Dept.
# # #