The Venza nameplate returns to Toyota’s 2021 lineup in North America after five years away, reimagined as a two-row, five-seat SUV with premium aspirations. The new model – marketed as the Harrier in Japan – shares its underpinnings with the successful RAV4 Hybrid but looks and feels completely different, with the goal of appealing to a younger, more tech and style-focused clientele.
How much does the 2021 Toyota Venza cost?
The three-model Venza range starts at US$32,470 / C$38,490 for the LE, rising through the XLE at US$36,000 / C$44,490 to the US$39,800 / C$47,690 Limited. All three cars are mechanically identical and come as standard with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver assistance systems.
We drove a Limited whose only optional extra was a coat of attractive Blizzard Pearl paint (C$255/US$425), but some of the Canadian Limited’s standard features are only available at extra cost in the US.
Completely redesigned exterior styling
Much like the distinction between the Ford Escape and the upcoming Bronco Sport, in the Venza, Toyota has created a vehicle that looks completely different from its RAV4 cousin. The look is a sleek complement to the RAV4’s angular aesthetic. The styling is arguably more Lexus than Toyota, with an F-Pace-style, rounded rear end that features a full-width LED strip. The Limited’s intricate, 19in alloys are the biggest available on the Venza.
2021 Venza interior and equipment
The differentiation continues inside, where Toyota has majored on design and quality. No doubt about it, the Venza’s dashboard and centre console are among the most original and stylish in the class. The quality of the materials in our Limited car wouldn’t have been out of place in a luxury vehicle – the padded door cappings were an unexpected highlight – and the fit and finish are excellent. We liked the classy black/java (brown) colour combination, too.
There are times when style triumphs over substance however, notably in the touch-sensitive buttons, a concept once tried and since abandoned by Cadillac. You get a clean, minimalist look, but chunky, tactile switches are always a better bet for the most used controls, in our view. There’s no knob for volume control on the dash or centre console – touch-buttons provide +/- adjustment – but at least the driver has volume buttons on the steering wheel.
The digital rear-view mirror is a cutting-edge piece of tech, providing a notably wider view than a conventional mirror, but its flaws were such that we soon flicked the switch to revert to a physical mirror. In particular, we found the digital mirror to be prone to too many reflections, which provided a confusing picture of the road behind, especially at night.
More successful is the clever Star Gaze fixed panoramic glass roof, which transforms from clear to frosted to provide shade at the touch of a button. Like the head-up display, it’s standard in Canada but a US$1,400 cost-option south of the border.
As you’d expect from a car that shares its platform with the Camry and RAV4, there’s plenty of passenger space, front and back. We weren’t convinced by the available luggage capacity though, despite it being on paper only slightly down on the RAV4 at 1,028L (36.3 cu. ft).
Hybrid powertrain: how does the 2021 Venza perform?
The Venza’s proven, AWD hybrid powertrain – comprising a 2.5-litre gasoline engine and two electric motors, for a combined 219 HP – delivers ample performance for the urban and highway environments in which most Venzas will spend their time. We recorded a healthy 7L/100km (33.6mpg) over 250km of driving, with around 30% of our time spent driving electric around town, according to the handy meter in the instrument cluster.
You can guess from looking at the Venza that the driving experience will be big on smooth, refined progress – and that’s exactly how it plays out. It’s quiet and comfortable, with precise but unengaging steering. It’s not a car for enthusiast drivers, nor is it meant to be, and that’s fine. Our test vehicle was fitted with Yokohama iceGUARD G075 winter tires, which felt secure in cold and snowy conditions. You’ll find more on some of the best winter tires in our roundup here.
The only disappointing aspect of the driving experience was the Venza’s aggressive lane-tracing assistance system, which, in its desire to keep the car centred in the lane, fought much too hard to counteract the driver’s steering inputs. As we’ve said before, the problem with poorly tuned safety systems is that if the driver loses confidence in them or finds their intervention annoying, they’ll be switched off, at which point there’s no safety benefit at all.
Takeaway: is the new Venza SUV worth it?
The Venza is an interesting addition to the Toyota lineup and to the market as a whole, providing a distinctive alternative to the big-selling RAV4 and something of a bridge to a more expensive Lexus. Toyota is pitching it as a niche product that will sell in smaller numbers than the RAV4, to a different group of customers. We think that with its focus on premium design and technology, the Venza has a good chance of meeting that brief.
- interesting alternative to mainstream SUVs
- original, stylish, high-quality interior
- clever, switchable Star Gaze glass roof
- touch-buttons not always the answer
- flawed digital rear-view mirror
- aggressive lane-tracing assist