Behind the Wheel – 2011 Toyota Venza

We take the new Toyota Venza out for a test drive.

CraveOnlineby CraveOnline

Like all crossover designs, Toyota’s 2011 Venza hedges its bets.

The big, four-door hatchback is Toyota’s shot across the bow of the Ford Edge, the Mazda CX7, the Nissan Murano or the Honda CRV. It’s also a much more affordable alternative to the Porsche Cayenne or the Mercedes R-Class. It targets an overlap market between SUV and city cruiser – hoping to hook luxury fans, outdoorsy types and the modern family car buyer.


But, since family car buyers are inherently boring and tend to be cranky as a result, we’ll focus on the Venza’s blended brew of urban comforts and multi-purpose utility – a mix intended to make the Venza feel at home in the city or along country roads.


Everything about driving the Venza whispers “smooth” into your ear as you roll along, despite the road quality or surface. With 19” alloy wheels and four-wheel independent suspension added to power screening and cruise control, the Venza does everything it can to reduce driving to mere steering.


Be forewarned. There’s always a tradeoff with technology rich motoring like this. The engineering blends to protect you from the road, but it also separates you from it. If you crave the adrenaline rush of fighting the wheel over a rough patch of ground or pulling a couple Gs through a highway turn, look elsewhere. The Venza works to make driving safer and easier. You’ll enjoy driving it for its comfort and technology, not for its guttural excitement. This isn’t a sports car or an off-roading four-wheel tank. It’s designed to get you from city to country, work to play with maximum comfort and reliability.


2011 Toyota Venza

Toyota set-up the Venza’s four cylinder version for this road test. At first glance, you’d think you’d have to stand on that accelerator to persuade those four cylinders onward in such a big car. But, the 2.7 liter, 16-valve engine is enough to get the crossover into the fray happily while maintaining the EPA fuel economy estimate 23 MPG.


With an MSRP just south of $30,000 for the four cylinder version, you get dual zone climate control, AM/FM/CD/XM stereo, USB connectivity, power windows and mirrors and remote keyless entry. I think it even got up early one morning, made my breakfast and rearranged my furniture for maximum feng shui. It doesn’t want for the techie bells and whistles in any showroom configuration.


Beyond its technologically-stuffed interior and smooth, carefree ride, the Venza’s most attractive feature for any active life driver is its size. The ample passenger cabin is built for four, but can carry five or six without stretching its seams. For drivers who live in their car, the ample hatch space can hold everything from an full office worth of work supplies to a foursome’s golf bags to groceries for a big Sunday BBQ with your entire weekend warrior softball team.


But, if you’re going to make the investment, step up from the four cylinder engine and pay for the V6. Yes, the four-banger will get out into traffic and keep you on the go well enough. During my test drive, I peeked down to catch me flirting with 80 out on the freeway more than once. But, this is a big car with serious passenger and cargo capacity. When you’re lugging folks and their assorted burdens around town and need a little extra pick-up, you’ll be better served by the extra horsepower of the V6.


That extra kick will get you out in traffic with more urgency, but no extra HP can undo the Venza’s primary calling card – that hard won, cream smooth, worry free drive.