I hadn't done much research on the 2021 Toyota Venza before it arrived for a week of testing. When I first saw it, I thought someone made a mistake and brought me a new midsize Lexus by mistake. It looked that sharp, with a large, bold grill, crisp exterior lines, and an upscale interior highlighted by a massive 12.3-inch display screen.
I was also impressed it was an all-wheel-drive hybrid, thinking that Toyota wanted me to experience the most sophisticated version of the Venza. Driving it was even more impressive. Though it only has 219 horsepower, the instant torque of the three electric motors gave it good acceleration. The ride was also incredibly smooth and quiet, inviting another comparison to a more expensive Lexus.
Then I did my homework and was impressed again by what Toyota was up to. The new Venza is closely related to the completely redesigned RAV4, which is easily the best version of the popular compact crossover. The RAV4 that first debuted last year is the most off-road capable version ever, with rugged good looks that signal its ability to tackle the outdoors. It is also available as a hybrid that gets around 42 miles per gallon and a plug-in hybrid that can go up to 40 miles on electricity alone before switching over to hybrid mode.
But what if you want to take advantage of that technology, even though you don't go off-road very often or have a charger in your garage? The answer is new Venza, which is essentially an upscale RAV4 Hybrid designed for urban environments. It also fills the gap between the RAV4 and the larger three-row Highlander crossover, giving Toyota an advantage over other midsize two-row crossovers that don't offer a hybrid option.
In a week of test driving, I found the new Venza to be a stylish, comfortable and thrifty daily driver. The suspension is softer than the RAV4, which is designed for mild-to-medium off-road driving, which meant the Venza rode better over broken pavement.
There was plenty of room in the Venza for five adults. The interior of our mid-level XLE version was mostly covered in leather, which gave it an upscale feel. The optional 12.3-inch screen was wide enough that it could be configured into thirds to display an array of information at the same time.
Unfortunately, the touch sensitive controls that came with Premium Audio Package took some getting used to. They give the dash a sleek, ultra modern look, but are harder to find and use than conventional knobs and buttons.
But that one complaint aside, the 2021 Venza is an excellent urban and suburban hybrid that should prove popular with small families concerned about the environment. It also fills a gap in Toyota's lineup, making the company even more competitive in the crossover market.
2021 Toyota Venza XLE
Base price: $36,000
Price as tested: $38,050
Style: Midsize SUV
Engine: 2.5-liter engine/electric motors (219 combined)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
Modes: Eco, Normal, Sport
EPA fuel economy: 40/37
Length: 186 inches
Weight: 3,847 to 3,913 pounds
Final assembly: Takaoka, Japan
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