2021 Toyota Venza Review | The fancy RAV4 Hybrid

Zac Palmer
·7 mins read


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The 2021 Toyota Venza is a new, hybrid-only crossover that doesn’t share much of anything with its predecessor save for the name. It does, however, share an awful lot with the RAV4 Hybrid, including its powertrain and underlying platform. However, the Venza is distinctive enough in style, features and refinement to appeal to different audiences – and command a higher price. 

Toyota took the Venza further upmarket in a bid to appeal to those who want a more refined crossover, but still want the efficiency of a hybrid vehicle. If you go for the top trim, the Venza is encroaching on entry-level Lexus territory with its design and materials. No RAV4 can say the same. It deviates from the competitive set, too. Where other midsize crossovers aim for sportiness and style, the Venza aims for good fuel economy and style. So even though Toyota is using a more traditional body style than the original hatchback/wagon/SUV/other Venza, the new one is still sticking its neck out hoping that it can find buyers who care more about saving fuel than 0-60 mph times. When it comes to crossovers, we think that’s a fair bet to make.

What’s new for 2021?

The 2021 Toyota Venza is an all new vehicle for the 2021 model year.

What’s the interior and in-car technology like?

Similar to its exterior styling, the Venza’s interior design is a key area where it differentiates itself from the RAV4. Instead of a blocky, off-road look, the Venza features a sharp, modern and highly styled interior. It’s entering Lexus territory in its highest trim. Distinctive color schemes, prominent dash/seat stitching, and prominent technology help bring the design together. Functionally, the XLE and Limited are hamstrung versus the LE, though. Both the mid-grade and top trim have touch-capacitive controls for the audio and climate systems, which are difficult to identify and operate while driving. The base LE uses physical buttons, which are much easier to use even if they don't look quite as neat. 

The big dash-top screen is the interior’s centerpiece. It measures 8 inches on the LE and XLE, but a 12.3-inch unit is optional on XLE and standard on Limited. It's identical to the one that impressed us in the Highlander. With either screen size, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa come standard. There's an additional display in the gauge cluster measuring 4.2 inches in the LE and 7 inches in the others. In general, the Venza's tech offerings are up-to-date with the competition, and if it were quicker to respond, the 12.3-inch system in particular would be a standout.

How big is it?

Toyota considers the Venza to be a midsize crossover competitor, but our spec comparison shows it’s on the smaller side of this class versus cars like the Ford Edge, Honda Passport and Chevrolet Blazer. Think of it more as a glorified, style-first RAV4 than a truly utilitarian family crossover.

As a result of this style-over-utility choice, the Venza has significantly less cargo space (28.8 cubic feet behind the second row) than the RAV4 (37.5 cubic feet) despite being 5.7 inches longer overall. Rear legroom is identical between the two (37.8 inches), but that says more about the RAV4 given their equally generous amount. Thankfully, the Venza's roofline doesn’t cut into rear-seat headroom enough to be bothersome unless you’re especially tall. The bigger concern is the optional Star Gaze fixed glass roof, which drops rear headroom by a significant 2.1 inches.

What’s the performance and fuel economy?

The 2021 Venza is only available as a hybrid. It’s almost a direct lift from the RAV4 Hybrid, with the main differences being its battery pack chemistry (pricier lithium-ion instead of nickel-metal hydride) and final tuning. Otherwise, you get the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder aided by a trio of electric motors, one of which powers the rear axle to effectively provide standard all-wheel drive. Total system output is 219 combined horsepower, which is pretty weak for a midsize crossover.

On the upside, fuel economy is almost identical to the RAV4, meaning the Venza returns an EPA-estimated 40 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined. Those numbers are spectacular for the vehicle’s size and absolutely demolish its midsize, non-hybrid competition in terms of efficiency.


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What’s it like to drive?

The Venza may look like a sporty crossover, but it’s not an invigorating crossover to drive. Toyota doesn’t provide a 0-60 mph estimate, but the RAV4 Hybrid gets there in 7.8 seconds and the Venza is approximately 130 pounds heavier. It should therefore be even slower, putting it well in the rearviews of most competitors. At least it feels quicker off the line than the numbers suggest due to the electric motors, but like all Toyota hybrids, there's plenty of droning under full acceleration that does little to convey a sporty intent.

The Venza rides on the same TNGA-K variant of Toyota's corporate platform and even shares the RAV4's 105.9-inch wheelbase. Road imperfections and potholes are soaked up admirably, and highway cruising is both quiet and comfortable. However, the wind and road noise is not reduced to Lexus-quiet levels of serenity.

At no point does the Venza ever encourage the driver to push it through a winding road. The rear electric motor does a bang-up job of keeping the front wheels from being overwhelmed, but this is no performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system. The eco tires give up quickly, and you can really feel the heft of the tall body around corners. If you’re looking for a more engaging driving experience in Toyota’s lineup, the RAV4 Hybrid XSE and new RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid do a much better job. 

What more can I read about the Toyota Venza?

2021 Toyota Venza First Drive | It’s back!

Our first spin in the revamped Venza. Here we go over the design, engineering and provide further driving impressions.

 

Toyota hybrid crossover comparison | How the Venza, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander compare on paper

We pit all three of Toyota's popular hybrid crossovers against each other to see how the new Venza compares.

 

2021 Toyota Venza vs midsize crossovers: How they compare on paper

Here's how the new Venza stacks up versus the competitors in its segment like the Ford Edge, Nissan Murano and Honda Passport.

What features are available and what’s the price?

There are only three trim levels available for the Venza: LE ($33,645), XLE ($37,175) and Limited ($40,975). Standard equipment includes LED lights all around, proximity entry, Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 driver assistance suite (see Safety section below), dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a leather steering wheel, wireless phone charging, four USB ports, the 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa connectivity. 

The XLE adds desirable extras including roof rails, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats and nicer materials throughout the interior. Opting for the Limited  ups the luxury ante even higher with a 360-degree backup camera, heated steering wheel, wood-grained style trim, enhanced ambient lighting and a premium JBL audio system. Toyota allows you to option other items like the head-up display or Star Gaze panoramic roof. 

You can find more in-depth information about pricing, features and local pricing here on Autoblog.


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What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?

Toyota makes its full suite of driver assistance systems standard in the 2021 Venza. Those include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-tracing assist (lane-centering steering assist), adaptive cruise control, auto high beams and road sign assist. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert are also standard. Parking sensors and reverse automatic braking requires the XLE or Limited trim.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2021 Toyota Venza a five-star overall safety rating. It received an overall rating of four stars for front and rollover tests, but received all five star ratings for side crash tests. The IIHS has not yet rated the Venza.

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