Thursday, October 22, 2020
First Reviews 2021 Toyota Venza First Drive Review: A Niche Product Right On Time

2021 Toyota Venza First Drive Review: A Niche Product Right On Time

The all-new Toyota Venza is the first of a new breed of midsize SUVs and it has loads going for it is


  • Base price in Canada is $38,490, $32,470 in the US.

  • The Venza is back after a 5-year break in Canada.

  • It is only offered as a hybrid with AWD.


Three things. The first Toyota Venza was a hit in Canada, not so much in the US, when it was available from 2009 to 2015 (2016 in Canada). Unlike say Honda that launched the 1st generation RDX way too soon, only to backtrack and then try the original formula again a decade later with success, the new Venza’s timing is spot on.

And thirdly, I think Toyota’s severely downplaying this SUV’s actual potential. Considering that the RAV4 hybrid is an absolute hit, and that the Venza has more included tech, features such as a power hatch and wireless charging, premium touches and styling, for $6,000 more (in Canada), the midsize SUV could actually account for a larger portion of hybrid sales for Toyota.

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre


Styled like no other Toyota

And premium, along with the “niche” aspect, are the driving forces behind SUV. If you can picture it between the similar-looking RAV4 and Highlander, the Venza could just as well sport a Lexus badge. Much was said about the Venza’s styling in the presentation however the takeaway for me was that it’s a departure from current trends. Said trends boil down to all vehicles more or less look the same under a singular banner. Not so here.

Its uniqueness, from its near wedge-like front fascia, smooth and fluid body lines, and its rear red LED strip that stretches from one side to another, it will stand out in Toyota showrooms. And this will most certainly draw attention to it. Once aboard, however, the dashboard’s overall presentation is very Toyota-familiar, that is to say, chunky in parts. One major difference comes from the absence of physical nobs and switches which, unusually, poses no issue given the perfectly laid-out ergonomics and Toyota’s fairly intuitive Audio Plus multimedia menus. These menus are accessible through a standard 8-inch screen or, from the XLE on, a lovely 12.3-inch unit.


Premium niche product

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Premium also involves extremely comfortable seats. The tested Limited’s SofTex seats were supple and supportive, ideal for any long haul drive. There’s plenty of room for five normal adults and the capacious trunk, rated at 815 litres (28.8 cubic feet) can easily hold four golf bags.

I specify golf bags as, although Toyota thinks it will sell the Venza to 38-44-year-old professionals with no kids, the buyers will likely be 60+ years of age, empty nesters, and avid golfers who are not impressed by logos. And given the chance, the Venza will seduce with value, the aforementioned premium touches, and an impressively cosseting drive.


Hybrid brilliance

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The 2021 Toyota Venza is a RAV4 Hybrid+. Essentially, almost everything you don’t see is shared with the RAV4. This is very good news. The RAV4’s faults are limited to the following: ride quality could be improved and it’s loud. The Venza’s super-smooth, and quiet.

The 2.5-litre 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine is mated to a trio of electric motors for a total system output power of 219-horsepower. One of the electric motors is mounted on the rear axle and has no physical link to the front. This motor is always “on” when starting off from a dead-start and will cycle in and out of the drive when deemed necessary. In the most severe conditions, up to 80% of available torque can be used by the rear wheels.

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The electric motors’ instant torque delivers a punchy launch off the line however most turbocharged 4-cylinder opponents will quickly pull away. The competition will also reach higher numbers where fuel consumption is concerned. With a combined posted average of 6.1L/100km (39 mpg), no other midsize SUV comes close to being as economical.

Considering the amusing throttle response, faultless and smoot electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT), and AWD handling, it wins. On the topic of throttle response, although Toyota includes drive modes (ECO, Normal, Sport, and EV), Normal is the default and right mode in 99% of driving situations.


TNGA brilliance

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The Venza is also built upon the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA-K) platform, like the Camry and the RAV4, and it enables the vehicle to ride with poise, comfort, and surefootedness. Frankly, on the twisting roads which surround Calabogie, I never thought I’d be as entertained by a “Toyota hybrid”. The ample wheel travel allowed by the dampers, which can do their job thanks to the TNGA, creates a scenario where the Venza is able to maintain excellent contact with the road’s surface without ever punishing the occupants.

Truthfully, the Venza’s ride quality and overall smoothness of operation is nearly matched only by the Nissan Murano only. Other potential rivals include the Ford Edge, Buick Envision, and, to a lesser extent, the Hyundai Santa Fe. None of these however are as quiet. In fact, the extra 145 lbs the Venza carries over the RAV4 hybrid must be in large part due to supplemental sound-deadening materials.


Value, efficiency, XLE, and go

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

My tester was the $47,690 Limited ($39,800 in the US) and featured SofTex materials, head’s up display, the Digital Display Rear View Mirror, and gadget-y Star Gaze glass roof. Simply put, the $44,490 XLE is the wiser purchase as it includes the 19-inch wheels, heated steering wheel, 12.3-inch screen, cooled front seats, and loads more.

In the segment, other options include the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, Kia Sorento (which should be offered as a hybrid in Canada eventually), Honda Passport, GMC Acadia/Chevrolet Blazer and Jeep Grand Cherokee are valid. Even if many of these SUVs are interesting, only a Toyota Venza will do for 1st generation Venza owners, and many others.

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

2021 Toyota Venza | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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Matt St-Pierre
Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai

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