Recently, Tim Horton�s offered its Canadian customers the chance to win a Toyota Venza in the latest round of its "Roll Up The Rim To Win" contest. You know the drill: peel back the lip of your coffee cup and you could find yourself behind the wheel of Toyota�s newest crossover vehicle….apparently, 35 Venzas in total will be given away.
So what did you get if you were one of the lucky ones? I�m not sure, but it looks like a compact wagon with oversize wheels and tires, is available with all-wheel-drive, is manufactured in Kentucky, and built on the Camry platform.
There are two engine choices: a 2.7 litre four cylinder and a 3.5 litre V6, and you can choose from front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive. My tester had the latter engine with FWD, but the former may be the largest in-line four-banger on the market these days. Normally, manufacturers run into all kinds of engineering issues when four cylinder engines get up into displacement this large….usually in the form of vibrations and harmonics. Big in-line four cylinder engines tend to rock and roll and often need internal counter-balancers to smooth everything out. I haven�t had the chance to drive the I-4 model yet, but I�d like to just to see how Toyota has dealt with this problem.
But back to the V6. This engine is used elsewhere in the company�s model line-up, and in this configuration, develops 268 horsepower. It�s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission only, and features things like a transmission cooler, adaptive shifting, and a Hill-Start Assist Control. This last item prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards when you�re stopped on a hill and has been used by Subaru for years, albeit in a slightly different form. It�s standard on all models. The adaptive shifting feature, meanwhile, will hold the transmission in a lower gear when climbing a hill under load as well as automatically dropping it down to a lower gear when descending. Also a common feature with many manufacturers these days, but welcome, just the same.
What struck me about this drivetrain was how lively it was. Despite its 1755 kilogram weight, the Venza is blessed with all kinds of snap and this engine redlines at 6200 rpm. Kick it down into passing gear and you�ve got a rocket on your hands, with maybe a titch in the way of torque steer when driven with enthusiasm. The V6 version can also tow up to 1587 kilograms and, like all Toyota V6 powerplants, is smooth, quiet, and civilized.
Reasonably high standard equipment level as well. For its just under $30, 000 base price, the V6 model comes with a climate control system, heated mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering, power adjustable driver seat, cruise control, power door locks, and a full tank of gas. All kinds of airbags to front, side, side curtain, and knee….front and back. Surprisingly, heated front seats are an option. My tester also had the "Premium" package, which includes a back-up camera, a decent-sized power sunroof, and power rear door.
The Venza seats five, and the back seats fold down 60/40 fashion, either via a couple of levers located on the sides of the rear cargo compartment or by pulling up on a lever on the sides of the seats themselves. Again, kind of cool and simplicity itself. So many vehicles of this stripe make you struggle when you want to open things up and I�m surprised someone hasn�t thought of this before. Full marks here.
In fact, there�s isn�t much to complain about inside, period. The shift lever is set halfway up the centre console and is easy to get at and quite usable. I was slightly surprised Toyota hasn�t installed a column shifter here, but it doesn�t seem to make much difference either way. A multi-information display is located atop the dash and it tells you things like outside temperature and whether or not one of the doors is ajar. You can also adjust the size of the display itself, which is kind of cool. After I had driven this car for awhile, it struck me how thoroughly Toyota has mastered the craft of making automobiles. I�m not sure the market needs a rig like the Venza, but either way, Toyota knows what customers want and gives it to them. In this case, I suppose the Venza is aimed at those folks who want a bit more room to carry stuff, but have had it with mini-vans and oversize SUVs.
Aside from the fact that the wheels look kind of freakishly large and the V6 is a little headstrong under hard acceleration, I can find little to complain about with the Venza. It�s easy to get in and out of, comfortable once you�ve settled in, reasonably roomy, and smooth in operation. Some may find the interior fittings a little on the bland side, but that�s not news. Toyota has always aimed for the middle ground and mainstream buyers; it knows its markets and the current economic downturn notwithstanding, has the numbers to prove it.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Five-passenger crossover
Base Price: $29,970; as tested: $33,430
Engine: 3.5 litre V6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Horsepower/Torque: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm/ 246 foot-pounds @ 4700 rpm
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.0 city; 7.6 hwy, regular.
Alternatives: Nissan Murano, Ford Flex, Mazda CX-9, Infiniti EX35, BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Ford Flex, Buick Enclave.
Likes: Just about everything.
Dislikes: Smidgeon of torque steer during hard acceleration, interior kind of bland.