Preview: 2021 Toyota Venza
Toyota’s wagon gets rebooted into a mid-size hybrid SUV
TORONTO – After a three-year hiatus, Toyota is dusting off the Venza nameplate and affixing it to an all-new mid-size hybrid SUV.
Before you get the wrong idea, the new Venza is nothing like the old one. This isn’t that.
The second gen model, which yours truly and a few other journalists saw in person at Toyota Canada HQ earlier this week, bears no resemblance to the Camry-based, wagon-ish Venza of old. The new Venza is a five-passenger, mid-size SUV all the way and, unlike its predecessor, will be available only as a gas hybrid when it goes on sale in August as a 2021 model.
While the previous Venza was built in the U.S. on the old K platform shared with the Camry (XV40), the second-gen model is assembled in Japan on the same line that produces its re-badged twin, the Harrier, for markets outside North America.
In terms of the platform, the new Venza is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) shared with the Camry, RAV4, and Highlander and it will slot between the latter two in the lineup. Power is derived from a 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine and e-CVT used in other Toyota hybrids, including the RAV4.
In the Venza, the engine is paired with three electric motors (two front, one rear) and a lithium-ion battery pack located under the rear seat. The absence of a driveshaft means the Venza’s on-demand all-wheel drive system (AWD is standard in Canada on all trims) is powered by the rear-mounted electric motor. Total output is rated at 219 horsepower, same as the RAV4 hybrid. Toyota’s projected average fuel consumption for the base LE model is 5.9 L / 100 km.
A 2.0-litre 4-cylinder (169 hp / 153 lb-ft.) is available for the Harrier in Japan and other markets but Toyota isn’t bringing it to North America.
Why? Essentially, it’s too underpowered, but more significantly it doesn’t fit with the company’s broader electrification strategy.
“The gas engine used in Asia isn’t big enough to meet the needs of a North American buyer. But in a more practical sense, when we’re bringing new vehicles to marketplace now, we’ve said that by 2025 everything’s going to have an electrified option at a minimum,” Toyota Canada vice-president Stephen Beatty said in an interview.
“We’ve also said that some [products] may be hybrid only, they may be battery-electric only, they may be fuel cell only or plug-in hybrid. So, [Venza] along with the Sienna (hybrid-only beginning in 2021) is making good on that commitment. We’ve got to keep moving the technology along.”
Beatty also mentioned the old Venza was a better proportional seller in Canada than it was in the U.S., and hybrids account for a larger share of Toyota’s sales volume (almost 15 percent) here than they do Stateside (just under 12 percent). The old Venza even outsold the Highlander in Canada, which I found to be somewhat surprising.
Given those realities, plus the RAV4 is now the bestselling Toyota in both countries, a mid-size hybrid SUV feels like a solid bet.
When I first saw a photo of it, I was struck by how much of a Lexus feel the Venza has, and the impression is even stronger in person.
From the front three-quarter view, the Venza’s wide grille, dual-element LED headlights, raked windshield and sloping rear roofline appear to draw inspiration from Toyota’s luxury division, even though the car wears a mainstream badge. Even the 19-inch wheels (standard on Limited; LE and XLE get 18-inchers), which are unique to the Venza, appear more sophisticated.
While the execution remains solidly Toyota, the Venza has a more aspirational aesthetic, something that its predecessor did not. It’s apparent in the details, in places like the liftgate, which has a satisfying soft-close mechanism and a button that closes and locks the car.
HIGH ON CONTENT
The pre-production model I sat in was a range-topping Limited, so it was fully loaded, but Toyota Canada intends to outfit all Venzas with a lot of standard kit.
In addition to all-wheel drive and exterior LED lighting, the Venza is standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, a suite of advanced tech that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection (daytime), dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and lane tracing assist.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay also come standard, as does an 8-inch touchscreen (LE), which becomes a 12.3-inch unit on XLE and Limited models. A 4.2-inch digital instrument display is standard on the LE, while XLE and Limited models receive a 7-inch unit. Standard audio is a 6-speaker 4-channel amplifier unit, but a JBL system (9-speaker, 12-channel, 1,200-watt amplifier) is available.
Other standard items that will surely find favour are a motorized steering column and heated front seats (cooled front seats are also available on higher trims).
Moving up in the range offers more tech and content features, such as embedded navigation, 10-inch head-up display and SofTex synthetic leather seating and trim inserts, but what really got my attention was the fixed panoramic roof, which uses electrochromic glass that can be switched from clear to frosted at the push of a button. The Venza is the first Toyota to offer such a roof.
Generally, the Venza’s cabin is a lot like its exterior: it punches above its weight in terms of style, technology and content.
ARRIVING IN AUGUST
There is only so much one can glean from a static reveal, but the 2021 Venza is impressive. Lots of content, technology, style and space (1,027 litres behind the second row) all in fuel-saving hybrid form. The real question is how it will stack up in the real world. Come August, we’ll begin to find out.