After the first generation missed the mark on customer preference, this all-new 2021 model confidently lands in an emerging space that prioritizes styling and design over space – and sometimes practicality. Being a Toyota, the Venza pushes the brand into new territory on several fronts.
Its exterior styling is by far the most eye-catching crossover from Toyota since crossovers began to exist. Its smooth front panels blend into a sharp crease that continues around the back via slim, expensive-looking LED rear taillights, and the chrome window trim stays mostly parallel with the ground for a longer look before angling upward to meet the sharply angled C-pillar. The fastback rear end takes out some cargo room but it can still handle a load of luggage to the airport with a full load of passengers.
On the highway and around town, the Venza is all about smooth sailing. Every one is equipped with Toyota’s latest hybrid system that includes an electronic rear wheel drive which delivers an impressive added boost off the line. However, due to the limited power of the hybrid system, the engine fires up for most accelerations and can become a little noisy. While there is an EV Mode, it was far easier to leave the Hybrid system to itself and best manage power along commonly used drive routes for maximum efficiency.
While the exterior and powertrain each deliver their values without notable compromise, the interior design has to deal with the everyday expectations for convenience. For example instead of additional catchall pockets, the center console is wrapped in a smooth surface of synthetic leather for dramatic effect. The shape of it also means that accessing the wireless charger requires learning forward and angling the phone to get over the shifter and around the oddly-placed start/stop button.
The physical HVAC and audio controls have been replaced by touch-sensitive buttons which provide a clean and modern look, however, they have a delay in responding and quickly become smudged like the large touchscreen which does without a secondary controller. The reduced number of buttons means that navigating through the different menus with a steady hand while heading down the road can become frustrating.
The keynote feature of the Venza lineup is Toyota’s first use of a panoramic glass roof that features an added membrane that can be electrically charged to provide a translucent appearance in the “off” setting to a clear (albeit with some haziness) surface when switched “on”. The technology helps the cabin avoid the harsh direct sunlight while retaining the spacious feeling otherwise lost with a fabric sunshade (although one is still included). At night, the feature is especially dramatic as the city lights provide a dynamic ambient glow inside. Unfortunately, a large crossbeam minimizes the wow factor and is something that other brands are able to do without.
This top-of-the-line Limited version checked out at $43,100 but its base LE trim starts $10k less while still carrying the distinctive looks and hybrid AWD drivetrain. The cream-of-the-crop trim, however, carries a larger touchscreen, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a very sharp surround-view camera system, and other features that help the Venza retain its sense of value.
The 2021 Venza is a distinctly styled and bold alternative to the popular RAV4 and the large Highlander while its standard hybrid AWD system provides the luxury of power and efficiency. Its few ergonomic missteps inside are noteworthy for a Toyota, but otherwise, this Venza has learned from its past and is dressed for the spotlight.