When SUVs were all the rage, companies dolled up station wagons and relabeled them as SUVs. (Look at the first-generation Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V.) Now that the SUV market has cooled, the industry is going in the opposite direction-crossovers are being marketed as sedan alternatives. The all-new Toyota Venza is wider and taller than the Infiniti EX, longer and wider than the RX 350, and nearly the same size as the Ford Edge, yet Toyota doesn't want it labeled as a crossover. The idea is that the Venza is 70-percent car, 30-percent SUV. Further complicating things, the EPA classifies it as a truck.
The platform comes from a mix of Toyota components. The floorpan involves elements of three platforms welded together: Highlander up front and beefed-up Camry in the middle, with the rearmost portion unique to the Venza. However, its suspension, MacPherson struts in front and dual link/struts in the rear, was lifted from the Highlander, with retuned springs and shocks to provide a more carlike ride. Ground clearance is identical to that of the Highlander, at 8.1 inches, but it's rumored Toyota is going to lower that by as much as 0.75 inch for 2010. Nineteen-inch wheels are standard with the four (tires on our tester are Toyo Open Countrys), 20s with the six (Michelin Latitudes); in both cases, the temporary spare is a 165/90D18 Bridgestone, stored under the cargo floor. Despite the high ground clearance and large wheels and tires, one thing that does push this vehicle closer to a car than an SUV is its height: The roofline is nearly six inches lower than the Highlander's and four to five inches lower than that of the Edge. It even sits lower than the RAV4.
Propelling the Venza is a choice of two engines: a new 2.7-liter, 182-horse inline-four and a 3.5-liter, 268-horse V-6, seen in the Camry, Highlander, and RAV4. Both are backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, but because Toyota made serious changes to it to reduce weight when backing the four, the automatic has a different model designation with each engine, and Toyota considers them different transmissions. Four- and six-cylinder models are available with FWD or AWD. Toyota wouldn't confirm that a hybrid option is coming, but it would make perfect sense (so would using this platform as the basis for the next-generation RX).