Speaking of the engine, it's Toyota's familiar 3.5-liter mill, found in everything from the RAV4 to the Highlander, Sienna Minivan, Camry, and Avalon, as well as the Lexus RX 350. As expected from a Toyota six-cylinder, noise, vibration, and harshness are well-subdued, and power output is sufficient for the vehicle's weight. However, with a curb weight of slightly more than two tons on the AWD model, the sensation of 268 horsepower isn't quite as stirring as it would be in a 500-pound lighter Camry or RAV4. As with many current Toyotas, the driving experience isn't especially engaging. However, considering the vehicle's intended mission, canyon-carving probably wasn't a high priority on the suspension engineers' checklist. Getting back to the theme of sacrificing function for beauty, however, the 20-inch wheels deliver a ride firmness that hints at handling prowess that the suspension simply can't deliver. Taking a corner at anything more than a moderate pace elicits screeches and and howls from the tires. Appreciate the dubs for their style, but don't expect dramatic performance.

Although the Venza cuts an unmistakably dashing profile on the outside, the interior is a mixed bag. There's nothing exceptionally objectionable about the styling or materials, but the interior does not have the same cohesiveness and elegance as the exterior. There's an odd, indeterminate texture applied across much of the interior plastic that is an attempt at a woodgrain or faux leather, but succeeds at neither. A similar and more subdued texture is applied on the leather seats, and it works a little better, but still comes across as a bit contrived.

Ergonomically, the Venza is somewhat of an adjustment. When I first sat down and oriented myself with the controls, I looked around for a display readout for the air conditioning controls. Somewhat counterintuitively, the temperature and fan settings are displayed on a 3-inch-square LCD display in the middle of the dashboard, up high in a central unibrow area. It's not that jarring once you get used to it, but the placement seems like an afterthought.

Compared to its most logical peers, the Honda Crosstour, Nissan Murano, and Ford Edge, the Venza offers similar capabilities. Comparably equipped, the prices are pretty close, too. So what is there to recommend the Venza over its rivals? Well, if you're predisposed to think favorably of Toyota products, it has that going in its favor. It's the best-looking of the bunch, especially from a rear three-quarter angle. However, the interior has the oddest layout and materials.