2014 Toyota Venza V-6 AWD First Test
An Edge-Fighter With Potential
Stuffing the three-row Toyota Highlander with Muppets makes for a memorable ad campaign, but it doesn't leave much room for image-conscious buyers who don't need as much space. That's why Toyota also offers the two-row Venza, a bold crossover that's not nearly as popular as the more mainstream RAV4. The Venza once won a comparison against a 2009 Ford Edge Sport and 2009 Nissan Murano, but how well has the "still here" Venza aged? We drove and tested a V-6 AWD model to find out.
The carlike Toyota Venza has absolutely no pretensions of off-road ability. When the Venza first arrived in calendar-year 2008, Toyota didn't want us to think of it as a crossover, and since we refused to consider it a car, the vehicle didn't compete in any Of The Year competitions. Classification controversy aside, the 2014 Toyota Venza is designed for buyers who want a comfortably sized SUV without the stigma of a three-row such as the Highlander. Yes, the RAV4 checks that box as well, but more lead-footed drivers may be left looking elsewhere.
What really distinguishes the Venza is its V-6, a powerplant you can no longer get on a RAV4 at any price. Our 2014 Toyota Venza V-6 AWD test crossover put down some decent numbers, thanks in part to the tried-and-true 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 hp at 6200 rpm and 246 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm -- an I-4 is available with front- and all-wheel drive. Acceleration in the Venza V-6 AWD from 0-60 mph comes in 6.7 seconds, two ticks off a 2009 Venza V-6 FWD but quicker than others we've tested, including a front-drive 2011 Ford Edge SEL V-6 (7.1 seconds), an all-wheel-drive 2011 Ford Edge Sport V-6 (7.6 seconds), and an all-wheel-drive 2009 Nissan Murano SL (7.2 seconds). As you'd expect, the all-wheel-drive 2013 RAV4 I-4 doesn't come close, with 0-60 mph in 8.7 seconds and a 2009 Venza AWD I-4 in 9.1 seconds. The new 2014 Highlander in AWD form is good for a 7.1-second sprint to 60 mph.
When it comes to cargo space, though, the RAV4 can hold more stuff than the Venza, whether or not the second-row seats are folded down (38.4 cu-ft to 36.2 cu-ft, and 73.4 cu-ft to 70.2 cu-ft). And although the Venza is 9.1 inches longer overall and boasts a longer wheelbase by 4.6 inches, most buyers will find the back seats of both crossovers to be plenty spacious. You can manually recline the seatbacks in both crossovers, but the wider Venza carries a completely different visual weight when seen on the street. With the Venza's curves and its available 20-inch wheels -- 19s are standard -- the crossover appears ready for battle against the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano in a way a RAV4 never could.
In 45-65 mph passing acceleration, the CVT-equipped 2009 Murano AWD's 3.3-second time is slightly quicker than the 2014 Venza V-6 AWD's 3.5-second time. The Venza, which uses a six-speed automatic, has a helpful S mode that noticeably quickens throttle response. On the track, the Toyota completes the figure-eight course in 27.4 seconds at 0.65 g (average), beating every SUV mentioned above except the 2011 Edge Sport AWD's 27.0 seconds at 0.65 g (average). In the real world, the Venza is a thoroughly competent performer. It's clearly a car-like crossover, but it's big enough that you never forget you're behind the wheel of a 4144-pound vehicle. The Venza's all-wheel-drive system is available on the I-4 model too, and can send power to the wheels with the most traction.
The 2014 Venza Limited V-6 AWD we drove was weighed down with premium features including leather seats with contrasting piping, a dual-panel moonroof (the front panel opens), and the flashy 20-inch wheels. There's an obvious compromise with those wheels and tires -- the ride on the highway is a little stiff, but never tiring. A bigger issue might be the Venza's 40.7-foot turning radius, which is wider than that of the RAV4, Highlander, 2014 Murano, and 2014 Edge.
Inside, what we appreciate most about the Venza's interior is its incredibly flexible center stack. New-car buyers can "ooh" and "aah" about the unconventional center stacks of the Chrysler 200 and Lincoln MKZ sedans, but the Venza's is equally practical. A specially designed cellphone holder hides the cord that charges the device from below. and there's a similarly clever holder for a second device to the left of two cupholders. Two deep compartments are made possible by a gear-selector stalk placed higher than in most vehicles, but the tradeoff is worth it.
Inside, the Venza shows its age is from behind the wheel. The instrument cluster looks disappointingly old, especially compared to that of the 2014 Edge. Toward the top of the center stack, you'll see the available 7-inch touchscreen that comes with the navigation system. The cool CD player that hides behind the fold-out touchscreen probably won't make the trip to a redesigned 2015 or 2016 Venza, but we hope the crossover retains the 2014 model's smooth headliner material and gains the 2014 Highlander's 8-inch touchscreen. The Venza's 3.5-inch info screen at the top of the dash is helpful, but like the instrument cluster, it can't display redundant navigation directions.
With the RAV4 and Highlander regularly delivering much higher sales than the Venza, the door is wide open for Toyota to create an even more risk-taking Edge-fighter. As a design halo for Toyota crossovers, the Venza could offer an interior color scheme other than tan, gray, and black. An available head-up display and active braking safety technology would give it a modern feel, and why not push the styling envelope a bit more? The rear blind spots can't get much worse than those in the current model.
To be fair, the same is probably true of the new-for-2015 Nissan Murano, which will go up against the redesigned 2015 Ford Edge. If a new Venza is on the way in the next couple years, we hope the higher-trim models are more adventurous than the current crossover. For now, the 2014 Venza drives well enough to warrant consideration for anyone considering a RAV4 but willing to pay for a more premium feel and a V-6.
|2014 Toyota Venza V-6 AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,650|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.5L/268-hp/246-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4144 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||189.0 x 75.0 x 63.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 91.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||117 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.4 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18/25/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.94 lb/mile|