The Venza is back. In case you forgot, the Venza was previously a midsize two-row crossover that debuted back in 2008, but it left the US market in 2015. Now five years later Toyota has brought back the Venza as a new crossover that slots between the RAV4 and Highlander in the lineup.
If you’ve been to Japan, the new Venza may look familiar to you, since it’s based on the JDM Harrier. But unlike the Harrier, which is available with hybrid and non-hybrid powertrains, the 2021 Venza is only available as a hybrid. Given the fact that it’s only available with a four-cylinder hybrid powertrain, the Venza is easily outmatched by other midsize crossovers, like the Honda Passport and Jeep Grand Cherokee with their more powerful V6 engines. But on the flip side the Venza gets up to 40 mpg.
On the outside, the new Venza is a light years better looking than the somewhat dorky first-generation Venza. The exterior is sleeker and with an overall shape that’s closer to the Lexus NX and RX crossovers. It also looks more upscale and classier than the RAV4, although they are both based on the same TNGA platform. The coupe-like roofline, slim headlights and full-width rear light bar also help give the Venza a more luxurious look and feel.
Inside the luxurious theme continues with an interior that feels and looks more luxurious than the RAV4 and Highlander. Higher trim levels have faux leather on the door panels and dash, which again make the Venza feel like it should have a Lexus badge on the steering wheel. Our Limited tester also had comfy leatherette heated and ventilated front seats. The backseat is also comfortable and there’s plenty of space, even if the Venza’s total passenger space is less than the RAV4’s (95.0 cubic feet compared to 98.9 cubic feet).
The Venza also has some great tech features. The most notable is something that Toyota calls Star Gaze, which is basically an electrochromic panoramic glass roof that’s frosted to keep light out of the cabin, but then at the push of a button the glass clears to let all the light in.
There’s also a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen, but our Limited tester had a large 12.3-inch display. It is larger than you can get in the RAV4 and comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa. The screen uses Toyotas Entune infotainment system, which isn’t the best. It displays too much info and some of the graphics look a bit off. The larger screen also does way with traditional volume and tuning knobs, which have been replaced by touch-capacitive buttons. Other automakers have tried this, like Honda, but they aren’t easy to use. Luckily the smaller screen has the knobs.
The 2021 Venza comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which bundles lots of driver assistance tech features, like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control. lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and road sign recognition.
There’s only one powertrain option in the new Venza. It’s a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with three electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. Two of the electric motors are at the front and the third is mounted at the rear to give the Venza standard all-wheel drive. The powertrain generates a total 219 horsepower, which is the same as the RAV4 Hybrid. In most situations, the all-wheel drive system sends all the power to the front and only when extra traction is needed, do the rear wheels come online.
The 2021 Venza is rated at 40 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined. Those specs are slightly lower than the RAV4 Hybrid, which is rated at 41/38/40 mpg.
If you’re wondering if a Venza Prime plug-in hybrid is in the works, sadly Toyota says that it has no plans for one.
The Venza weighs 3,900 pounds, so it’s no surprise that it isn’t necessarily quick off the line, but the electric motors do provide instant torque, which makes it feel a little sport around town. If you want a more fun driving experience you can select Sport mode.
Buyers who buy the Venza won’t be expecting a high performance crossover here, but they will like how smooth and comfortable the Venza is. Again it drives more like a Lexus than a RAV4. The suspension does a good job of keeping the ride smooth and at the same time there isn’t too much body roll. It’s also a bit quieter than the RAV4, but the engine does get a bit loud under full throttle.
How much does it cost? The Venza is offered in three trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. The 2021 Venza LE starts at $33,645, including the destination fees, while the top spec Venza Limited starts at $40,975.