Smooth, fluid lines and aerodynamic sculpting characterize the Toyota Venza, which is slightly shorter and lower overall than most crossover SUVs.
Viewed from the front, a high, wide grille that flows into flame-shaped headlamps functions to accentuate the wide stance of the car. The combination of lamp types gathered in the headlamp clusters, contrasted with the simple. separate fog lamps below, creates a crisp, technical feeling.
A few changes for 2013 highlight and emphasize everything we already liked about the design. It wasn't until we saw the bold simplicity of the 2013 grille, just a substantial chrome outline with a single, equally substantial bar across the middle, that we realized how fussy the old grille looked. Another bright outline within the sides and bottom of the lower air opening naturally extends the shape of the upper grille, and changes what was previously a purely functional gap in the fascia into an integral element of the overall design. Eliminating the former full-bright foglamp bezel for just a bright outline restores balance, subtracting some bright stuff to compensate for adding it elsewhere.
On the XLE, the row of LED running lights that defines the inboard ends of the headlamp clusters seem to reach for the lower grille trim, and vice versa, adding intriguing visual tension. A mid-cycle facelift can ruin a car when stylists exchange a good, original design for one that's merely different. Fortunately, that hasn't happened here. Instead everything the Toyota designers have done with the 2013 Venza has made a good design even better.
In profile, the Venza appears sleek and contemporary, thanks to low rocker panels and narrow doorsills, much more like a car than a SUV. In keeping with the FT-SX concept vehicle that inspired the design, the wheels are placed out at the corners of the body, snugly positioned in the wheelwells, and there is minimal overhang on either end.
The 20-inch wheels of the V6 versions become especially prominent, suggesting something surefooted in everyday driving, even sporty on a winding road. Their five spokes are dramatically three-dimensional, whereas the standard 19-inch, 10-spoke wheels look clean, machined, and high-tech.
At the rear, S-shaped tail lamps contribute to the sporty feeling; subtly changed for 2013, the round elements inside are now more prominent. The end result is to convey the impression of a smart, modern, practical car. Most of all, the design conveys Toyota's long-view DNA, a way of saying that none of the Venza's visual elements are clichés likely to become dated or out of style during the life of the car.
The Toyota Venza is intended to be a refined, potentially luxurious alternative to a five-passenger sedan while offering more cargo and passenger space. So the interior has been endowed with an unusual mix of qualities, selected to combine the easy-to-drive attributes of a premium car with high-utility flexibility of an SUV.
Keyless entry allowed us to just walk up to the Venza and hop in; all five doors unlock at one touch (if programmed that way). The Venza is easy to get into, because the step-in height is quite low, same as a Camry, while the higher roofline makes entry easier for taller people. Once in the seat, we pressed the Start button and the instrument panel came to life, brightly lit and highly visible. Less noticeable is the sound of the engine because the Venza is very quiet at idle.
Seat quality is appropriate for a car that might convey a family and their pets on long-distance drives. The cushion length and seat back width are designed for comfort, and there is just enough side bolstering to allow for side-to-side support when the driving is more spirited. The seating position is a tad higher than the average car, more like a minivan, which affords easier visibility of the road ahead. The power seats have a nice range of adjustment, easily accommodating our average frame, and the steering wheel telescopes and adjusts about an inch and a half, each way. It takes only a moment to adjust for legroom and seat angle, set the mirrors, and select Drive.
From the inside, the feeling is of spaciousness, especially in the front row. The front dash layout uses a cleverly arched console and centrally mounted information pod to make it appear as though 60 percent of the front space is devoted to each side.
Both the leather and the cloth models boast high-quality interiors. Both include a nicely textured dash. The cloth interior makes use of carbon-fiber accents for a high-tech appearance, while the leather interior has satin-finish wood-grain accents to achieve a clean, modern take on classical materials. Both convey the look and feel of quality. The shift lever is canted slightly to the driver's side. Whether cloth or leather, the interior color is ivory, light gray, or black, depending on the exterior paintwork.
The instrument cluster prioritizes an oversized speedometer, which is at the center of the cluster, with a slightly smaller tachometer to the left. Semi-circular fuel and temperature gauges are smaller and located to the right. The shift position indicator is a modest LED display at center. The instruments look good, are bright enough even when the sun hits them directly, and pleasing at night.
Twisting stalks for lights, wipers and washers, and cruise control are mounted on the steering wheel.
The center console is designed to be simple, clean, and uncluttered. New for 2013 is a touch screen for control of the audio and related functions; it occupies the same space as last year's conventional radio controls. Additional controls have been added to the steering wheel spokes as well.
The console has a soft armrest cover over an unusually deep storage area, which is highly organized. There is a built-in MP3 player cubby designed to hold players such as iPods securely. The Auxiliary plug is located out of the way, under a retracting lid that houses cup holders, and the wire can be run so that it is hidden while in use, providing near-perfect integration of the iPod into the Venza's interior. There is also a covered slot that made a perfect place to put our cell phone. The doors have bottle holders and a map slot.
Optional on the LE, and standard on XLE and Limited is Toyota's Entune multi-media system. Entune integrates your mobile smartphone with the Venza's on-board navigation and audio systems. It also supports popular apps such as Bing, OpenTable, and movietickets.com, along with accessing useful travel-related services, such as live weather, traffic, fuel information (location and price), stocks, and sports. Toyota Entune also offers a large selection of music options, including iHeartRadio's more than 750 stations, and Pandora's personalized music service. Toyota says that its audio systems, combined with Entune, provide best-in-class, advanced conversational voice recognition that helps the driver to stay focused by eliminating the need to memorize thousands of voice commands.
The rear seats are surprisingly accommodating. With the driver's seat adjusted for a 6-foot person, we easily had enough legroom to be comfortable for long trips. The 60/40 split seatbacks recline up to 14 degrees, which also enhances comfort as the hours roll by. The Venza is wider and taller overall than the Camry, though it shares the same wheelbase, and essentially the same overall length. These dimensions make the Venza appear wider and lower, and permit increased hip room, head room and a higher seating height. Interestingly, while the Venza has a little more rear seat legroom than the Camry, too, it has a little less in front. Overall passenger volume is greater in the Venza than in the Camry.
Venza is thoughtfully designed for pets. Among the available accessories are a selection of pet products, including a travel harness, rear pet barrier, a pet tent for smaller dogs, and seat cover for the rear bench seat. The harness, dog fence and tent add greatly to safety because the forces involved in a flying dog can be deadly to both dog and humans. Dogs should be secured to the floor with a safety harness, however.