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2009 Toyota Venza

By J.P. Vettraino

On Sale: Fall 2008
Expected Pricing: $23,000-$33,000

Whichever label you want to give it, the new Toyota Venza looks like a winner.

The 2009 Toyota Venza goes on sale this fall, and Toyota calls it a "crossover sedan.'' That means a fusion of characteristics that lean more toward a car than a conventional sport-utility vehicle. Think of the Venza as a station wagon and you'll probably get the point.

Of course, it doesn't look exactly like any station wagon we've seen before. Unveiled at Detroit's North American International Auto show in January, Venza drew lots of attention. Among vehicles currently available, it reminds us most of the Ford Edge crossover.

There's a lot of the Lexus RX350 in this Toyota, too, though the Venza is pressed down closer to the ground, and sleeker. Its front end is taller, but definitely molded in the theme of Toyota's current Camry sedan. The Venza's rear glass has a nice, long rake, and its taillights wrap around the rear fenders onto the hatch. Its standard wheels measure 19 inches in diameter, while 20-inch spoked alloys are optional. In sum, the Venza is one of the more handsome, interesting vehicles Toyota has launched in some time.

A look at its dimensions brings the crossover label into perspective. At 109.3 inches and 189 inches, respectively, the Venza's wheelbase and overall length match both Toyota's Camry sedan and Highlander sport-utility within fractions of an inch. In other words, the Venza's footprint on the pavement matches both Camry and Highlander closely. Yet with an overall height of 63.4 inches, the Venza slots right in the middle of the Camry and Highlander. It's ride height falls somewhere in the middle, too.

The 2009 Venza seats five, like the Camry, rather than seven like the Highlander. Its rocker height, or the lip around the bottom of its passenger doors, is low, making it easy to lift feet inside, yet the hip point for seated occupants is higher than the typical sedan's. The combination should deliver a mix many buyers seek: easy ingress and egress, with a higher seating position for a better view around tall vehicles on the road.

Toyota hasn't published cargo volume for Venza, but by appearances its capacity will fall somewhere between Camry and Highlander. There isn't as much space behind the Venza's second seat as there is in the Highlander, which has enough room for an optional third row. Yet the space in back of the Venza compares favorably to the Camry's trunk, and it increases when the rear seat backs are folded flat. A couple of easy-to-use levers allow Venza's 60/40 split rear seat to be folded from the back when the rear hatch is opened, without walking around to the side doors first. It's load floor seems lower than that in the typical SUV.

The Venza's base engine will be a big, new four-cylinder displacing 2.7 liters. Toyota hasn't released its horsepower or torque ratings. The upgrade will be the same 3.5-liter V6 offered in several Toyota products, including Camry and Highlander, generating 268 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 246 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. Both engines come with a six-speed automatic transmission, and Venza will be offered with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. With the V6 and proper equipment, maximum towing capacity will be 3500 pounds.

We'd anticipate that Venza has a fully independent rear suspension, but it's also possible that it's equipped with a space-saving solid axle of some sort. Toyota isn't saying yet and we weren't able to crawl underneath for a look. A Toyota engineer on hand at the Detroit auto show said Venza is at least partially based on the Camry. The Camry has an independent rear suspension, though that doesn't necessarily mean the Venza will.

We're sure it's fitted with a full complement of front, side and head-protection airbags, with a small knee-protection bag for the driver. It also features Toyota's new STAR active safety system, which integrates anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and vehicle stability control with a rollover mitigation system.

The Venza's dashboard splits the front portion of the cabin into two figurative halves. A prominent center stack holds most of the buttons and controls, including the dash-mounted gear selector, and drops down into a long, wide console. The largest console compartment looks big enough to hold a laptop, and it's fitted with an auxiliary audio jack and at least one 12-volt power point. The Venza's rear seatbacks recline up to 14 degrees for an extra bit of passenger comfort.

Even the least expensive Venza will come well equipped. Standard features include automatic dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, a six-CD changer, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, remote keyless entry, an electro-chromatic rearview mirror with compass, rear wiper and privacy glass. The Venza will also be offered with at least a couple of new, big-ticket options. Toyota's first panoramic sunroof has separate glass panels over the front and rear seats, with the one in front literally opening to the top of the windshield. The Automatic High Beam headlight system automatically dips to low beams for oncoming traffic, then returns to high beams when the road ahead is empty.

The 2009 Venza should reach showrooms with the traditional model year changeover in early fall 2008. It will be built at Toyota's assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky.


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