2009 Toyota Venza
 2009 Toyota Venza
 the interior
 lots of room for a dog
 the backend beckons

My first thought when presented with the 2009 Toyota Venza was...Seems like a pretty gutsy move at this time to roll out a new car with a straight gasoline engine; no plans for hybrid or flex fuel models.

Maybe it's just me, the California eco-nut, but even with gas prices plummeting I still have this belief that gas economy and alternative fuels will factor predominantly in the minds of new car buyers. Perhaps. But evidenced by the dearth of SUVs on the road, there is always a market for multi-function vehicles; crossovers.

Especially ones as sleek looking as the Venza. Born from the FT-SX concept car first shown at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, the styling of the Venza has retained the futuristic look that attracted so much attention at the show. Not quite an SUV and not quite a sedan - think the sharpest looking station wagon you've ever seen and you'll be on the right track.

During the test drive while stopped at a small park, a couple approached and wanted to know about our ride, so sparkly new and classy in its appearance. Score one Venza.

Toyota customers were asking for an ideal balance between an SUV and a sedan. The Venza combines the luxury of the Avalon, the utility of the Highlander and the value of the Camry in a very satisfactory package. Fold-down 60/40 rear seats create plenty of cargo space for your SUV needs. The ride is soft and luxurious with just enough sport to handle winding back roads pretty easily. (I was driving the V6 AWD model.)

Your sightline in the Venza is higher than the Camry, striking a nice balance between typical SUV high rides and sedan low rides. The ease of getting in and out of this vehicle deserves a mention.

Toyota lowered the rocker panels and narrowed the doorsills. Especially for the times when I'm in a skirt and heels, this feature will make it a piece of cake to slide in and out of the driver's seat.

Here's an unexpected bonus: the 4 cylinder Venza comes standard with 19 inch wheels, and the V6 sports 20 inchers! The large wheels definitely contribute to this car's stylish edge.

The complete list of standard features is impressive. Included are a remote keyless entry system, cruise control, a large center console to hold phones, etc with a smart cord-routing system, two front and one cargo area 12V aux power outlets, dual zone climate control, power outside mirrors and a rear seat personal reading lamp my daughter would love.

Like most women, the color of a car has the ability to thrill me. With the Venza, I found a luscious new sparkly chocolate brown called Golden Umber Mica that couldn't have looked better against the brilliant fall leaves in Pennsylvania. If brown doesn't do it for you, there is a striking palette of nine colors, sure to please everyone.

An aside about the acoustics of this car. When you are sitting in the back seat, conversations in the front seat are remarkably easy to hear. Toyota touted this attribute, and I confirmed it. Gone was the typical conversational isolation of the person in the rear!

One of the factory sound options for the Venza is a JBL Synthesis surround sound system with 13 speakers and tons of features. Rob Meyers, JBL's Senior Marketing Manager, gave me a tour of the system. It was like sitting in the middle of the band; audiophiles will be elated. Interestingly enough, even when the stereo was cranked up to medium loud, I could still hear a normal voice in the front while sitting in the rear. Whether these acoustics were carefully engineered (JBL) or a happy accident - I love it. No more yelling to communicate with the teenagers in the back seat.

Another available option is the panoramic roof, which I experienced in the Venza I test drove. When both the sun shades are open the visibility is indeed panoramic. The front moon roof has a power tilt and slide to open; a position we only tested briefly with the 35 degree weather in Pennsylvania.

Comparing impressions with other journalists, we quickly discovered that the Venza was a big hit with the Boomers, but not as much with the younger crowd.

Since many Boomers are enjoying their kids grown and gone from home, how creative of Toyota to offer a line of pet accessories...to use with the dogs we got to take the place of the grown kids. Harnesses, booster seats (!), tethers and even a rear hatch pet ramp for when Fido gets a little old. This line of Pet Products was kicked off with the Venza. Fido never had it so good.

Yes, the Venza fits the bill for a classy, competitive, crossover vehicle and will not break the bank. MSRP on standard models ranges from $25,975 to $29,250. Mileage estimates from Toyota were 21/29 for the 4 cylinder and 19/26 for the V6.

In these uncertain automotive times, a fact you might appreciate: the 2009 Toyota Venza will be assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky and more than 70 percent of its components will come from North American suppliers.

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