Introduced in 2009, the 2009-2012 Toyota Venza is radically different from Toyota's other mainstream products. Although technically considered a crossover SUV, the Venza's low roofline and long hood make it appear much more wagon-like, on par with the Subaru Outback and Honda Crosstour. The Venza is also wider than most cars in its class, with more hip room than the Crosstour, Outback or Murano. More hip room means a wider rear seat, which makes it easier to seat three adults or, as is the case with growing families, a set of child safety seats. Beyond its versatile hatchback design and cavernous interior, the Venza offers a level of luxury and sophistication seemingly above its Toyota pedigree.

Why You Want It

The Venza's desirability all depends on the desirer's primary needs. Those looking for a fuel-efficient, midsize car that isn't a slug on the freeway will find the Venza's 4-cylinder engine delivers on both counts. Similarly, those who require the added traction afforded by all-wheel drive (AWD) can have it on both the 4-cylinder and V6 models. There is no denying that those seeking a big backseat will be happy with the Venza, which offers more leg, hip and shoulder room than just about every other wagon or SUV in its price range. And penny-pinchers that pride themselves on their thriftiness will love the Venza's reputation for reliability and strong resale.

If you don't require a third row seat, Toyota's Venza makes an excellent family vehicle. It's big enough to fit a family of five, includes a large and easily accessible cargo area and enough luxury amenities to make the family wagon feel more like a little Lexus SUV.

Notable Features & Options

Early model Venzas (2009-2011) have no separate trim designations, just a single model with numerous option packages. In 2012, a three tier trim line was added to include LE, XLE and Limited models. Standard equipment for the Venza includes steering wheel controls for the audio, climate and cruise, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, an 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, fog lights, a color keyed spoiler, 19-in wheels (20-in on the V6) and an AM/FM/CD sound system with (after 2010) iPod integration, USB and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Available features include leather seating, power driver and passenger seat, panoramic sunroof, a power rear liftgate, keyless entry and push button start, HID headlights, a rear backup camera, voice-activated navigation, JBL high-end audio with 13 speakers and powered subwoofer, all-wheel drive and heated front seats.

Model Milestones

2010 - A USB port and iPod integration are added to the standard audio, as is Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.

2011 - The Venza's option list is simplified into a few well-equipped packages.

2012 - LE, XLE and Limited trims are introduced, each offering a varying level of equipment. Limited models offer only the V6 engine, while LE and XLE trims come standard with the 4-cylinder engine but can be upgraded to the V6.

Engines and Performance

Standard power for the Toyota Venza comes from a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 182 horsepower and 183 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic with uphill/downhill shift logic is the only transmission offered. Fuel economy for the 2.7-liter is rated at 21 miles per gallon city and 29 mpg highway; AWD models achieve a slightly lower 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. Optional on the Venza is Toyota's silky smooth 3.5-liter V6. This engine produces 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque, yet its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy figures don't deviate far from the 4-cylinder engine, rated at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with front-wheel drive and 18/25 mpg with AWD.

With the 2.7-liter under the hood, the big Venza is surprisingly capable. It accelerates well and even has adequate power for passing slower traffic. Add on a few hundred pounds in the form of passengers and cargo, however, and the need for the V6 becomes apparent. We like the overall driving feel of the Venza, although some did find the ride too harsh due to the large wheel/tire combination. The electric assist power steering also felt numb at times, usually at lower speeds. On the highway, however, the steering is fairly heavy and accurate and the brakes performed consistently after repeated use. Also worth mention is the Venza's ability to block noise from the cabin, even at highway speeds. However, on certain road surfaces, we did observe a noticeable drone from the wheel wells, a product of the large 19 and 20-in tires.

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued the following recalls for the 2009-2011 Toyota Venza:

2009-10 - A recall was issued to fix a problem with the shape of the accelerator pedal. Under certain conditions, the pedal could get stuck on the floor mat causing it to remain depressed.

2009-2011 - A recall was issued for a possible defective brake light switch that could result in loss of rear brake lights.

We should note that the 2009-2011 Toyota Venza was included in the recall related to uncontrolled acceleration in Toyota vehicles. While there was a lot of media coverage and Toyota recalled nearly eight million cars, an exhaustive study by both NASA engineers and NHTSA could find no flaws with the electronics in Toyota vehicles.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, the 2009-2012 Toyota Venza scored well in both the government and the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests. NHTSA gives the Venza with side airbags five out of five stars for the driver and passenger in the front end crash test and five stars for the driver and passenger in the side impact crash test. The Venza earns four out of five stars in the rollover test. The 2011 and newer Venza receives three stars in the frontal crash test and five stars in the side impact test. This change is due to a revision in the way the government performs and evaluates their crash tests and is not a result of any changes made to the vehicle by the manufacturer. IIHS also gives the Venza its highest marks in the offset front crash test, side impact test and roof strength test.

The 2009-2012 Toyota Venza has a 3-year/36,000 mile basic warranty and a 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. Extended warranties purchased when the car was new are transferable, so be sure to inquire if the vehicle you are buying has an extended plan. Toyota also offers a line of Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicles through its dealerships. If you purchase a Certified Pre-Owned Venza, the warranty coverage for the powertrain is extended to 7-years/100,000 miles from the vehicle's original in service date. CPO cars also come with a 12-month/12,000 mile comprehensive warranty, one year of roadside assistance, and a free CARFAX report. Best of all, Certified customers are eligible for standard new car financing rates. Vehicles that qualify for the CPO program cannot be older than six years or have more than 85,000 miles on the odometer. To learn more about the Toyota CPO program, visit their website at www.toyotacertified.com.

Word on the Web

Consumer watchdog groups such as Consumer Reports give the Venza high marks for engine, drivetrain and overall reliability. However, we did find quite a few individual consumers posting complaints about rattles, squeaks and interior build quality -- an area Consumer Reports feels could also use some work. We also found a number of owners complaining about the way the Venza's transmission shifts, the rough ride when wearing 20-in wheels, and the somewhat subpar quality of the plastics and materials used inside. On a positive note, owners had high praise for the Venza's roomy interior, comfortable seats and good fuel economy (for 4-cylinder models).

Competitive Set

Honda Crosstour - The Crosstour gets better fuel economy and has more powerful engine choices than the Venza, but its looks are somewhat polarizing, its interior is not as roomy and its raked rear hatch is not as accommodating for bulky cargo.

Subaru Outback - The Outback costs less than the Venza, features standard full-time all-wheel drive and it gets better fuel economy. But, the Venza has a bigger backseat, better navigation and audio options and more upscale features, like the panoramic moonroof and power rear liftgate.

Nissan Murano - The Murano offers a sportier driving experience, more front seat legroom and can tow more weight (3,500 lb vs 1,500 lb). But, the Murano doesn't offer a 4-cylinder model, its rear seat and cargo area are not as big as those in the Venza and it has worse fuel economy.

Auto Trader Recommendations

We think most people will be quite happy in a nicely equipped front drive XLE V6; all-wheel drive isn't necessary unless you live in a place where snow is a constant threat. For those less concerned with power, the 4-cylinder model is also quite nice, especially with its improved fuel economy. 2009-2011 models won't have trim names; just search for the V6 models and they usually come with most of the option boxes checked.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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