Pros: Fantastic optional V6; appealing styling; pleasant driving dynamics; available towing package
Cons: Hit-or-miss interior quality; so-so base inline-4 engine; no third-row seat
What's New: The 2013 Venza has tweaked front and rear styling, available Entune mobile app integration and two new touchscreen interfaces, including one that's hard-drive-based with music storage. Upgraded exterior mirrors with puddle lamps are also new this year.
For a sleek, stylish crossover, the 2013 Toyota Venza receives surprisingly little attention. We hear more about the 4Runner, the new RAV4 and even the Highlander with its three rows of seats. But the Camry-based 2-row Venza is the best-looking of the bunch, and there's plenty of substance behind that style. We think it's a just-right choice for many car shoppers.
If you're wondering what kind of vehicle the Venza is, think Ford Edge. In other words, it's not a small crossover but it's not huge either. It rides high, which enhances visibility, but its car-based underpinnings ensure smooth, stable handling. It's chock full of the latest technology, including a standard touchscreen display for 2013 with available hard-drive music storage. And it's not afraid to be fashion forward.
Now, there are a few reasons why you might not want to buy a Venza. There's no third row seat, even as an option, so folks needing that kind of flexibility should look elsewhere. You can't opt for a hybrid version, either; the Highlander is the only Toyota crossover offered as a hybrid. Moreover, if you want to head for the bush, you better bring a 4Runner, because even all-wheel-drive Venzas aren't equipped for off-roading.
But otherwise, the Venza comes up aces. If you're in the market for a 2-row family vehicle with a little extra pizzazz, consider giving this underappreciated Toyota some love.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Toyota Venza is offered in LE, XLE and Limited trim levels. There are minor variations within trims depending on whether you select the inline-4 engine or the V6. Note that the Limited only comes with all-wheel drive, whereas the others can be had with either FWD or AWD.
The base LE comes standard with 19-inch (inline-4) or 20-in (V6) alloy wheels, new exterior mirrors for 2013 with integrated turn signals and puddle lamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 3.5-in driver information display, an 8-way power driver seat, Optitron gauge illumination and a 6.1-in central touchscreen interface that controls a 6-speaker audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
The XLE adds a power liftgate (optional on LE), a higher-resolution 3.5-in display with a rearview camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 4-way power passenger seat, keyless entry with push-button start, simulated wood interior trim and an upgraded technology suite with a navigation system and Entune mobile app integration (optional on LE; see the Technology section below, for details). The XLE Premium Package tacks on a panoramic sunroof and a 13-speaker JBL audio system.
The Limited comes standard with the JBL audio system and panoramic sunroof, and it also has an exclusive 7-in touchscreen interface with an upgraded hard-drive-based navigation system that permits digital music storage. Also included are special alloy wheels and xenon headlamps with LED accents.
The Venza's front seats are wide and flat, so they're good at accommodating a wide range of physiques, though we'd appreciate a bit more lateral support. The driving position isn't as elevated as in some full-on SUVs, but it's appreciably higher than in any normal car. The Venza's dashboard is an odd one -- stylish and different at a glance, it reveals some questionable materials on close inspection, including strangely textured plastics and unconvincing wood trim. We still like the bold overall design, though, as well as the admirably sharp Optitron gauges.
The Venza's adult-size back seat doesn't slide, but it does recline and it folds in a 60/40 split to accommodate larger items. Cargo space, at 30.7 cu ft behind the backseat and 70.2 cu ft with the rear seatbacks folded, has generous figures for a midsize-based crossover.
Last year, the Venza received standard iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, which was nice, but Toyota saved the quantum leap for 2013. This year, even the cheapest model comes standard with a 6.1-in touchscreen interface, transforming the Venza into a cutting edge competitor on the technology front. Also, the Venza newly offers Toyota's Entune mobile app integration, which uses your smartphone to pull handy apps such as Pandora and OpenTable into that touchscreen display.
Our only complaint is that you can't opt for the hard-drive-based navigation system outside of the pricey Limited model. People listen to a lot of MP3s these days, after all, and the Limited's navigation system conveniently reserves some hard-drive space for your favorite tunes. We bet LE and XLE customers would like a piece of that pie.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Venza starts with front-wheel drive and a 2.7-liter inline-4 that's good for 182 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque. We'd be more forgiving of this engine's mediocre acceleration if it delivered exceptional fuel economy, but 21 miles per gallon city/27 mpg highway isn't all that great when the 4-cylinder Camry is rated at 35 mpg. Add the optional all-wheel-drive system and the Venza's inline-4 drops to 20 mpg city/25 mpg hwy.
Don't get us wrong, we couldn't blame anyone for saving some money and getting the four -- but keep in mind that the Venza's optional 3.5-liter V6 is really a thing of beauty. Rated at 268 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque, this ultra-refined motor feels if anything more powerful than its numbers suggest, piling on speed with remarkable authority. Moreover, its fuel economy is barely worse than the 4's, checking in at 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with front-wheel drive and 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.
All Venzas, by the way, employ a 6-speed automatic transmission and a Venza V6 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The Venza comes with standard stability control, seven airbags and active front head restraints.
In government crash testing, the 2013 Venza actually performed better than last year's model by garnering a perfect five stars overall (four stars for frontal impacts, five stars for side impacts). If you're looking at pre-owned Venzas, note that previous models received four stars overall (three for frontal, five for side).
The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meanwhile, has always had a high opinion of the Venza, awarding it the top crash test rating of Good in every category.
We've said that the Highlander SUV, also a Camry derivative, drives like a really tall Camry wagon. Scratch the really tall part and you'll have the Venza's driving dynamics in a nutshell. From the driver's seat, you're simply not aware of the Venza's added height, except when you glance around at stoplights and realize you're looking down on regular cars.
In corners, the Venza's steering is surprisingly precise and responsive for this kind of vehicle and body roll is held to moderate levels as long as you're not pushing too hard.
But more importantly, the Venza retains the Camry's smooth, quiet ride, even if road noise is elevated a bit. We'd put it this way: It drives like a Camry for people who have outgrown one.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Crosstour: The Crosstour offers a similar choice of 4- and 6-cylinder engines along with a classy, restrained interior. The exterior styling is polarizing, though.
Subaru Outback: Enduringly popular in snowbelt states, the Outback sets itself apart with standard all-wheel drive and quirky boxer engines. It's a pretty sizable vehicle now, too.
Toyota Highlander: The Highlander is more of an SUV than the Venza, for sure, but it also offers a third row seat and it uses the same engines. We'd recommend test driving both.
Since the Venza comes very well-equipped, we'd go with the base LE V6. That way, we'd get the superior 6-cylinder engine and solid technology for a very reasonable price.