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2021 Toyota Venza: A sleek and efficient family cruiser

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2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

My parents have one of the original Toyota Venzas, and they love it. In fact, a lot of people really loved the Venza. So much so that five years after it was discontinued, people still want to buy it, and my parents’ dealership calls them on a regular basis asking them if they’re ready to sell.

For the record: They aren’t.

But the good news is, Toyota has revealed a 2021 Venza. And even if it’s not really the same vehicle (at all), it still has a lot of the loveable attributes that made this compact SUV so popular. Plus, it adds more things to love – such as a hybrid-only powertrain and standard all-wheel drive.

From the higher ride height to the carlike handling, the all-new Venza is one of those vehicles that knocks it out of the park for me.

2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

King of the hybrids

Toyota is known for its hybrids. Though it didn’t have the first hybrid in the U.S. (that was the Honda Insight), it has probably been the most prolific hybrid builder, offering two Prius hybrid-only variants as well as hybrid powertrains on Corolla, Camry, Avalon, RAV4 and Highlander.

With the 2021 Toyota Venza entering the scene as a dedicated hybrid, Toyota now offers eight hybrids – from compact to midsize, three-row SUV.

I find that impressive. What’s even more impressive: These are good hybrids.

And the Venza might just be the best of the bunch.

2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

I recently tested the Honda CR-V Hybrid and compared it to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. The RAV4 didn’t come out the winner.

However, if I compared Venza and CR-V Hybrid, it would be a closer call, which is interesting considering Venza and the RAV4 Hybrid are similarly sized and built on the same platform.

The difference between Venza and RAV4? There’s a certain up-level quality to the Venza as well as some extra sound deadening. Plus, it felt like the hybrid system in the Venza was tweaked to be smoother. That’s not to say it was, it just felt that way.

But that falls in line with what I discussed with Ash Hack, manager of Toyota Communications, when we talked about the Toyota Venza on a recent Consumer Guide Car Stuff Podcast.

Venza is not only more up-level than RAV4 but also newer, and Toyota is always fine-tuning, so it makes sense that there might be some small change that smooths out the rough edges.

About that hybrid powertrain

The Venza comes equipped with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine plus one electric motor and a hybrid battery pack. Total power output is 219 horsepower.

This is the exact same system appearing in the RAV4 Hybrid with the exact same power output.

But, as I already mentioned it doesn’t feel the same. The Venza feels smoother and faster. In fact, in the podcast, I may have called the RAV4 Hybrid clunky in comparison.

One more thing to note is fuel economy. EPA estimates you should get about 40 mpg in combined driving, and I averaged about 37, which I won’t complain about since my driving style is on the more aggressive side of the spectrum.

2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

Not a second-gen Venza

While a lot of people might call this new Venza a second generation, it really isn’t. Sure, it’s a 5-passenger SUV, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Toyota itself has been pretty clear about the fact this is a completely different vehicle that just happens to have the Venza name.

Why would they do this? Name recognition. The original Venza was weirdly popular, and even 5-year-old used Venzas are still a hot commodity.

This new Venza has a much more refined sensibility with sleek and elegant exterior styling, up-level interior amenities and a boatload of cool technology.

Tech highlights

The most obvious bit of technology in the XLE test vehicle was the available in-your-face 12.3-inch infotainment touch screen. I don’t mind the screen that pops up over the dash, but I did have a hard time getting used to some of the functionality of this screen.

It has a side menu that flips driver’s side or passenger side, and contains HVAC, hybrid and audio information. And though I wanted the navigation map to take up the entire screen, I couldn’t figure out a way to get rid of the side screen – if you minimize one side, the other side pops up.

The best news, however, is though the HVAC controls are embedded in the screen, there are redundant hard touch controls on the center stack as well.

2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The biggest annoyance, however, was the lack of a tuning dial or volume knob. Instead you had +/- or up/down buttons that weren’t really buttons – they were capacitive touch areas on a black lacquered surface.

But back to the plus side: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard – even with the base 8-inch screen.

Though my test vehicle didn’t have it, it’s also worth mentioning one of the most innovative bits of tech we’ve seen recently. The 2021 Venza will have an available a fixed panoramic roof that goes from transparent to frosted with the touch of a button. Toyota is calling it Star Gaze, we’re calling it flipping cool!

Safety is standard

Toyota is one of the few automakers who prioritizes safety over everything else, and they were one of the first automakers that included standard safety features like automatic emergency braking in its most basic vehicles.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard, including features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, lane trace assist and road sign assist.

Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are also standard. Automatic reverse braking becomes standard at the mid-level XLE trim.

2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

Trims & pricing

The Venza has one powertrain and standard AWD, which makes the trim structure and pricing fairly simple. Plus, Toyota tends to make their vehicles fairly well contented, so you don’t have to add a lot of options and packages to get what you really want.

All prices include the $1,175 destination fee.

LE ($33,645): Includes hands-free power liftgate, passive entry on front doors, push-button start, wireless charging, four USB charge ports, 8-inch infotainment touch screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and Toyota Safety Sense 2.0.

XLE ($37,175): Adds passive entry on all doors, heated front seats, LED projector headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror and automatic reverse braking.

Limited ($40,975): Heated and ventilated front seats, digital rearview mirror, 360-degree camera display, heated steering wheel, 12.3-inch infotainment touch screen and a JBL audio system with ClariFi.

If you want to top out with the Limited trim and the tech and Star Gaze roof packages, you’re looking at $43,525.

2021 Toyota Venza

2021 Toyota Venza (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

The bottom line on the 2021 Toyota Venza

With the hybrid powertrain and standard all-wheel drive, The 2021 Toyota Venza is better in almost every way to the vehicle that preceded it. I say almost because the new model has smaller interior dimensions than the original. And interior volume was one of the huge selling points for my parents. In fact, the 2021 Venza has 7.4 cubic feet less cargo volume.

If that’s a thing for you, be sure to pay particular attention to how people and things fit inside this all-new SUV.

Outside of that, I really liked this new iteration of the Toyota Venza. The styling is sleek and futuristic, and the narrow headlights and slanted nose present an expressive face. Plus, I’m not sure how Toyota did it, but the signature gaping fish-mouthed grille actually looks good on this vehicle.

The new Venza has the potential to check a lot of boxes from luxury features to standard tech that won’t break the bank. This, if you’re looking for a five-passenger, fuel efficient family vehicle, this SUV should be on your must-test list.

Related posts:

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: 5 things you need to know

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid: A top pick among hybrids

2020 Toyota Highlander: Does next-gen SUV keep Highlander’s winning ways?

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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