For the first day or two that I had the 2021 Toyota Venza I was confused as to what its purpose was. Like some crossovers, I feel they are just there to rake in money for the automaker. They don’t really need to stand out or be that great, because they’re just lifted sedans that have a hatchback design and are sold for thousands more dollars over their sedan counterparts. But some are also quite useful and actually serve a purpose for a growing family.
In day three of my week long “ownership” of the Venza I had to take a two hour trip to bring some things to my parents’ house. A two hour highway drive isn’t anything big. I can drive two hours without issue, but when it’s at night, like my drive was, and on a straight shot, it gets boring. You get antsy, ready to get out and walk around for a minute, you shuffle in your seat a little bit, and you try and decide whether you’re actually hungry or just bored hungry.
It was halfway through and then at the end of the drive that I noticed something quite unique. I was talking to my wife and said, “Ya know, I really like the seating position of this car. I think it’s really, really comfortable.” Then once at my destination, I later realized that when getting out of the car I didn’t stretch my back, my legs, or feel like I wanted to relax. That’s when it hit me: not once during my drive did I move in my seat. I listened to Howard Stern, as I mostly do, talked on with a couple of people on the phone, and just drove. The sound system is ample, the vehicle is pretty quiet, and the Hybrid motor means it’s quite frugal. But it’s the really nice driving position and amazing comfort that really struck me. The next day I had to drive back home, and once again, at the end of the trip I was fresh as daisies. I have made that same 2-hour drive for about 15 years now. Never have I ever driven a more relaxing vehicle. That is no bullshit. Now I’ve not driven or ridden in a Rolls-Royce Phantom or Ghost, or any of the Bentleys. But I have driven in a number of the highest-end luxury cars from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Lexus.
So the more I drove the 2021 Venza, the more I came to realize there’s a purpose for it beyond the usability, or somewhat lack there of. Not only is it visually striking, but it’s a luxurious ride that goes beyond its MSRP.
My 2021 Toyota Venza was a Limited trim, and all Venzas have a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Hybrid powertrain with all-wheel drive. The gas motor by itself makes 176 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, and 163 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. You can use a minimum of 87 octane, or up to 93. When it comes to the Hybrid motor, it is a Permanent Magnet Synchronous that has a total electric output of 118 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque. Together, between the gas and hybrid motors, the Venza makes a combined 219 horses. All Venzas are standard with all-wheel drive and an eCVT, or electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.
Toyota, rather uniquely for a car of this price, has a trick up its sleeve in giving the Venza all-wheel drive. The gas-powered motor plus two of the hybrid motors handle the front wheels, while one hybrid motor powers the rear wheels. Clever, guys and gals.
Let’s talk about that MSRP, though. The base Venza LE starts at $32,570, while the XLE is $36,100, and the Limited runs $39,900. The as-tested price of my 2021 Venza Limited was $43,525. The non-standard options for my car were the $725 Advanced Technology Package with head-up display that has speedometer and hybrid system indicators, and rain-sensing variable windshield wipers, Star Gaze panoramic roof (more on that later) that costs a worth-it $1,400, and finally $425 for the premium Ruby Flare Pearl. Honestly, the color is nice, but it’s not for me. My aunt and uncle loved it, but I’d option the Venza in black or grey. Oh, I almost forgot the $1,175 delivery and handling fee.
The previously mentioned Star Gaze panoramic roof is a feature that allows you to make the ceiling clear or hazed. Pressing a button above the rearview mirror either lets all the light in, or when you touch the button the glass immediately has this smoked appearance. It’s both trippy and cool, and works brilliantly. If you’re into photography and/or video, it essentially acts as a light diffuser. Sadly, though, because of Star Gaze, the roof does not open up. That’s a bummer, although I can’t imagine the crowd the Venza’s aimed at is big on opening a sunroof.
The Venza comes standard with an insane array of equipment, such as a Qi-compatible (said like chee) wireless charger, four USB ports, two front, two rear, brake hold (push this button and once you come to a complete stop you can take your foot off the brake and it’ll hold you still until you hit the throttle), and 8 total cup and bottle holders throughout the car, to name a few.
However, the amount of standard safety equipment is staggering. You can see it all pictured below.
Okay, so it’s not all wine and roses. While the Venza was a nice surprise, there are inherently some things I think Toyota missed the mark on. First, the car is not at all speedy. Car and Driver took the Venza to 60 mph in 7.6-seconds, which I can easily believe. While you don’t need it to be fast, it can feel sluggish. The best place for it is around town or cruising on the highway. Leaving a traffic light or merging on to the highway, for me, was a lowlight.
Whether or not the Venza is quick might not be a deterrent for some, but the worst part about the 2021 Venza is the slightly worse than average cargo capacity. Toyota’s RAV4 is slightly cheaper, larger, faster, and can tow. Behind the RAV4’s rear seats you’ll find 37.6 cubic feet of space and then 69.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down. Compare that to the Venza’s 28.8 and 55.1 cubic feet with the seats up and then folded.
A 2021 RAV4 Hybrid Limited trim with the most expensive boxes ticked, with the same $425 Ruby Flare Pearl paint, you’ll end up spending $38,875, including the $1,120 destination and handling fee. That’s nearly $5,000 in savings. It should be said, though, that while the RAV4 Hybrid and Venza share the overall same power output and Hybrid type, the Venza has a lithium-ion battery pack versus the RAV’s nickel-metal-hydride.
It’s about now you might be asking, “Who is this car really for, though?” That’s a tough one to answer, because it’s smaller inside than a RAV4, only comes in a hybrid, and doesn’t offer a full-size crossover experience from a cargo capacity standpoint. I couldn’t help but think this is the perfect retiree car, though. That or the kids are out of the house and on to college type of vehicle. You no longer need to be the soccer mom or dad, and you don’t have to worry about how you’ll fit the kids, the dogs, and all of the groceries. Instead, it’s the groceries or the pets, and no more kids. Or, you’re a widow or widower, someone who is retired and looking for a good, honest vehicle that has a high level of comfort, ease of getting in and out, maybe a little space for doing a weekend run to Lowe’s or Home Depot for mulch, plants, a new wheelbarrow, or maybe some tools. However, you will need to contend with a higher than average load floor in the rear hatch that is 32 inches off the ground. The Venza is usable for a couple or single person. In return for your $43,000 you’ll receive good fuel mileage thanks to a non-plug-in hybrid motor, all-wheel drive for year-’round living, a great, and a easy-to-use infotainment.
One other thing you’re getting with all new Toyotas, and of course this makes the Venza’s price seem more palpable for some: you get ToyotaCare. ToyotaCare is a 2-year, 24,000 mile free maintenance plan. All of your regular service that consists of oil changes, tire rotations, and adding fluids is free for you for 2 years, or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. The Venza, as well as all other Toyotas, have a 5,000 mile service interval.
The 2021 Toyota Venza in XLE and Limited trims earn the IIHS Top Safety Pick, but the LE trim does not due to a rating of acceptable for its headlights. Outside of the headlights, the crash ratings, crash-avoidance/prevention systems, and Latch positions for car seats, the Venza ranks as Good, Good+, and Superior in every single category.
In the end, I liked the 2021 Toyota Venza Limited. It’s attractive, extremely comfortable, and gets decent fuel mileage. I do not think this vehicle is for everyone, though. If you need a crossover with space and driving ability, go grab the RAV4 Hybrid. The Venza isn’t small on the inside, though, it’s just more of a coupe crossover design, similar to that of a BMW X4, Mercedes-Benz GLC, or an Audi Q8. Sadly, I didn’t like the fact that it has no sunroof, even though I love Star Gaze. By far the worst offense to me, however, is the fact that there is still a prop for when you open the hood. Why? For Toyota it would cost them next to nothing to add hydraulic hood lifts. Hell, for most cars it’s less than $100 to buy an aftermarket hood lift kit on Amazon. Come on, Toyota. But I can’t take too many points off for that since the Venza is charming in other ways. If you’re an empty nester who doesn’t need to tow anything, but you want something you can easily slide in and out of, hold a good amount of groceries and maybe some weekend hardware and home projects from Lowe’s or Home Depot, I say this is the one for you.