Toyota recently sent us a brand new 2014 Venza Limited model of their mid-size two-row crossover to test drive. The Limited is the top-of-the-line version of the Venza. Our test car was a front-wheel drive (FWD) and came with a 3.5L V6 engine, six-speed Electronically Controlled Transmission (ECT) with sequential shifting and was riding high on 20-inch five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels.
A significant refresh of the Venza in 2013 included major exterior design upgrades, more features and package options plus the inclusion of the Entune multi-media system. For 2014, Toyota tweaked the Venza a bit more adding some more features including an expanded Entune package, power outside folding mirrors and parking sonar (on some models).
We tested the 2013 Venza a year ago, just after its refresh, driving the base LE version with the 2.7L four-cylinder engine for a week. We reported here that we found it to be a very good value for the family with comfortable seating for five, a long list of standard features, reasonably priced options, nice interior accents, adequate performance (for the four-cylinder) with decent fuel economy – all for under $30,000. At that time sales were up and it appeared that the consumer was welcoming the new Venza.
A year later, we are perplexed to note that, in 2014, the Venza is not doing so well, and in fact, sales are actually off by 21 percent year to date when compared to 2013 while both the RAV4 and Highlander are up over 15 percent year to date in 2014 which suggests that they may be taking crossover market share from the Venza.
After driving the 2014 Limited with the V6, we say again that the Venza is – even more so – an extremely good option for new or existing crossover buyers. Which then begs the question of why it is not. Our view is that the Venza may well be simply losing sales as the proverbial ‘middle child’ in the Toyota crossover family.
The new (2013) generation RAV4 compact crossover (also two-row) little brother is priced almost $5,000 less across the trim lines and has most of the same features and capability in a bit smaller package that is attracting first time or entry level crossover buyers. And, for 2014, Toyota introduced the new Highlander – a bigger three-row brother for the Venza that offers more room, features and capability (plus a hybrid) – with pricing just a couple of thousand dollars more than the Venza at the LE base and Limited trim levels.
We think the Venza (as the middle brother) is getting lost in that transition from the Toyota compact two-row crossover RAV4 to the Highlander three-row mid-size crossover (with its narrow price point differential). Still, following our most recent test drive, we think the Venza deserves a lot more attention than it is getting.
Ride and Drive Test
Our 2014 Venza Limited V6 FWD came in a Cypress Pearl color with a nice complementary Ivory interior. The base price for the Limited in the FWD V6 is $38,120. Our test Venza came complete without any packages or accessory options, delivered, for $39,270.
The V6 power train on the 2014 Venza Limited makes it a very good city and highway driver. It produces 268 horsepower with 246 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated for the FWD at 19/26 mpg City/Highway with and expected average of 22 mpg. The six-speed ECT-i transmission delivers a comfortable engaging driving experience under all conditions. For more challenging conditions, the electronic uphill/downhill shift logic selects the proper gear for driving conditions and enables moderate engine braking during downhill driving.
The 2014 Venza Limited also tows. When equipped with the available Towing Prep Package it has a 3,500 pound tow capacity which gives it significant recreational flexibility for young families.
With its high profile seating giving the driver excellent sightlines that are also aided by the height of the 20-inch wheels, the 2014 Venza is also very agile with its front suspension that uses a rigid L-arm-type MacPherson strut with a stabilizer bar, and a rear suspension with a dual-link MacPherson strut setup with stabilizer bar. Handling on the road and in small parking spaces is made easy with the Electric power steering (EPS).
Even while maintaining 8.1-inches of ground clearance, the Venza design has a low center of gravity for access convenience including a 15.3-inch step-in height and a 28-inch rear load-in height that is almost as low as that of the Sienna minivan. The door design is a plus, covering the rocker panels of the Venza protecting the driver and passengers from any accumulation of road dirt and dust transferring to their clothes as they enter or exit the Venza.
We are particularly impressed with the interior of the Venza which featured leather on our Limited in the very lush Ivory. The console of the Venza is very well designed with driver and passenger convenience fully considered. Toyota calls it their ‘60/60’ design that gives both the driver and front passenger the feeling that 60 percent of the space is accessible from their seating position.
The Venza features several clever storage locations and well placed lighting making this space very functional. The adjustable center console has a sliding cover and armrest, three iPod/MP3 player holders with wire concealment features, and a large storage compartment. We would point out that the built-in phone holder and concealed wire feature easily holds even the larger Samsung Galaxy 5S smartphone.
The center-console compartment is also equipped with a USB port, auxiliary audio jack and 12-volt power outlet. The upper portion of the center console houses the gearshift lever for easy and comfortable driver reach. The dual-zone automatic climate system controls are centrally located on the upper console, providing easy access for both the driver and front passenger. An on/off switch on the overhead console enables front-seat occupants to operate all four personal overhead interior lights.
Interior storage is further complemented by a total of 10 front and rear beverage holders (six bottle holders and four cup holders). These include dual-illuminated, sliding front cup-holders in the center console, two in the rear-seat armrest, and front- and rear-door bottle holders.
The Venza’s cabin interior is very generous with 108 cubic feet of passenger room. The Venza offers ample head room, shoulder room and hip room. The front seats have almost 40-inches of headroom with over 40-inches of legroom. The rear seat offers a generous 39.1 in. of legroom. Cargo-area utility is enhanced with fold-down 60/40 rear seats, one-touch fold-down seat levers and a cargo area cover. The cargo area can hold 36.2 cu. ft. of space behind the rear seats, and the space expands to 70.2 cu. ft. with the seatbacks folded.
The standard infotainment package for the Venza Limited is the Premium HDD Navigation with Entune App Suite and JBL. It features a seven-inch high-resolution touch screen with split-screen capability, plus AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, 13 JBL Synthesis speakers including subwoofer, SiriusXM Radio, HD Radio with iTunes Tagging, auxiliary audio input, USB port with iPod connectivity and control, vehicle information display, hands-free phone capability, phonebook access, advanced voice recognition and music streaming via Bluetooth.
More Standard Features
Other standard features found in our test Venza included dual-zone automatic climate control with air filter and second-row-seat vents, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar, 3.5-inch LCD multi-information display that can be customized to adjust the font size and content, a tilt/telescopic adjustable steering wheel with integrated audio controls, an overhead console with map lights, rear-seat adjustable personal reading lights and three 12-volt power outlets.
Our Venza also had power folding outside mirrors with turn signals and puddle lamps, power lift gate and a rear back-up camera, panoramic glass roof with front power moon roof, leather-trimmed seating surfaces, steering wheel and shift knob, four-way power passenger seat, multi-stage heated front seats, driver seat memory, Smart Key System with Push Button Start and illuminated entry, front and rear parking sonar, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with automatic high beams and LED daytime running lights.
Of course, also standard on the Venza is the Toyota STAR Safety System with enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and the Smart Stop Technology (SST). The Venza also has standard Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), Brake Assist and Smart Stop offers to provide an additional level of safety by automatically reducing engine power when a vehicle’s brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously – under certain driving conditions, helping to bring the vehicle to a controlled stop. In the cabin, Venza provides seven airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, driver and front-passenger front-seat-mounted side airbags, and front and rear side-curtain airbags.
The 2014 Toyota Venza Limited V6, either FWD or AWD, is well worth serious consideration as a three-row mid-size crossover for either first time crossover buyers as well as those moving from a sedan or up from a compact crossover.