2014 Toyota Venza: Odd name, odd look, all good

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Like reviewing a restaurant after only one visit, reviewing a car may be best after two test periods in the vehicle and at least separated by a few months. Welcome back to the 2014 Toyota Venza.

Seven months after first driving the oddly named Venza solo for a week, I just completely another weekly test driving the Venza. This time, it was with a colleague.

The Toyota Venza strikes many people in the same way. What is it? Just like I did, my colleague, who took the images for this review, had the same reaction. It’s neither a wagon nor a true sport utility vehicle.

Rather it’s a crossover with all-wheel drive functionality like a wagon, cargo room like an SUV and the characteristics of a daily driver sedan.

 

The 2014 Toyota Venza had surprisingly strong acceleration. All images © 2014, Bruce Aldrich, www.tahoetruckeeoutdoor.com
The 2014 Toyota Venza had surprisingly strong acceleration. All images © 2014, Bruce Aldrich, www.tahoetruckeeoutdoor.com.

The result is a combo-car with a combo name. Plenty of theories abound what Venza means, including the Spanish translation, Conquer. Toyota says the vehicle’s name is a compilation of the words Venture and Monza, the Italian racetrack.

It all makes sense, since the Venza is a compilation of cars styles and sizes.

 

Refreshed last year, the Toyota Venza has only a few minor changes for 2014. There are fewer available color combinations and slight equipment upgrades in some trims.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

The 2014 Toyota Venza is offered in base LE, mid-range XLE, and top-line Limited with V6-only transmissions. I had the top-line trim with all-wheel drive.

Iinitially I thought the Venza was a small SUV, but Toyota already has its share of large and small utility vehicles. But nor is the Venza a true wagon. Like the Subaru Outback, the Venza drives likes a car, but it’s more versatile without the bulky and sometimes cumbersome feel of an SUV.

The base and increasingly detailed trims have a long list of standard features. The Limited trim level adds: bi-xenon headlights, automatic high beams, LED running lights, front and rear parking sensors, and an upgraded navigation system with a higher-resolution 7-inch touchscreen display. There is a tow package available on all V6-powered Venzas.

Like the larger Hyundai Santa Fe, the 2014 Toyota Venza has an immediate feeling of comfort and driving ease. Its steering has been characterized as soft. But I liked the responsiveness and simplicity of the wheel play.

The suspension is tight, with undulations and sudden poor pavement handled with care. The Limited trim also has 20-inch wheels and while that could prompt comfort issues, it didn’t.

Like my first week with the Venza, my second test drive was about a 450-mile round-trip to the Monterey Peninsula. There’s a good cross-section of driving roads on the route from Sacramento — the fast-paced Interstate 5 to the small side streets of Pacific Grove. The Venza handled all roads well. It was easy to maneuver and had surprisingly quick acceleration in passing situations and on freeway entry ramps.

Likes:

Comfortable drive.

Supportive seats.

Quiet on the open road.

Interior storage compartments spacious and plentiful. I liked the multi-sliding console center the first time around. But the second, it seemed awkward and hard to maneuver

Automatic shift lever perfectly positioned at an angle to left of the console.

Automatic tailgate opener.

Large rear seat sunroof with sunshade

Dislikes:

Not great gas mileage.

The $40,000 top-line price point could be a stumbling block.

Navigation system unintuitive.

Substantial B pillar blind spot.

What, no the blind spot detection system?

Facts & Figures: 2014 Toyota Venza

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 6.9 seconds.
Airbags: (6).
Fuel economy: 18 mpg (city), 25 mpg (highway), 21 mpg (combined).
Horsepower: 268.
Transmission, 3.5-liter, 24-valve, V6 with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $39,570.00
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.toyota.com.
Price As Tested: $40,940.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; Roadside assistance, 5 years/unlimited mileage.

What Others Say:

“If you’re in the market for a 2-row family vehicle with a little extra pizzazz, consider giving this underappreciated Toyota some love.” — AutoTrader.

“Bigger than the less expensive Subaru Outback but not quite as large as the 7-passenger Highlander, the Venza appeals to people who need the power and room of an SUV, but don’t really care to own an SUV. — Kelley Blue Book.

“Comfortable, competent, and confidence inspiring, the Venza offers more stable-seeming and car-like ride and handling than most crossovers. In many respects, it feels like a heavier, taller Camry wagon behind the wheel.” — CarConnection.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“Is it a wagon, an SUV or the definitive crossover? A name is just a name, like Venza. Whatever. Toyota’s ‘tweener’ just has a lot going for it . . . comfort, style, utility and it drives like a car, not a bulky SUV.”

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