2014 Toyota Venza: Versatile SUV drives like a car

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In the past eight months, the 2014 Toyota Venza and I have become good friends. For one week on each occasion, I’ve had three test sessions with the crossover, sport wagon or small SUV — however the vehicle in properly designated.

By any combination and by whatever its name means, the Venza is versatile. It’s a crossover with all-wheel drive, yes. But it’s compact and streamlined like a wagon. And it also has the characteristics of a daily driver sedan.

The 2014 Toyota Venza has surprisingly strong acceleration. 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.

Refreshed for the 2013 edition, 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 for the third time.

The base model and more elaborate detail 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. A tow package is 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 for me.

All three of my test drives with Venza were largely 450-mile round-trip to the Monterey Peninsula from Sacramento. There’s a good cross-section of driving roads on the route — 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:

“With some modernization to the interior fit and finish, and upgrades to the highway driving experience, the Venza would be well-positioned to earn a Most Improved Player trophy in coming years.” — cars.com.

“The Venza earns high marks for good fuel economy and spaciousness. Motoring enthusiasts might wish, though, that it drove a bit less like a Camry.” — carsdirect.com.

“In the real world, the Venza is a thoroughly competent performer. It’s clearly a car-like crossover, but it’s big enough that you never forget you’re behind the wheel of a 4,144-pound vehicle.” — motortrend.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“After driving three different trims of the 2014 Toyota Venza, the crossover SUV continues to impress. It functions well as small SUV. Or it could be wagon. And it drives like a car. What the Venza’s needs for you, it’s all good.”

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