All-New Crossover with Lexus Looks
The six-year layoff between models has been good for the Toyota Venza. The first generation Venza, sold in America 2009-2015, was based on the Camry platform and came with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine. It was a perfectly good crossover that, because of market forces and changing consumer tastes, had a short run. But Toyota wasn’t asleep the past half-decade as they have come back with the all-new 2021 Venza Hybrid.
The 2021 Toyota Venza is all-hybrid, all-wheel drive, all-the-time. Now built on the Japanese-market Harrier platform, the five-passenger Venza slots between the RAV4 and Highlander, both of which have hybrid models as options. All three of these models also share the same base modular platform, which they share with the Lexus NX. Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to get a taste of the new Venza in a less-than-a-full-week drive, which is why we call this a Flash Drive rather than a full Road Test. However, you’ll see we really enjoyed our too-brief time and managing to put the new model through its paces.
The all-new 2021 Venza Hybrid AWD is powered by Toyota’s hybrid system of a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, non-turbocharged engine and three electric motors, producing 219 total system horsepower. Power is sent to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with driving modes of Eco, Normal, Sport, and EV. This system automatically switches between the electric drive-only mode, combined electric motor and gasoline engine, and gasoline-only engine power. It’s a front-wheel drive vehicle. The rear motor drives the rear wheels when more traction is needed, otherwise the rear driveline is disconnected, resulting in improved fuel economy.
Fuel economy, aided by active grille shutters and aerodynamic underbody panels, is EPA rated at 40 mpg city/37 highway/combined 39. In 279 miles driving throughout Southern California, we averaged 41.9 mpg, a very satisfying number for a 3,900-pound all-wheel drive compact crossover.
Running on regular unleaded, the hybrid system was smooth, with the CVT programmed to err on the side of fuel efficiency. For more spirited performance, opt for the driver-selectable Sport mode setting. Otherwise, Eco was more than adequate for cruising along at-or-above highways speeds, and Normal worked around town.
The lithium-ion battery is charged when applying the brakes or coasting. The regenerative charging system converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.
Where the Venza Hybrid shines is seeing how efficiently the computer combines electricity and gasoline. The system, which Toyota calls Predictive Efficient Drive, uses the navigation system to analyze driving patterns and read road conditions. This seamless and smooth system is sensitive to even the slightest fluctuation in road inclines and declines, more-so than the driver can feel. There is a green EV icon on the gauge cluster that goes on and off as the Venza Hybrid system imperceptibly saves gasoline by using electricity. Another aid, helping for more efficient driving, is the ring surrounding the speedometer. It turns white when the engine is being taxed, and green when being treated gently. It is fun to play with it seeing how easy you can be on the accelerator.
Confident and Secure Performer
The 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid is easy to drive with a smooth ride that was unaffected by Southern California’s grooved concrete freeways. The neutral steering delivered good road feedback and feel. Acceleration was more than adequate for everything we threw at it, which in SoCal primarily means being able to blend into freeway traffic at pretty much any speed. We consistently turned 8.0 second runs for 0-to-60 mph. Acceleration was smooth and linear, which is a trait of a non-turbo engine.
The Venza Hybrid AWD comes in three trim levels of LE, XLE and Limited; Clean Fleet Report drove the latter. Standard on the Limited are 19-inch alloy wheels mounted with Bridgestone Ecopia 225/55 all-season tires. Traction was good, with hard or spirited cornering revealing only minor, and very controllable, understeer and body lean. The Venza Hybrid has Active Cornering Assist which, in-conjunction with the stability control, reduces understeer when cornering. The driving is confident and secure, but not sporty. We did not have the opportunity to take the Venza off-road, but the 7.8-inch ground clearance is reassuring just in case you head off-pavement.
Stopping comes from Toyota’s electronically controlled brake system that incorporates regenerative control and power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution. The pedal was easy to modulate, and produced a satisfying regenerative whirring during straight and consistent stops.
Clean Fleet Report’s Venza, painted Ruby Flare Pearl, had design cues taken from Toyota’s upscale Lexus division. Beginning with the trapezoidal grille, the striking design is a stand-out in this category, with a bit of Lexus, Range Rover and Jaguar influence in the exterior shape. Not bad company to keep. LED technology allowed the designers to make the head lights and tail lights sleek, helping give a feeling of motion when sitting still. The rear end design is different from any Toyota before it. If not for the blue Toyota badge (indicating the Venza is electrified) the tail lights would completely connect across the power lift gate.
Overhead is something special for this price vehicle: Toyota calls it Star Gaze. This optional, fixed panoramic glass roof is electrochromic, which means with the touch of a button the glass goes from transparent to frosted. Very cool and unexpected on a vehicle in this price range.
Comfortable, Premium Interior
The cockpit design is driver friendly with all gauges, including the hybrid management system, in easy sight, and the controls are in easy reach. The cabin systems include the dual-zone automatic climate control with dust and pollen filters, a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel that contains audio telephone and voice controls, wireless smartphone charging, and a digital rearview mirror with HomeLink. About the climate controls. It just happened that our test day in the 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid happened to be in Santa Clarita, California, on what was its hottest day in recent recorded history. At 111° it put both the A/C and front seat coolers to the test, both of which they passed perfectly, and…coolly!
With soft touch surfaces throughout, the richly colored caramel and medium gray interior, had seating for five with all seats trimmed in SofTex, a synthetic leather. The top stitching added a bit of elegance to the power eight-way adjustable driver seat, which had memory and lumbar, and was heated and ventilated. The front passenger gets four-way power adjustments. The rear seat folds 60/40, making for a large cargo area. When not folded flat, the rear passengers have plenty of head and leg room, and get two 2.1 amp charge ports, air vents, and a folding armrest with cup holders. Speaking of cup holders, there are eight total through the cabin.
The 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid, in the Limited trim, featured a Premium JBL audio system with voice command for navigation and Bluetooth telephone and music streaming. The 12.3-inch touch-screen and the nine-speaker system with subwoofer and amplifier produced excellent sound for the FM/HDAM (the AM/FM is a cache radio). SiriusXM is included for 90 days.
Toyota says the JBL system has “Intelligent Touch capacitive controls,” which raised a red flag. Clean Fleet Report places a premium on audio systems that have both a volume and channel knob, both of which are found on other Toyota models. Unfortunately, in an attempt to be ultra-modern, this excellent sounding system had neither. The capacitive controls worked, but to use them required taking your eyes from the road, so the audio system controls were not intuitive.
The system has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and is Amazon Alexa compatible. The Wi-Fi Connect service has a three-month trial period and includes up to 2 GB. The front cabin has four USB ports and two 12-volt power outlets. Additional technology in the Venza includes connected services and audio multimedia.
Convenience features on the Venza Hybrid AWD Limited include cargo-area tie-down hooks, under dash storage nooks, reading lights front and rear, and folding heated power side mirrors with “Venza” puddle lamps. The head-up display was greatly appreciated, and is a feature Clean Fleet Report feels should be standard on all cars, as it aids in keeping the driver’s eyes on the road.
Another very handy feature is the Bird’s Eye View camera with Perimeter Scan. By pushing a button the scan gives a downward 360º look at anything that may be in the Venza’s surrounding area. You will come to rely on this nifty feature.
The 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid is well-equipped with the Star Safety System, Toyota Safety Sense, and Safety Connect. Active and passive safety features include eight air bags, vehicle stability and traction control and brake assist. The advanced driver pre-collision technology includes lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control and pedestrian detection. Additional safety features include remote keyless entry, push button start/stop, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid AWD comes in three trim levels, with these base prices that include the $1,175 delivery, processing and handling fee.
- LE $33,645
- XLE $37,175
- Limited $40,975
The 2021 Venza Hybrid comes with these warranties:
- Hybrid Components -Eight years/100,000 miles
- Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
- Comprehensive – Three years/36,000 miles
- Maintenance Plan – Two years/25,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance – Two years/25,000 miles
- Corrosion Perforation – Five years/Unlimited miles
Observations: 2021 Toyota Venza AWD Limited
One of the worse burns growing up was when a little sister or brother out did you. It is none too pleasant. Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota may be sensing a bit of this, as the all-new 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid is a strong competitor to the Lexus NX 300h (both are based on the same platform). In many ways it is an improvement and comes at a lower price. Clean Fleet Report recently tested the 2020 NX 300h (that review will be published soon) and, as with all Lexus models, we liked it. But spending a few days in the 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid was an eye-opener on how good a compact crossover SUV can be, especially one that is all-wheel drive, gets superb fuel economy, and can be had very nicely outfitted for about $40,000.
The Venza Hybrid will also attract shoppers that came into their Toyota dealership looking at the RAV4 Hybrid (another model spun off of the same platform). For a bit more money, the Venza Hybrid will appeal to that potential RAV4 Hybrid buyer as it offers more interior room, has a great exterior design and is pretty close to Lexus quality.
Visit your Toyota dealership and have them walk you through all the features and options on the 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid. Make sure to check-out the electrochromic Star Gaze panoramic glass roof, and ask for a Toyota factory trained specialist that will explain the hybrid technology in detail, especially how to drive it for maximum efficiency.
Crossover SUVs are getting better and better all the time, and the 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid AWD has earned a place in my Top 10. Check it out and let Clean Fleet Report know what you think.
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Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!
Story & photos by John Faulkner
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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