- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

In launching the 2009 Venza, Toyota is giving us an indication of its new design goals for the future. Elegant and utilitarian sum up the all-new Venza.

It seems like I’ve seen this design style before, such as in the Nissan Murano, but Toyota captures the sedan-wagon-SUV all-in-one combo with a practical slant toward road-focused Camry car comfort. The Venza’s low center of gravity helps it during the ride and handling process, especially with its 20-inch wheels and tires (V-6 models). Yet drivers will still have a sense of the command-of-the-road in the Venza with its overall height of 63.4 inches. The ground clearance on the Venza is like that of a SUV at 8.1 inches.

The Venza has a base curb weight of 4,045 pounds (AWD V-6), but this vehicle is not encumbered with boxy design cues. Venza hides its weight well with swift, aerodynamic body lines that are neatly tucked into short overhangs, sweeping rocker panels, tight gaps and moderate wheelwells.

This newly stylish sedan to hit the market is initially offered in four-cylinder and six-cylinder models in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The pricing starts at $25,975 and ranges up to $29,250.

Toyota put me in the top tier 2009 Venza with a well optioned list that brought the out-the-door price to $37,993. Obviously, at this price, the Venza is a Toyota. Even though the Venza is nearing a $40-thousand price point, I can’t say this Toyota competes with Lexus at all. The Venza doesn’t meet the quiet noise levels of a Lexus or the soft tactile interior amenities of a Lexus. What Venza does give the buyer is a very premium car that is both sedan and large wagon. The Venza has a satisfyingly opulent interior and a large cabin for five average-size adults.

Admittedly, there was one single option package on the Venza tester that drove home the near-luxury status of this model. It was the $3,845 Premium Package No. 1. Some of the items on this long list included leather seats, mahogany wood-grain style trim, an intelligent key with push button start and a backup camera. The Venza was also offered with a $1,050 panoramic glass moonroof with tilt and slide and a $2,590 navigation, communications and premium audio system.

The tester was powered by the 24-valve, 3.5-liter V-6 that has a horsepower rating of 268 at 6,200 rpm and a torque production of 246 lb.-ft. at 4,700 rpm. The all-wheel drive Venza tester had EPA fuel economy listing of 18 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway.

The base model front-wheel drive Venza with the four-cylinder engine has an EPA rating of 21/29 mpg. This 16-valve engine with a 2.7-liter displacement will generate 182 horsepower and 182 lb.-ft. of torque.

Both the I-4 and the V-6 run on regular 87-octane gasoline and both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift that not only adds to the fun of driving, but the six gears also contribute to good fuel economy.

New for the 2009 model year, Toyota introduces for the first time, starting with the all-new Venza, the STAR Safety System. All Venza models come with seven air bags (including a driver’s knee air bag), stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and brake assist, as well as active head restraints for the driver and front passenger. The STAR safety system is also standard equipped with Hill-Start Assist Control, which prevents roll backs when stopped on a hill and letting off the brake to accelerate.

The utility of the Highlander, the luxury of the Avalon; if this is what you’re seeking, then you’ll find it in the Venza.

COPYRIGHT, MOTOR MATTERS, 2009

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