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2009 Toyota Venza Road Test


New Venza crossover tries to do it all

By Bill Roebuck

2009 Toyota Venza.The all-new 2009 Toyota Venza crossover, a brand new model based in part on Toyota's midsize Camry sedan platform, is an upscale -- almost Lexus-like -- five-passenger model with an impressive (for Toyota) exterior design.

The Venza is sleek, with short overhangs, a far-forward A-pillar, and a low roofline. During a recent day-long test drive of various Venza models, we found that it handled quite nicely indeed. Missing, thankfully, was the absent-mindedness of the steering of the Camry, despite the shared components of that car with the Venza.

A low centre of gravity helps with the handling, as does the suspension set-up. The front suspension is a rigid L-arm-type Macpherson strut with a stabilizer bar, and the rear suspension is a dual-link Macpherson strut, also with a stabilizer bar.

2009 Toyota Venza.The Venza comes in both inline four (I4) and six-cylinder (V6) versions (the six comes to market first, to be followed by the smaller engine several weeks later). All-wheel-drive is available in either. We tested them all and found all configurations to have similar driving characteristics, the only major difference being the extra power boost in the V6 over the I4 model.

The starting price in Canada is said to be less than $30,000 for the four-cylinder front-wheel drive (FWD) model. We'll post final Canadian pricing as soon as it is released. U.S. MSRPs for Venza models is as follows: Four-cylinder FWD $25,975; Four-cylinder AWD $27,425; V6 FWD $27,800; V6 AWD $29,250.

The I4 engine is an all-new 2.7-litre that produces 182 hp -- lots of power, considering the number of cyliners -- while the Camry-derived 3.5-litre V6 offers a jump up to 268 hp. There's only one transmission, a six-speed sequential-shift electronically-controlled automatic also adopted from the Camry. The V6 AWD configuration proved very smooth; even in hilly terrain. That said, shifting and handling were first class even in the I4 FWD model tested.

Four-cylinder models come with 19-in. aluminum alloy wheels, while V6 models get 20-in. wheels, although in our brief test drive, we didn't detect much difference in handling due to the larger wheel size on the V6.

2009 Toyota Venza.Towing capacity on the V6 model ranges up to 3,500 lb; it's still a respectable 2,500 lb with the I4. If you don't need the extra towing power, we found the four-cylinder model to be a surprisingly capable and competent performer, without the buzziness you often get with four-bangers.

Fuel economy is fairly good for a vehicle of this size. Ratings for the various model configurations are as follows (L/100 km, city/highway/combined): I4 FWD -- 10.0/6.8/8.5; I4 AWD -- 10.2/7.1/8.8; V6 FWD -- 11.0/7.6/9.5; V6 AWD -- 11.5/7.9/9.9.

Uphill/downhill shift logic control helps the vehicle choose the proper gear for the driving conditions and helps provide moderate engine braking when going downhill. Hill-Start Assist Control temporarily provides pressure to the brakes while the vehicle is stopped on an uphill incline for easy starting with no rollback.

2009 Toyota Venza.Cargo capacity: 0.87 cu m (30.7 cu. ft.). Toyota says the load-in height of 710 mm (27.9 in.) for the cargo area is lower than most sedans and allows for easy loading and unloading of items.

Most likeably features are the roomy interior, 60/40 split foldable rear seats that also tilt back, a high driver sightline, and a total of 10 cupholders. No third-row seating option is available in this model (no loss, in our view). Oddly, heated front seats are optional and come only with the optional leather seating (a really big oversight on Toyota's part).

Entry and exit from both front and rear seats is easy. The rocker panels are enclosed behind the doors, so on snowy days, this feature helps keep your pants dry.

Safety features included as standard are comprehensive, and include vehicle stability control; traction control; hill-start assist control; ABS with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist; active front seat head rests; and seven airbags, including a driver knee airbag.

2009 Toyota Venza.Optional extras include high-intensity discharge headlamps with an automatic high beam feature (a first in any Toyota model) and a panoramic tilt/slide roof and a separate fixed glass panel over the rear seats. The Premium Package includes several interior enhancements plus a backup camera with 3.5-in. Thin-Film Transistor (TFT) multi-information display with customizable languages and font size (now that's a useful feature for the boomer generation), and, and an anti-theft system.

Available on the Venza V6 AWD is a Touring Package that includes the Premium Package features, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; a Smart Key system and push-button start; and the availability of a navigation system and high-end JBL sound system, along with Bluetooth capability and a wireless MP3 connection.

The V6 Venza is to be available in dealerships in early January with the I4 models to follow later. If you want to save some money, we think you may want to wait for the four-cylinder models to arrive in dealer showrooms so you can test one out before you in your order -- in our opinion, it's the most impressive actor in this group.

For more information, visit www.toyota.ca.

Bill Roebuck is the Editor of CarTest! Posted 12/7/2008

Manufacturer's website: www.toyota.ca

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