As people go through a major milestone in life, transitioning from couple-dom into becoming a family unit, a shift in car ownership usually follows. Suddenly, the two-seater convertible or even compact sedan is no longer viable, and a vehicle capable of easily and safely carrying lots of stuff is required. It’s tough for some to accept the sobering reality of a mini-van, but fortunately, there are alternatives – and Toyota happens to produce a great one in the Venza.
Not quite an SUV or a wagon, the Venza is a neat take on the practical people-mover first introduced at the Detroit Auto Show six years ago. If you took a hatchback and kind of made it longer, taller and threw on big wheels, this is probably what you’d end up with. A more stylish “Redwood Edition” is new for 2016, sporting a unique interior colour scheme that complements the luxury of the existing technology-laden XLE trim.
As you might have already gathered, Toyota’s creation looks good in a non-conformist kind of way. At the front, the headlights are both angular and rounded at the same time, fully integrated into the large singleslat polished grille. The roofline gently slopes towards the rear giving off an almost athletic air, finishing with a subtle spoiler above the rear window.
Aside from a Redwood badge installed on the exterior, the special edition’s true charm isn’t obvious until you climb inside. As I mentioned earlier, it’s basically an XLE – bundling navigation, a 6.1-inch multi-informational screen, power rear liftgate, and huge panoramic moonroof – with leather seating dyed in a warm shade of redwood that reminds you of the mighty west coast tree by the same name.
One gripe about the interior (it’s not about the space, of which there is plenty including 870 litres behind the rear seats) is that although the lag-free infotainment and GPS system is refreshingly easy to operate, the centre stack is oddly angled slightly towards the passenger side. Usability isn’t really affected, but it does appear awkward.
Two different engines are available to customers: a 2.7-litre four-cylinder with 182 horsepower, or a significantly beefier 3.5-litre V6 making 268 horsepower, both paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. The former is offered in front-wheel drive only, while the latter also has the option of all-wheel drive (AWD) and Toyota’s Active Torque Control System capable of sending power to individual slipping wheels.
The handling ability in my AWDequipped V6 press car was impressive, especially when encountering a barrel rolling around on the highway during a stormy fall drive. Some emergency manoeuvring was required to avoid barrel-to-bumper contact, and the vehicle held its composure through all of it. Acceleration is more than adequate as well, proven when I had to get back up to speed quickly.
Like all other models across the company’s lineup, the Venza benefits from the Toyota Star Safety System made up of vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology.
Motor: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 246 @ 4,700 rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Layout: Front engine, all-wheel drive
Fuel economy: 11.4 L/100 km mixed city/highway (observed)