Remember a couple of years back, when Target decided to differentiate itself from other discount retailers by focusing on design? By playing up bold, graphic patterns, attracting high-end designers to create their version of everyday items, and shifting marketing campaigns to reflect emphasis on the want-to-have rather than the need-to-have, Target, despite the fact that it is still essentially a big-box retailer, is now seen as a cool store (in relation to Walmart, Kohls or Kmart, in any case) to pick up the essentials for everyday life, as well as a few other items that always lengthens the receipt so much more than you had intended when you first went into the building.
And while you’re at Target, look around the parking lot and you’ll see that it’s chock-full of crossover utility vehicles (CUVs). Little wonder, as they deftly combine the functionality of an SUV – namely, the cargo space and higher ride height – with the driving dynamics of a sedan. They’re also not as imposing or thirsty as a typical SUV. It’s no wonder that practically every automaker has a CUV in its lineup. Why, Toyota itself offers the Highlander and RAV4, both competent, to be sure, but, like many Toyotas, given to inducing yawns with their inoffensive, bland good looks.
So when creating the 2011 Venza (view photos), Toyota designers must have noted that unique, attractive design makes a consumer choose one vehicle over another. Like the classic Target Michael Graves toaster, this particular crossover may have aspirations similar to every other CUV, but design is what sets it apart. And Toyota, in our opinion, really hit the right note with the Venza, with distinctive, crisp creases running through the length of the body, neatly arranged proportions from the greenhouse to the overhangs, and a steeply raked hatch that’s anything but boxy, all anchored by the huge 20-inch wheels that come with the V6 engine option.
Another unique feature of this vehicle is its stature. It is decidedly shorter than its crossover counterparts, which pits it squarely against the aesthetically challenged Honda Accord Crosstour. Really, we would call the Venza a Camry wagon, but that word is verboten in this silly country, which associates it with cheapness and uncool domesticity. Whatever.
About Our Test Car
Our steed for the week was the 2011 Toyota Venza (view photos) equipped with the optional V6 engine and all-wheel drive ($29,750). It was comprehensively outfitted with a multitude of option packages that really jacked up the price, such as the rear seat DVD entertainment system ($1,680), and the navigation system with integrated backup camera, 4-disc CD changer, XM satellite radio with real-time traffic updates, 13-speaker JBL sound system, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity ($2,580). What really brought the price up, though, was the eye-poppingly expensive Premium Package #2 ($4,345) that installs leather upholstery, heated front seats and side mirrors, a power front passenger’s seat, fake wood interior trim, high intensity discharge headlamps, keyless push button ignition, chrome exterior accents and a power liftgate. We might skip this package if we were to equip our own Venza, just to keep the price tag reasonable.
Safety Reliability and Value
All 2011 Toyota Venzas include dual front, dual side, and side curtain airbags. Stability and traction control are a part of Toyota’s standard Star Safety system, along with four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist. Bluetooth hands-free calling and a reversing camera are available on the Venza as part of options packages.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has overhauled its crash-testing program for 2011, raising the bar for what constitutes five-star crash protection. The 2011 Venza receives these scores under the new program:
4 Stars – Driver in frontal impact
2 Stars – Front seat passenger in frontal impact
5 Stars – Driver in side impact
5 Stars – Rear seat passenger in side impact
5 Stars – Side impact pole test
4 Stars – Rollover resistance
Notably, the Venza received a Top Safety Pick honor from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which means that it received the highest rating of Good in all measured parameters: offset frontal impact, side impact, roof crush strength, and rear impact crashworthiness. In terms of dependability, J.D. Power and Associates gives the Venza an above average predicted reliability rating, as does Consumer Reports. The Venza is not rated by Consumer Reports or Automotive Lease Guide for its ability to retain its value over time.