We were all set for a fun spring road trip, Denver to Kansas City, a drive I’ve taken dozens of times. Y’know the old joke about Kansas being flatter than a pancake? It is. It’s not the most exciting drive but I do like Kansas City and my 17yo daughter and I were looking forward to a weekend there, some good BBQ, and some time on the open road too. Our reason for travel was so her team could play in the ASICS Show Me National Volleyball Tournament in downtown Kansas City. Exciting, right? Except this is the sports season from heck because of the pandemic and 24 hours prior to our departure we were notified that someone on a different team at a previous tourney tested positive for a Covid-19 variant and KC was off. Disappointing.
Instead, I decided a mini-road trip up to Fort Collins, Colorado would be a good “plan b” for the 2021 Toyota Venza Limited that Toyota had loaned me. A lot fewer miles – It’s 41 miles from Boulder to Fort Collins, rather than 627 miles to Kansas City – but a fun afternoon of exploration, and a chance to really test out the Venza drive experience nonetheless. Here’s our vehicle, in Coastal Gray Metallic exterior and the Limited trim kit, parked in front of Moby Arena at Colorado State University, Fort Collins:
There are a couple of things to know about the 2021 Toyota Venza: Every Venza is a hybrid and by size, it’s an SUV that exists somewhere between the RAV-4 and the bigger Highlander. Toyota lists the Venza as a CUV (compact SUV) but it’s definitely bigger than the RAV-4, a bit more comfortable, and, with the Limited trim set, more luxurious. I certainly found it quite comfortable to drive, with plenty of legroom for the driver and a seat that adjusted way back and, when moved forward, offered quite a lot of legroom for the rear passengers.
Toyota has had many years to evolve the hybrid system and I found it a fun and peppy drive. If you didn’t tell someone that it was powered by a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine with its continuously variable transmission, they’d just think it was a nice, zippy SUV. I’ve driven dozens of hybrids and can’t think of one that I didn’t enjoy. That CVT is a winner and the higher torque of a hybrid drivetrain offers good acceleration. Worth noting is that other reviewers complain that the Venza can be sluggish, but I didn’t find that at all, but then again, I wasn’t comparing it to a sports car.
The benefit of the hybrid is excellent fuel efficiency, as is obvious when you glance at the main gauge display:
Yes, that’s an average of 41.8 miles per gallon. I drove the Venza a few hundred miles, all told, and still had half a tank of gas at the end of my loaner period. Very nice! The hybrid also offers up a driving score each time you power down the vehicle:
Yeah, I’m pretty good at driving in a fuel-efficient manner!
The Venza dashboard design was interesting, with a preponderance of touch-sensitive spots on sleek plastic areas rather than discrete buttons and a few oddly placed controls:
Some of this design is very much out of the standard Toyota blueprint, including the driver’s door window controls and the entire steering wheel control set, but there were also some curious decisions made about the placement of buttons like the drive mode control. Can you see it in the above photo?
I didn’t think so.
Here’s where it’s found: behind the gearshift:
You can see that there are two USB-3 ports, an AUX audio port, and, though it’s not obvious, a Qi wireless charging spot behind the various controls. It’s pretty deep in there and if your phone is charging, you really cannot see the screen at all. Probably safer while you’re driving, but undoubtedly frustrating for most drivers. More problematic is that the parking brake, EV mode, and drive mode buttons end up being fairly inaccessible too. Does a typical Venza driver change modes that often? Probably not, but still, it’s a curious placement for a cockpit design that otherwise is so comfortably Toyota.
Let’s go back to the touch-sensitive spots on the dash, however. This is most easily seen in the infotainment system controls that are quite a ways away from the display screen itself:
The Infotainment screen – on the Limited trim kit it’s a nice 12.3″ touchscreen – is split into thirds and you cannot have any info span the entire display. That left third is dedicated to system functions including climate, music or energy, and trip info, even if you have audio displayed on the right 2/3rds too. Big screen good, but then locking up a third of the screen? Frustrating, particularly when a full-width map display would have been fantastic. This is a software issue, so perhaps someday there’ll be an update that finally lets owners have control over their display screen, but for now, expect a somewhat frustrating experience with the display.
Also notice the buttons themselves. Well, they’re not really “buttons” at all, but more “touch spots”. PWR, HOME, MENU, AUDIO, MAP, the actual touch spot is just below the label and even after practice, I found myself failing to push the exact spot maybe 25% of the time. There’s also no volume knob, just the “+” and “-” to the left of the environmental controls. This might be the user interface of a modern luxury vehicle, but I think I’d prefer having buttons that stuck out and offered a kinesthetic click and push motion as feedback. Less glamorous, but at least you know you’ve pushed it.
Stepping back outside of the vehicle, you can see from the rear that there’s a lot of cargo space once you pop open the hatch:
Notice the huge JBL speaker on the left side. The JBL premium audio system sounded very good, whether we were listening to music or an audiobook, and that speaker’s part of why, though it’s just one of nine speakers spread throughout the Venza. This trim kit also includes the tonneau cover, something I always appreciate since my own car – a Mazda CX-5 – charges separately for that accessory.
One more photo of the Venza, yes, with Texas plates:
Overall, I found the 2021 Toyota Venza a comfortable and responsive automobile. Our drive up to Fort Collins was effortless, quiet and the CVT hybrid allowed me to zip around slower vehicles with alacrity. Parking was a breeze and with the addition of the entire suite of Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 features, we felt safe and appreciated the assist of all the sensors, cameras, and software monitoring our surroundings. On the way back we popped by the lovely Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, a perfect place to walk off our tasty Fort Collins lunch and an easy mid-point on the route back to Boulder. Our entire trip, Boulder to Fort Collins, back via Loveland, consumed about two gallons of gas. Now that’s the kind of fuel efficiency I could grow to appreciate!
CONFIGURATION: 2021 Toyota Venza Limited, in Coastal Gray Metallic. 2.5L 4-Cylinder Hybrid with CVT and on-demand all-wheel drive. MSRP: $39,800.00. Optional Packages: Advanced Technology Package, Star Gaze Fixed Panoramic Roof. AS DRIVEN: $43,100.00.
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the Venza for the road trip to Kansas City. Thanks for that, and sorry it didn’t come to pass. But Fort Collins was fun! #toyota #toyotavenza #toyotapartner