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AUTO REVIEW: Toyota Venza a fine concoction

Like a mixologist trying to concoct the perfect drink, carmakers in recent years have tried to mix and match the best of various car segments and create something truly original and, of course, desirable.

Like a mixologist trying to concoct the perfect drink, carmakers in recent years have tried to mix and match the best of various car segments and create something truly original and, of course, desirable.

Start with some street appeal, add a jigger of roominess and carlike ride and a dash of fuel economy. Oh, and throw in a sprinkle of functionality and a splash of hauling power. For 2009, Toyota is serving up the tempting Venza. It looks like a smallish, streamlined minivan but handles like a sporty sedan. It is lower than an SUV but in some ways just as functional.

So what do you call it? Don't go there. Even Toyota isn't sure. It tried "The car, optimized." Lame.

But lame the Venza is not. This concoction acts like the kind of thing a broad spectrum of drivers might like to taste, especially if they seek a little more functionality from their sedan and a little more car from their SUV. Venza is based on a concept from the 2005 North American International Auto Show and sits on a Camry platform. In fact, it is built at the same Kentucky plant that Camry and Avalon are assembled.

It has smooth, rounded lines to make it more aerodynamic and resemble a smallish minivan, but it sports 20-inch wheels (first time that's standard on a V-6 Toyota), cool backlights and an integrated spoiler for a sportier look.


Like the FT-SX concept from the car show, it has a wide stance and its wheels are placed at the corners, with very little overhang in front and rear. So, despite its small-minivan look, it has more of a sport-sedan attitude.

But wait: It offers the kind of functionality you'd expect from a minivan, too. I know, it's getting confusing.

Click the keyless-entry fob and all five doors unlock for the family. Getting in is easy, with a low floor like a sedan and a high roof like an SUV. Toyota figures many will be coming from SUVs and so the ride height is better than a car, more like a minivan.

It feels roomy up front and in the rear, too. With my six-foot-one frame in front, my daughter still was quite comfortable in the seat behind me. It actually sits on the same wheelbase as its kin, the Camry, but it's far roomier.

Plenty of room for Fido, too. Pet owners can get accessories like a pet barrier, travel harness and even a doggie tent for the canines. Now how much head room there is for Buckley, the Great Dane that my daughter and her roommate share an apartment with, remains to be seen.

Instruments surround a big speedometer, with a tach on the left and fuel and temp gauges on the right. They are easy to see, even during the day when sunlight hampers the instrument view on some cars.

The tester had a comfortable cloth interior but leather is available. With leather you get wood accents, while carbon-fiber accents the cloth.

A sliding cover over the deep center console enables women to stash a purse or purchase out of sight.


I found the optional navigation system a bit sluggish, but easy to figure out.

On the road Venza is all car. Available in front-wheel and all-wheel drive, Venza drives easily and smoothly. Corners are not sports car-like but are reasonably handled.

Two powerplants are offered. The 2.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which also is slated for the Highlander, puts out 182 horses and 182 pound-feet of torque. Considering Venza approaches a weight of two tons, the four may not be enough oomph for many.

So I recommend moving up to the 3.5-liter V-6, featuring 268 horses and 246 pound-feet of torque. That gives you all the power you need and can get you to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, says Toyota. How many minivans offer that kind of zip?

And, the V-6 models come with dual-exhaust tips and 20-inch alloy wheels to sport up the ride. Those coming from SUVs can be reassured that towing boats and small trailers will not be a problem: the V-6 can pull 3,500 pounds.

Both engines are married to a six-speed automatic tranny, which shifts smoothly and without much indecision. And it has sport-shift and manual modes. Expect mileage with the V-6 at 21 or so around town, in the high 20s on the open road. Similar for the four.

One feature Toyota enthusiasts will enjoy is Venza's panoramic sunroof, a first in the carmaker's entire lineup. It has separate glass panels over the front and rear seats -- only the front one, though, slides and tilts.

Venza ranks high in safety and comes with seven air bags, stability and traction control systems (the latter of which can be shut off -- but why would you?), and ABS with brake assist feature.


Only one trim with the Venza; just pick your engine and whether you want front- or all-wheel-drive. It is loaded with standard features so trim levels are unimportant anyway. Among them: six-disc CD changer and XM antenna, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, dual exhaust, rear spoiler and 20-inch wheels.

So did Toyota mix the perfect vehicle-cocktail here? I'd say it's hard to match. Sporty yet comfortable ride, easy to get in and out of, capable of carrying five people and hauling their luggage or a small boat.

But please, Toyota, let's work on a proper name to describe this recipe. By the way, I believe "Sex on the Beach" is already taken.

Base Price: $26,600

As tested: $29,100 (V-6, AWD)

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