Ministry matters

Ministry of the Interior: Toyota Venza 2021

The new Venza has a lot of advantages, but you’ll have to accompany it with some frustrations

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When Toyota relaunched its midsize SUV Venza in Canada for the 2021 model year, the brand made some very smart decisions: simple packaging, standard all-wheel drive and a standard hybrid powertrain make it an especially attractive prospect for budget-conscious empty nests. it’s targeting. Some say it looks like a Lexus without the high price tag, and there are definitely some elements of the Venza that fit that bill.

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We’ve taken a closer look at these aspects of the Venza here on Driving.ca, and we definitely suggest you read them if this vehicle is on your list. But our job here at the Home Office is to separate vehicle interiors down to the smallest detail, and in that context, the Venza is one of the most interesting we’ve reviewed to date. Rarely have we seen a vehicle that has so many good things to do with so many serious frustrations.

Before we get started, let’s note that the Venza reviewed here is a 2021 model. However, since the Venza was new for 2021, it carries over into 2022 without significant changes.

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Let’s start with the positives. On the one hand, comparing the Venza to entry-level luxury vehicles is apt: it’s a surprisingly forward-thinking presentation from Toyota, a brand renowned for being very conservative. Multiple interior colorways are available, including the one seen on our limited grade test unit priced at $49,660 including a $1,840 destination charge, which incorporates handsome copper stitching and accents alongside inlays. blond wood look (which, yes, are fake, but they’re relatively convincing). This writer’s design sensibilities appreciate the commitment to symmetry seen here, and the quality of build and materials is as excellent as one would hope for at this price point. Visually, it is a vehicle that its owners will enjoy looking at every time they are behind the wheel.

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There’s also an extremely cool panoramic sunroof, a feature exclusive to the Limited trim. The fabric sun visor pulls back to reveal an expanse of glass divided into two panes, both of which can instantly change from frosted to fully transparent at the press of a button. The panels are electrochromic, that is, they use an electric charge to activate or deactivate the translucent coating integrated into the glass. If you’ve ever used the windows of a Dreamliner airliner, you’ve already experienced this technology. However, it is highly unusual to see it applied in a mass-produced vehicle, mainstream or otherwise. Is it extremely useful? Not necessarily, but it’s sure to impress your family and friends.

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The Venza is built with a clear emphasis on the front row, which makes sense given that couples make up the majority of its target market. The front seats are comfortable enough with a classic, streamlined design, and in the Limited trim they’re both heated and ventilated. A heated steering wheel is also included. Shifting is done via a traditional lever and a dedicated button is included to switch to EV mode, although in this conventional hybrid it will only work for short bursts.

The gauge cluster is laid out in Toyota’s hybrid setup, which is mostly analog and gives the driver lots of information about how the hybrid powertrain is performing and reacting to the current driving style.

A wireless phone charger sits behind the shifter, which is a good spot since it’s out of the way. However, some of today’s longer smartphones may not lie flat in this space if they are also plugged into one of the two rear USB-A ports, which is required to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

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Interior of the 2021 Toyota Venza
Interior of the 2021 Toyota Venza Photo by Jay Kana

Each front door pocket includes a bottle holder and two more cup holders are positioned towards the middle of the center console, well out of the way. Optional inserts are provided to make them shallower if required. Storage space for loose items is also missing in the front row. The center console bin contains a 12-volt outlet, but is otherwise only large enough to hold a wallet or a very small purse. The glove box and some small gaps in the door pockets are the only other options.

This covers the positives. As for the potential for improvement: it’s a shame the Venza doesn’t have interior power outlets capable of powering small appliances as seen in some other hybrid Toyota vehicles like the Sienna minivan. Unfortunately, the Venza’s body style and powertrain limit it to a 0.9 kWh lithium-ion battery, which doesn’t store enough energy to enable this feature.

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On top of that, the Venza’s second row is roomy enough in terms of headroom and legroom for two adult passengers, but it’s otherwise sparse on features. Heated seats aren’t available, nor are rear climate controls: a set of vents are tied to the front-row settings, and that’s all that’s offered. As is the case with most hybrid vehicles, the Venza isn’t particularly quick to warm up in cooler conditions, so these are features second-row occupants may miss more than usual. Yet nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc. aren’t likely to complain too loudly.

2021 Toyota Verso
2021 Toyota Verso Photo by Jay Kana

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Venza to live with is the cargo area, which is surprisingly inefficient in its use of space. The 816 liters found behind the second row offer less space than you’d find in a RAV4, a compact SUV one size smaller than the Venza. There are no grocery hooks, tethers, or power points here. Also, the second-row seatbacks don’t fold completely flat. The load floor feels unusually high, which could be problematic for this vehicle’s target population, although it leaves plenty of room for a donut spare tire and a set of tools to sit underneath.

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Our final point with the Venza is the infotainment system, which is beyond frustrating to use. The 12.3-inch split-screen setup found in the Limited trim is attractive enough, but the expanse of touch controls with barely a knob or button in sight becomes boring very quickly. There’s no quick way to adjust the volume and there’s no direct tune function to help find individual radio stations quickly. Our Ministry reviewer was bothered enough by all of this that she completely ditched the system and started running music and other functions on her phone. This is a viable solution, as long as having to adjust the volume by pointing a finger at a panel or steering wheel button works for you in the long run.

Overall, there are things about the 2021 Toyota Venza that make it very attractive for its price, and there are others that might prove difficult for some owners to live with. A frustrating infotainment experience, small cargo area, and lackluster rear cabin might be enough to turn you off, or you might find that a great design, very comfortable front row, and fuel-efficient powertrain would offset those factors enough to make the Venza the right vehicle for you.

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