By Chris Haak
Like the Highlander, the Venza is based on the Camry’s platform, but as the Highlander has evolved from little more than a tall Camry wagon in its first generation into a larger, more SUV-styled vehicle in its second (and current) generation, there was an opportunity for a stylish, five-passenger crossover that combined many of the comfort and luxury features (as well as the driving experience) of a traditional sedan with the ride height and extra space of an SUV.
The Venza will be offered in only one trim level – well-equipped – and is geared toward active boomers and young couples with small families. It will be available with both a 268 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 or a 2.7 liter four cylinder, and in front- or all-wheel drive. Seven airbags and the full complement of safety features are all standard, and a panoramic sunroof (the first offered by Toyota) is an option.
During the press conference at the Venza’s introduction, Toyota claimed that the Venza was a crossover sedan that was defining a new segment of the crossover market. I have several issues with this statement; first, the Venza is not a sedan, which most people would define as a vehicle with four doors and a notchback roofline (i.e., not a hatchback). In the crossover segment, the closest thing to a sedan is probably the BMW X6, which still has a hatchback cargo door rather than a trunklid. Second, the Venza is not breaking new ground, but just joining the Nissan Murano in the luxury-focused, carlike section of the crossover market, which the Murano established in 2003. Even Toyota’s own Lexus RX350 (on the market since 1999) occupies a similar niche, although when I asked Irv Miller, Group Vice President, Corporate Communications if they were afraid of the Venza affecting RX sales, he said that Lexus buyers are a different demographic than their Venza target market and they were not concerned.
Blame for all of the confusion about what category vehicles fall into should fall squarely on the shoulders of the manufacturers who first were afraid to call a crossover an “SUV,” and now are afraid to call a crossover a “crossover,” because nearly everyone else is selling them as well.
Also, when another journalist asked Mr. Miller if Toyota had any plans to offer a hybrid Venza, he smiled and said that it was under study, but he wouldn’t be surprised to see it, though nothing was confirmed. When asked if there would be a hybrid RAV4, he was decidedly less candid. If I’m reading between the lines, it tells me that Toyota is seriously considering a hybrid Venza in the future, but not giving much consideration to a hybrid RAV4.
I believe that Toyota has a nice vehicle in the Venza – to me, it sort of looks like an updated RX350 with styling cues (particularly the front end) lifted from the Avalon sedan.
The Venza will go on sale in late 2008.
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