Cross a car and a truck, you get an SUV. Cross a SUV with a car and you get a CUV. Cross that CUV with a car and you get a Crossover Sedan, the term used by Toyota marketing mavens for their Camry-based Venza. With this step the evolution comes full circle, as the Venza is really just a good ole station wagon. Not to be outdone, this year Honda released a Crossover Sedan of their own, only they don't call it a Crossover Sedan. Instead, Honda says their new Accord blends sporty, low-profile contours with CUV functionality. Get the picture? Actually, the new Honda should be called the Accord hatchback. So it is that I evaluate these two new Crossover Sedans wrought from the DNA of two of the top selling cars in North America. First up, second place: the Toyota Venza.

width=315Call the Venza whatever you like, it is big and shares nary a body panel with the Camry. Its hood is broad, short, flat and lacks the Camry's obscene protruding bulge. The doors too are flat and tall, making the most of the space above the vehicle's footprint. This Colossus of Roads stands 3.3 wider and 5.5 taller than its (relatively) diminutive chassis partner.

Inside, the sense of spaciousness continues. In fact, call it vast; a vast expanse of hard cheap plastics. The most striking thing about Venza's inner confines, other than the openness of the space, is that it looks like futuristic interior mockups that carmakers like to put into concept vehicles for auto shows. You know, the ones where none of the buttons or gauges are real and they use a lot of sterile colors accented with splashes of neon lighting, and long flowing lines. Seats: meet George Jetson.

In their wisdom, Toyota engineers planted Venza's gear select in the middle of the width=220dashboard. Not only does this placement bring on the very minivan blahs the crossover sedan category might have been invented to avoid, it also crowds the HVAC controls away from the driver into an asymmetrical contortion of buttons and knobs. On the positive side, it frees up the center console space to be used as a dedicated storage bin filled with handy cubbies and niches that lift and slide into multiple handy configurations. Auxiliary audio jacks are conveniently located at the front of the center console.

The highlight of the Venza's interior is the light high above the passenger's heads that Toyota calls the panoramic glass roof option. It is a conventional sunroof plus a large fixed pane over the rear seat occupants, perfect for taking your kids on a driving tour of Jurassic Park.

Automatic folding rear seats can be actuated by levers conveniently located on either side of the lift gate. With the seats up, the rear quarters can accommodate 30.1 cu.ft. of cargo. Fold the rear seats down and that space grows to 68.8 cu.ft. For those of you keeping score, that's 4.2 cu.ft. smaller than the back of the RAV4. But it's also four and a half times more than you can squeeze into the trunk of a Camry.

Everything about how the Venza drives is tuned for comfort and smoothness. My Barcelona Red Metallic test car was powered by Toyota's 268 hp 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a 6-speed electronically controlled transmission. If you have the patience, it is actually capable of producing a fair amount of power. If you have the patience.

width=336Before the engine will sing though, you have to endure it lugging through low rpms at the shallow end of the power band and wait for the slothful transmission to downshift a gear. Or two. Or three. I suppose this is for the best since the car has the weakest brakes I have encountered since I began my saga testing cars for TTAC in 2006.

The traction control allows for excessive wheel spin before it invokes ABS intervention, which then comes on way too hard. Furthermore, the electric power assisted steering pulls demonically to the right after the car shifts into second gear at about 50 mph during full throttle blasts. Otherwise, torque steer isn't a problem (I type with trembling hands).

But hey, it's a family-oriented station wagon. Gear shifts are as disruptive as the flutter of a butterfly's wing. The velvety suspension devours potholes so you don't have to. Under normal driving conditions, the Venza is a rolling sensory deprivation chamber, perfect for pacifying fussy babies and soothing the savage beast after a long day at the office.

And long days are exactly what you will have to work in order to pay for Toyota's fancy station wagon. My test model rang in at $34,893, $4,513 more than the Accord Crosstour EX. Throw in AWD and navigation and you'll get stuck for $40 large.

[Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review]


Posted in Car Reviews, Toyota