2021 Toyota Venza Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Nov 25, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Toyota deals!

Toyota returns the Venza to its SUV lineup this year, and just like the original it is a five-passenger crossover SUV blending style and sophistication in a premium package. It is smaller than before, though, based on the same platform as the Toyota RAV4 and trading some utility for a rakishly tapered rear end.

Additional differences define this second-generation 2021 Toyota Venza as distinct. For example, it comes only with a hybrid powertrain and includes standard all-wheel drive. It offers the latest in Toyota infotainment and advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). And it comes with a trick Star Gaze panoramic glass roof that instantly goes from clear to opaque to block out the sun.

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Coastal Gray Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Trim levels include LE, XLE, and Limited, and prices start at $32,470. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Venza Limited equipped with the Advanced Technology Package, Star Gaze roof, and all-weather floor liners. The price came to $43,269, including a $1,175 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Toyota deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 Toyota Venza it is helpful to understand who buys midsize SUVs, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 58% of midsize SUV owners are male (vs. 60% of all vehicles), and the median age of a midsize SUV owner is 58 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about midsize SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, feeling of safety, interior design, and getting in and out. Specifically, these five things about midsize SUVs rank highest in comparison to all vehicle segments:

  • Vehicle protection
  • Ability to carry everything
  • Getting in and out of the front seats
  • Driver’s seat comfort
  • Getting in and out of the second row

Owners indicate their least favorite things about midsize SUVs are (in descending order) the driving comfort, setting up and starting, powertrain, infotainment, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about midsize SUVs rank lowest in comparison to all vehicle segments:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Power of engine/motor
  • Smoothness of engine/motor in a tie with sound of engine/motor
  • Vehicle feel when started up
  • Effectiveness of headlights

Because the Venza is a new model, it was not included in the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Toyota deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides his perceptions about how the 2021 Toyota Venza measures up in each of the ten categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

If you like the way the 2021 Toyota Venza looks, and you find that it offers enough passenger and cargo space, chances are that you’ll enjoy owning this new hybrid SUV. Especially when viewed from the rear quarters, the Venza is appealing. The other end of the SUV represents one of the more successful expressions of current Toyota design themes, but the nose juts out pretty far and adds excessive visual weight forward of the front wheels.

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Coastal Gray Rear Quarter

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Every trim level has attractive wheel designs. They measure 18 inches in diameter with LE trim while the XLE and Limited boast polished 19-inch wheels. Reflector-type LED headlights and LED taillights are standard, while XLE and Limited have higher-rated projector-type LED headlights. Rain-sensing wipers are standard with the top trim level.

Interior

Toyota aims to give the Venza a more upscale look and feel in comparison to the RAV4, and based on the Limited-trim test vehicle, it succeeds.

2021 Toyota Venza Limited Dashboard Front Seats

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Cloth upholstery is standard with LE and XLE trim, while Toyota’s SofTex simulated leather is optional for the XLE and standard on the Limited. The test vehicle had lots of plush, soft-touch interior surfaces, contrast seat stitching, polished metallic and simulated wood trim, fabric-wrapped windshield pillars, and ambient cabin lighting.

Aside from common Toyota switchgear, the Venza’s interior is unique to this model. Storage could be better, the center console bin proving small and equipped with an inner tray that gets in the way. A wireless smartphone charger is standard, located forward of the transmission gear selector where it can be hard to reach. Door panel and door armrest bins are useful.

Forward visibility impresses, and large side mirrors make it easier to see to either side of the Venza. Rear quarter windows help when reversing from slanted parking spaces, but mainly you’ll rely on the SUV’s plethora of standard and available cameras when backing up.

The Venza’s Star Gaze panoramic sunroof is optional, and only for the Limited trim. It certainly helps to make the SUV feel larger inside than it is. A large head-up display is also exclusive to the Venza, and it remains visible when you’re wearing polarized sunglasses.

Getting In and Out

It’s easy to get into and out of a 2021 Toyota Venza, especially when compared to a car. The seating hip point for the Venza is higher off of the ground, which means you slide in and out rather than drop in and climb out.

A hands-free power liftgate is available, and it uses a kick-style sensor under the bumper. We do not recommend using it when the Venza is parked on a slippery surface. Once the liftgate rises, you’ll have just 28.8 cubic feet of cargo space. The number is small because the Venza’s fastback styling cuts into the potential volume.

A 60/40-split folding rear seat expands cargo capacity to 55.1 cubic feet. Again, this is not a generous amount, and it falls well short of what a Toyota RAV4 can supply. 

Setting Up and Starting

Though the Venza has an available 7-inch driver information display and 12.3-inch infotainment system screen, both are easy enough to use when you’re configuring your preferred settings. Sometimes, however, certain functions are not immediately intuitive. 

The available digital camera mirror is embedded with the standard rearview mirror. Just flip the switch like you’re changed to a dimmed mode, and the live video view of what’s behind the Venza will appear on the mirror’s glass.

Starting the Venza results in a futuristic whirring sound designed to warn pedestrians that an electrified vehicle is operating nearby. It grabs attention, and people certainly took notice of this Toyota. However, this is no doubt in part because many people hadn’t seen the new Venza before. 

Infotainment System

With LE and XLE trim, the standard infotainment system uses an 8-inch touchscreen display. It is flanked by menu shortcut buttons and anchored by radio volume and tuning knobs. Below this are physical controls for the standard dual-zone automatic climate control system, complete with oversized knobs and well-marked buttons.

Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and wireless smartphone charging are standard. You also get a free three-month subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio, a free three-month and 2GB data plan for Wi-Fi, and free one-year subscriptions to Safety Connect and Remote Connect services.

The 12.3-inch touchscreen display is optional with XLE and standard with Limited trim. In addition to the larger screen, it swaps the stereo and climate knobs and buttons for capacitive touch controls rendered in gloss black plastic. They are well marked and respond quickly to input, but you still need to look down and away from the road to use them.

With the larger infotainment screen, the Venza includes a dynamic navigation system with free updates for a limited time, and a 1,200-watt, 9-speaker JBL premium sound system with Clari-Fi music restoration technology. It’s a decent sound system, avoiding the typical bass-heavy delivery most JBL audio components exhibit.

Given how the climate control display is baked into the bigger screen and how the capacitive touch panel mixes and matches stereo and climate systems, it’s unfortunate that the voice recognition system does not allow the driver to adjust the cabin temperature. It also struggled to address a request for reggae music. The first time, it gave me ragtime music, and the second time it told me there wasn’t a reggae channel available. 

Keeping You Safe

Toyota equips every 2021 Venza with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, a collection of ADAS that includes numerous technologies. Additionally, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning systems are standard, while XLE and Limited trim offer front and rear parking sensors with automatic low-speed braking. Only the Venza Limited gets a surround-view camera with perimeter scanning.

In use, the ADAS works smoothly, but when traffic ahead clears the adaptive cruise control system is too leisurely in its quest to regain velocity. Admirably, the adaptive cruise responds with composure when other vehicles move into the gap ahead, and the lane departure warning system employs a subtle (and preferable) vibration through the steering wheel to notify the driver of lane wander.

In crash tests, the new Venza earns a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It does not get a higher accolade due to a Marginal rating for the standard headlights and an Acceptable rating for the upgraded headlights included with XLE and Limited trim.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the new Venza an overall crashworthiness rating of five stars.

Powertrain

Every 2021 Toyota Venza is a hybrid, so you can take it or leave it. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine forms the basis of the powertrain. The Venza also has an 88-kW front electric motor and a 40-kW rear electric motor to create a standard all-wheel-drive system, each powered by the SUV’s 252-volt lithium-ion battery. 

Together, these components make a combined 219 horsepower. Drivers can choose between EV, Eco, Sport, and Normal driving modes, and an electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) manages the power. Toyota offers free scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles, free roadside assistance for two years without a mileage limit, and a 10-year/150,000-mile battery warranty, which is longer than the industry standard.

Overall, the Venza is pleasant to drive. When the SUV is stopped and the gas engine is off, the air conditioning continues to blow cold. Go light on the accelerator, and at lower speeds the Venza operates like an electric vehicle. Step harder on the go pedal, and the Venza offers good acceleration. 

In most driving situations, you don’t hear much from the engine. Mainly, its characteristic groan is evident only under hard acceleration. If you choose the Sport mode, you might not discern a difference compared to Normal mode.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the Venza Limited should return 39 mpg in combined driving. We matched that on the city portion of our driving route, but after adding mountains and freeways to the equation, the Venza wound up delivering 36.5 mpg. Based on its 14.5-gallon fuel tank, this means you’ll stop for gas every 480 miles or so, leaving yourself a 50-mile cushion as the gas gauge needle drops to Empty.

Driving Comfort

Front-seat comfort impresses, even though the front passenger does without a seat-height adjuster. The driver’s seat offers eight-way power adjustment plus two-way lumbar support, and in Limited trim the Venza includes heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

Rear-seat comfort is adequate. Foot room is the most generous aspect of the Venza’s back seat, because legroom and head room are tight, and the cushion is mounted rather low while the backrest angle promotes slouching. The Venza certainly does not feel like a midsize SUV if you’re assigned to this seating location, and its much smaller in comparison to the original Venza.

Driving Feel

The Venza’s ride and handling qualities reflect competence, but lack driver engagement. This vehicle handles better than 99% of its owners will ever experience, but it will almost never be driven near its handling limits, and it certainly does not encourage that behavior.

Going about their business without fanfare, the strut front and multi-link rear suspension, regenerative brakes, and electric steering collaborate to produce trustworthy driving characteristics. The Limited’s standard 19-inch tires supply good grip, and Active Cornering Assist, a brake-based torque-vectoring feature, helps to eliminate understeer in corners. 

Wind noise is nearly non-existent, road noise is evident only on the roughest of pavement, and engine noise is an issue only when accelerating hard. The 7.6 inches of ground clearance are ready to battle Old Man Winter, if not the Rubicon Trail.

Competence, however, is not the only game in town, and the Venza lacks driving enjoyment.

Final Impressions - Find the best Toyota deals!

The 2021 Toyota Venza deserves a shot at success. Aside from the nose-heavy look up front, the cramped rear passenger and cargo space, the touch-sensing control panel accompanying the larger infotainment screen, and the dull driving experience, there’s nothing much to criticize here. 

But, at the same time, there’s also nothing aside from the Star Gaze panoramic roof and effortlessly good fuel economy to make you say: “Wow!”

And that’s just fine. The new 2021 Venza is for people who want a comfortable, efficient, reliable, and safe Toyota with a sense of style, a hint of luxury, and a modicum of utility, but nothing more.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

Explore new car previews
2023 Toyota bZ4X Preview
2023 Toyota bZ4X Preview
The 2023 Toyota bZ4X is an all-electric crossover SUV with seating for up to five people, the first of the automaker’s family of “beyond Zero” battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).
Read the full review
2023 Subaru Solterra Preview
2023 Subaru Solterra Preview
A favorite brand among outdoor enthusiasts, Subaru has never marketed an all-electric vehicle (EV). With the 2023 Subaru Solterra, that changes.
Read the full review
2023 Mazda CX-50 Preview
2023 Mazda CX-50 Preview
With the all-new 2023 Mazda CX-50, the company best known for crafting cars and SUVs that are a pleasure to drive on the pavement is extending that same sensation of joy to moderately challenging off-roading environments.
Read the full review
Read all articles
Scroll to the top
New Car Preview
2022 Jeep Compass Preview
Most Dependable
2019 Vehicle Dependability: Most Dependable Trucks
Most Popular
10 Most Popular Coupes and Convertibles
New Model Update
New for 2019: Fiat
New Car Preview
2023 Acura Integra Preview
More related
articles