I get a laugh reading some of the reviews my fellow automotive journalists post sometimes. All too often, they review the concept or idea of the car and leave me wondering if they ever actually stuck the key in the ignition and...you know...drove it.
The prevailing bad rap on the Toyota Venza is "Oh, another crossover based on the Camry."
Okay, there is the Lexus RX 350, the Highlander and even arguably the Sienna minivan. And on paper, you'd be excused for thinking they were trying to cram vehicles into paper-thin niches.
But that's not the reality for the Venza, at least not as I see it. My view says you have to put the Venza up against its competitors (Ford Edge, Chevy Traverse, Nissan Murano). Is that a segment a full-line car company can afford to ignore? No way.
So I put the key in the ignition (well, actually, the Venza uses a starter button) and drove not one...but two Venzas. A loaded ($9,000 worth of options) V6 and a nicely equipped (no leather, DVD or navigation system) 4-cylinder.
Both of them are stylish (more than a match for the Edge, Traverse and Murano), solid, spacious and comfortable.
The loaded V6 at $37,624 as tested is about as good a value as loaded V6 crossovers get these days.
But the one I liked most was the less-loaded four cylinder. Yes, it gives up 86 horsepower and 64 pounds per feet of torque to the V6...but in normal, everyday around-town driving...a mix of city streets and freeways...I didn't miss the power. The four is perfectly adequate.
And the bonuses come on the price sticker...at the bottom line ($29,949) and the EPA estimate (21 city/29 highway as opposed to 19/26 for the V6). A believable number, by the way...the much larger 4-cylinder Venza delivered exactly the same in-town mileage for me as the Nissan Rogue (which is EPA rated 21/26, so the Venza should do better on the highway. And that Rogue bottom-lined at $27,800).
Think about that for a minute...less than $30,000 and 29 miles per gallon on the highway. For something that seats five comfortably and has room for quite a bit of luggage, groceries...whatever...behind the back seat.
I'd take the four.
But if you think you have to have the six, the price tag can still be reined in. The base price of the V6 is only $2,000 more than the four. Equip it like the four I drove (skipping leather, DVD and nav) and you're in just below $32,000. Which is still a strong value.