Toyota Venza Review
By Kathy Chin Leong

Nine hours to San Diego from the Bay Area with Grandma was a breeze in the new Toyota Venza crossover, a $27,000 to $40,000 champ, styled for 2012, that can handle the vicissitudes of Los Angeles freeway build up as well as zippy turns along urban streets.

Competing against the Ford Flex and the Buick Enclave, the Venza is cozy and comfortable, with much of a station wagon feel. It is not as roomy the the Flex, but the four-door vehicle with a power liftgate and leather seats offering room for five, provides a smooth ride with little bounce or noise. Doors close with a muffled, non-jarring sound, which makes the Venza feel ultra solid and safe. Even a slamming door sounds gentle on this car.

Door handle buttons to lock, unlock, and open and close windows are intutitive and simple. And kudos toes to an excellent GPS system called DENSO Maps that, compared to other car GPS systems, got us to places in record time without going down dead end streets. The voice guidance system offers plenty of time to turn ahead of time. It also tells you how many miles you have remaining until your reach your destination.

The music system is strong and clear, so thumbs up on Venza's audio performance. Like the other cars, you can synch up your iPod and listen to your favorite tunes. The built-in satellite XM radio let's your select your favorite music genre from coffee house blues to classical movements.

The fuel estimate is rated at 18 mpg for the city and 25 on the highway. On our trip, we averaged about 23.14 mpg.

The climate control was excellent during our ride. I like the dulal temperature controls for the driver and passenger as well as separate seat warmers controls. The government safety ratings are interesting on this car with four out of five stars for the driver but only two for the passenger. For side crash-worthiness, the front seat gets five stars and rear seats also get five. The Venza scored four starts on the rollover rating.

There is so much to look at when evaluating a car. And Venza engineers were super careful when it came to airbag design. There are airbags on the front and front row sides and also curtain airbags in the back. A driver's knee airbag also comes standard.

Comforts include a rear seat center armrest, center console with a sliding cover in the front, illuminated cupholders in the front seat area, and remote keyless entry and cruise control. Our 24-valve V8 engine model came with snazzy alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes and two moon roofs which delighted and surprised 80-year-old grandma. When we had to go shopping, it was great to know that if we had a big shopping haul, we would be able to fold the rear seats flat to accommodate stuff like a large flat screen TV.

BOTTOM LINE: The Toyota Venza offers plenty of room for luggage and groceries for up to a family of five, provides safety and comfort for long trips, and offers decent gas mileage along the way. It has plenty of pickup when you have to merge into lanes, and doesn't disappoint when it comes to styling and interior creature comforts and conveniences.

Toyota Venza

$27,425 to $40,000

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