2015 Toyota Venza

The Venza is a midsize five-passenger vehicle that Toyota refers to as a "crossover sedan," which seems to be a synonym for "short station wagon." However you decide to classify it, the Venza is a family-friendly utility vehicle that appeals to buyer looking for something slightly outside the mainstream.

The Venza was designed specifically with the needs of the North American market in mind - namely, space and comfort along with efficiency. Sold here exclusively, it was engineered at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan and styled at the Toyota's Calty design studios in Newport Beach.

Rather than styling the Venza to look like an SUV, Toyota says it designed the vehicle with a "sleek sedan concept" in mind. The recent refresh brought a new front fascia with a revised grille and restyled foglamps in addition to new 19-inch wheels and tail lamps.

Styling aside, the Venza features a spacious interior providing room for five passengers and abundant cargo space behind the second row of seats - 34.4 cubic inches, to be exact. Levers, one on each side of the rear cargo area, allow the 60/40 split rear seats to fold flat, providing additional storage space for extra long items. For added passenger comfort, the rear seats recline up to 14 degrees.

Power is generated either by an available 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 246 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm with a towing capability of 3,500 pounds, or a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 182 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque.

The V6 returns 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, while the thriftier four pot sips fuel at the rate of 21/27 mpg.

All models shift through a six-speed automatic and can be had in either front- or all-wheel drive, though the latter will sap fuel economy by 1-2 mpg depending on the model.

V6-equipped Venzas come standard with a a Towing Prep package that brings an engine oil cooler, a larger radiator fan and a heavy-duty alternator. It allows a 3,500-pound towing capacity.

Venza LE
The base model for the Venza line, the LE, comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, second row seat vents, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, 3.5-inch multi-information display, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with integrated audio controls, overhead console with map lights, rear-seat adjustable personal reading lamps, three 12-volt power outlets, a blind spot mirror and puddle lamps integrated into the exterior door. The latest model year brings power-folding exterior mirrors as standard.

For those who enjoy the sound of music or talking on the phone more than the sound of traffic, the LE grade's new touch screen-based Entune audio system includes AM/FM six-disc, in-dash CD changer with integrated satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone capability with wireless music streaming via Bluetooth, MP3/WMA playback capability, USB port with iPod connectivity, auxiliary audio jack, auto sound leveling and six speakers.

An optional Convenience Package adds a power liftgate and a rear camera, while the Preferred Package includes a panoramic moonroof, navigation and Entune.

The LE model is exclusively offered with the four-cylinder engines and buyers can choose from front- or all-wheel drive.

Venza XLE
Venza XLE represents the mid-grade trim level for the model, adding to the LE's list of standard equipment with leather for the seating surfaces, steering wheel and shift knob, a navigation system, Entune a four-way power passenger seat, multi-stage heated front seats, satin mahogany wood-grain-style interior trim pieces, an anti-theft system with alarm and engine immobilizer, Smart Key System with pushbutton start and illuminated entry and power rear liftgate and a back-up camera.

Also standard on the XLE is a multi-information display that can be customized to adjust the font size and content, and navigation voice instructions available in Spanish, French or English.

The optional Premium Package brings a JBL audio system, a panoramic moonroof and SiriusXM.

XLE buyers can choose either the four-cylinder or the V6.

Venza Limited
If nothing but the best suits you, then the Venza Limited with standard V6 engine and high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with automatic high beams is for you. This model comes with all of the equipment found standard and on the XLE plus extra features such as front and rear parking sensors.

Occupant Safety
Safety equipment on the Venza includes dual front, side and side-curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag, traction and stability control systems, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.

Key Competitors
Rival models that, like the Venza, provide a blend of style (love it or hate it) and practicality include both the Ford Flex and Ford Edge, the Dodge Journey and the Honda Crosstour.