By Shari Prymak

With each passing year, more and more consumers are opting for hybrid-powered versions of Toyota’s vehicles, and the number of Toyota models available with hybrid drivetrains is greater than ever before. Many Toyota models simply offer the hybrid option next to their gas-powered version, while a few are exclusively available as a hybrid. The Venza crossover is an example of the latter, and it makes a strong case for those looking for an efficient, low-emission SUV.

The Venza shares its basic platform and drivetrain with the RAV4 Hybrid, which is one of the hottest models in the Toyota lineup. Compared to the RAV4, the Venza is positioned as more of a premium SUV, with a clean, upscale look that wouldn’t look out of place in a Lexus showroom. Size-wise, however, the Venza offers about the same amount of passenger and cargo space, making it no more practical than the more value-focused RAV4. That being said, it is a versatile size with just enough space for the average-sized family.

The interior of the Venza is a noticeable step up from other Toyota crossovers, especially on the top Limited trim level. The use of materials, fit and finish are quite impressive, and there are plenty of useful features packed into every trim level. The base model receives an 8 inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the higher trim levels get a larger 12.3 inch infotainment system. Although the graphics look a bit flat, the menu structure is clear and relatively straightforward. Instead of traditional button and knobs, the Venza relies on a capacitive touch control panel for commonly used functions. It has a nice look, but it can be a bit finicky and distracting to use.

Toyota’s synergy drive hybrid system consists of a 4-cylinder engine matched to a pair of electric motors, a continuously variable transmission, and a battery pack driving all four wheels. The drivetrain produces 219 horsepower, enough for smooth, brisk acceleration, especially with the sport mode selected. Over a week of mostly light-footed driving, my tester averaged about 7.0L/100km in mixed city and highway use. That’s very fuel efficient, but still short of the 6.0L/100km I managed to average with the RAV4 Hybrid with the same drivetrain. The difference could be attributed to the cold winter weather which does impact the efficiency of electrified vehicles.

The Venza has an MSRP that ranges from $38,490 for the LE trim to $47,690 for the Limited, which represents roughly a $3,000 to $4,000 premium over the equivalent RAV4 Hybrid. The standard features list is generous, and includes features such as a power liftgate, wireless smartphone charging, and a lengthy list of active safety features as part of Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. Features unique to the Limited trim include a full head-up display, a digital display rearview mirror, a surround view backup camera, and a clever “Star Gaze” fixed panoramic glass roof that can switch between a clear and frosted look.  

The Venza delivers in many important areas, and is a well-designed SUV for those who want something just a tad more upscale than the conventional options. Other than having a more premium look with a few added features, however, there is nothing that the Venza offers that can’t be had on the RAV4 Hybrid for a lower price. Either way, you’ll still be getting one of the best designed hybrid crossovers on the market.