The principal of this gospel is Venza, a five-passenger vehicle that "couples the styling and comfort of a car with the flexibility of a sport-utility, an alternative to the traditional sedan."
Toyota says Venza appeals to those torn between a Camry and Highlander SUV and "establishes a new direction in passenger car design." Baloney. It's a crossover—no shame in that.
Venza offers front- or all-wheel-drive and a 2.7-liter, 182-horsepower 4-cylinder for mileage (21 city/29 highway FWD or 20/28 AWD) or a 3.5-liter, 268-h.p. V-6 rated at 19/26 (FWD), 18/25 (AWD) for oomph. AWD activates when wheel slippage is detected, but there's no low setting for heavy-duty off-roading.
We tested the V-6 Venza with FWD that comes with stability and traction control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard. Still, AWD offers more foul-weather security, particularly on secluded roads dotted with patches of snow.
Toyota says Venza was designed with a lower center of gravity to prevent SUV wobble and lean in corners. It helps but the crossover still feels heavy in the wheel in corners and turns, which quicker steering response would improve and AWD would solve. At least ride is bounce free.
The V-6 has adequate spirit, but is a tad loud in acceleration. But at a time when most motorists are waiting for OPEC or the oil companies to raise prices, a 19/26 rating with FWD comes up short.
Toyota says though the crossover comes from a Camry, which offers a hybrid version, it has no immediate plans for a gas/electric Venza. The 4-cylinder is being counted on to satisfy the mileage-minded.
Venza seats five, if the person in the middle back seat is nicknamed "Slim." The cabin is comfortable. Rear-seat passengers enjoy exceptional leg and head room. The backs of the front seats are curved to ensure lots of knee room for them too.
Kudos to engineers for low door sills to ease entry and exit front and back. And door openings are wide to keep the clothes from hitting the body panels.
Seats are covered with grained leather to hold the body in place. Side bolsters offer ample support. A grained finish on the dash, instrument panel and door trim looks stylish, not cheap.
The center console holds one cell phone and two cups. Rather than flip open, the top slides back to expose a power plug and an auxiliary jack. The instrument cluster above the console houses the gearshift lever and an iPod holder.
Other nice touches are a coin holder in the dash left of the wheel, dual water bottle holders in the front doors, single bottle holders in the rear doors, fuel-filler door release along the floor by the driver, tilt and telescoping steering column and the easiest-to-see-and-use trip meter in the instrument panel.
If you're still not convinced that this is not a sedan, look no farther than the wide open cargo hold behind the rear seat. Clue two: It's accessed though a hatch lid. A security shade pulls out to hide contents. Pull handles release and lower the rear seat backs, but the seats don't fold totally flat.
Base price of the FWD V-6 tested is $27,800 ($25,975 for 4-cylinder). Climate control, power seats/locks/windows/mirrors, 20-inch wheels, reclining rear seats, fog lamps and rear window wiper are standard. Add $1,450 for AWD.
The test vehicle added a $4,345 premium package with heated, leather seats; push-button start; power hatchlid; and power, heated, folding sideview mirrors; $1,090 for a JBL audio upgrade with AM/FM/satellite radio, CD player, MP3 playback capability, Blue- tooth phone and 13 speakers; and $570 for a backup camera that uses a much too-small screen on the dash to show what's behind when backing up.
Security, sound, light, convenience, comfort, premium, navigation and entertainment packages add $815 to $4,345 each—making the sticker look more like that on the Lexus.
Dealers offer an optional ramp to get your dog get in back, a booster seat with harness to keep it in place and waterproof rear seat covers—which could be handy for the kids too.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at email@example.com.