The 2021 Toyota Venza mid-size SUV has two rows of seats accommodating up to five passengers. (Manufacturer photo)

The 2021 Toyota Venza mid-size SUV has two rows of seats accommodating up to five passengers. (Manufacturer photo)

Toyota Venza returns for 2021 as a whole new entity

After a five-year hiatus, the formerly nondescript model is a snazzy hybrid SUV with all-wheel drive.

The Toyota Venza formerly known as an uninspired wagonish SUVish type thing discontinued in 2015 is back with a vengeance as a snazzy undeniable SUV with a hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive.

The 2021 Toyota Venza is a two-row mid-size SUV with roomy seating for five and 28.8 cubic feet of cargo space in back when rear seats are in upright position. It’s available in LE, XLE, and Limited trim levels, and all three come exclusively with a Toyota hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive system.

A 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors do the work for regular front-wheel-drive operation, while a separate rear-mounted electric motor is assigned to send power to the rear wheels whenever extra traction would be good.

The hybrid system delivers 219 horsepower and a fuel economy rating of 40 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 39 mpg combined. Recommended fuel for the gas engine is 87-octane or higher.

Pricing with the $1,175 destination charge included starts at $33,645 for the LE model, followed by $37,175 for the XLE, and $40,975 for the Limited.

Exterior styling is an excellent blend of athleticism and elegance, looking like an SUV in the luxury class costing a lot more.

The 2021 Toyota Venza XLE interior shown here includes the optional 12.3-inch infotainment system with nine-speaker JBL audio. (Manufacturer photo)

The 2021 Toyota Venza XLE interior shown here includes the optional 12.3-inch infotainment system with nine-speaker JBL audio. (Manufacturer photo)

The passenger cabin’s design emphasis is on clean lines and orderliness. In my Venza Limited test vehicle, operation of the infotainment, navigation, and climate systems were via the 12.3-inch touchscreen or capacitive touch controls below. No physical controls were included, not even for tuning or volume adjustment. A demerit for that. This setup is standard on the Limited but optional on the XLE model. For this reason alone I’d opt for the XLE, though it would be unpleasant having to give up the awesome JBL audio and other desirable features available only on the Limited, including a 360-degree camera system, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

The 2021 Toyota Venza can’t properly be discussed without mentioning Star Gaze.

That’s the name of its fixed panoramic roof with electrochromic glass. At the touch of an overhead switch, the glass changes from transparent to frosted mode within one second, reducing direct sunlight but keeping the cabin brightened. (A power sunshade is included for blocking out all light from the roof.) In frosted mode the glass reminded me of translucent white milk glass, something I like and a better description than “frosted.” Unfortunately, transparent mode isn’t like the completely clear glass of a standard sunroof. The view is a bit hazy.

Star Gaze is available only on the Limited trim, as a $1,400 option.

The new Venza isn’t intended for towing or arduous off-road use, but it does have the sporty handling feel, higher seating position, great forward visibility, and adventurous vibe people find likeable about SUVs. Meanwhile, Venza’s ride is remarkably smooth, quiet, and comfortable.

Welcome back, Venza. You’ve redeemed yourself.

Exterior styling of the 2021 Toyota Venza is suggestive of a luxury SUV costing much more. (Manufacturer photo)

Exterior styling of the 2021 Toyota Venza is suggestive of a luxury SUV costing much more. (Manufacturer photo)

2021 TOYOTA VENZA LIMITED

Base price, including destination charge: $40,975

Price as driven: $43,100

Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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