2009 Toyota Venza

A Wagon by Any Other Name….

by Joe LaMuraglia

2009 Toyota Venza

Wagon. Say it with me “Waaa-gon”. Was that so hard? Did anyone in your vicinity wince or run away in disgust? Did you or your partner melt away like the Wicked Witch of the West? I didn’t think so. Somehow, the appellation “wagon” got a bad reputation in the halls of the nation’s automotive product planners. As a result, when launching a new vehicle that is essentially a sedan with a bigger cargo area (a.k.a. wagon), the marketing department spends eons creating a new term to describe it.
Toyota has joined the new bodystyle-redefinition party with their new Venza. Mechanically identical to a Camry, it features new sexy sheet metal in the shape of what I grew up calling a station wagon. Toyota is saying it is a passenger car “optimized”. Vernacular differences aside, it is a new design direction for Toyota and it may just change your perception of the brand.

What is “Active” Anyway?

During the product presentation in PA, the marketing mavens from Toyota described the target customer for the Venza as an “active baby boomer with pets.” Translation: something for Camry owners to move up to when the kids are finally gone and they can start buying the toys they’ve always wanted. The product planners clearly had this demographic in mind when creating this vehicle. Think about it. These are the people that grew up with wagons in the 50’s and 60’s, raised their kids on SUVs in the 80’s and have come to appreciate the versatility of what a two-box wagon/suv can deliver. So Toyota took all the positive attributes of those vehicles, made some improvements and came up with a new wagon…I mean Venza.

2009 Toyota Venza

The Venza is a little higher than a Camry but not quite as high as a Highlander. It also features a lower step in and more narrow door sills. These design features facilitate ease of entry and exit for the target demographic. Baby Boomers are getting older and many of them are taking care of their elderly parents. Marketers don’t talk about this but if you’ve ever cared for anyone that has difficulty getting in and out of cars, these thoughtful design features alone are a reason to buy the Venza.

A More Inclusive Environment

The focus on the target customer continues after they are into the vehicle. The information display can be customized to show various amounts of information. That isn’t all that special but the fact that you can change the font size is a simple example of making the driving experience more comfortable and safe. Toyota also realized that not everyone that buys their cars wants to interact with it in English so they made the voice commands for Navigation recognize Spanish, French and English. Que rico!

2009 Toyota Venza

What I am calling “inclusive design” continues on to the passengers as well. The dash was designed to make the passengers and driver feel like they are both involved with the vehicle and the dual-zone climate control makes sure everyone is happy and comfortable. If your passenger is of the canine variety, the Venza is the first Toyota to have a full array of pet accessories to keep Fido safe and your Venza clean.

Don’t forget the Gadgets

Just because the customers are likely to be older doesn’t mean they aren’t hip to new technology. Hell, they are amongst the few that can afford the goodies in this day and age. The Venza has available navigation, a backup camera that doesn’t require the aforementioned navigation, iPod connectivity, hands free calling and the ability to stream your music via Bluetooth from your device to an optional JBL sound system. That should be enough goodies to keep the grandkids entertained and the owner’s manual well referenced.

2009 Toyota Venza

Looking Good!

The most daring aspect of the Venza, besides the name, is its exterior design. Toyota is known for many things but design acumen has never been associated with the brand. The Venza is the first step taken to change that perception. While not polarizing, its sculpted flanks and athletic rear will surprise the Toyota loyalist and may just attract people from other brands. It is a design that looks better in person and comes alive in certain colors. I’m going to stop short of gorgeous but will give it an eight out of ten for exterior design.

How She Move?

Let’s be perfectly blunt here, the Venza is a Camry wagon. If the Camry wasn’t so far ahead in best-selling car category, Toyota could have called it a Camry just to keep that billing and nobody would have blinked. As a result, it drives like a Camry and that is a good thing depending on your point of view.
The Venza is available with the standard 2.7L 182 HP 4-cylinder or an optional 3.5L 268 HP 6-cylinder. Both are mated with a 6-speed transmission and can be configured as FWD or AWD with either engine. Reported fuel economy is good at 21/29 city/highway for the 4-cylinder FWD to 18/25 for the V6 with AWD. All configurations I drove were smooth, quiet, and comfortable. What they don’t deliver is any sort of driving excitement.
I am the first one to challenge my peers when they overly criticize a vehicle because it doesn’t drive like it came from Germany. I remind them some people don’t like a taught, firm driving experience. For those of you that fall into that category, you will like the Venza. It is smooth and controlled but just a little numb. Don’t expect to take it out on weekends for a joyride on the Tail of the Dragon and you’ll be fine (If you don’t know what that is, you’ll like the Venza).

A Wagon is a Wagon is a Wagon

I don’t care what the marketers and product planners at Toyota say, in my version of this movie the 2009 Toyota Venza is a wagon and a good looking one at that. It is a more versatile version of the Camry that happens to have a much better wardrobe. Its thoughtful touches will make owners happy and its technology and design might just attract new people to the brand just not those who look for the long way home.

2009 Toyota Venza

4-cylinder FWD MSRP $25,975
4-cylinder AWD MSRP $27,425
V6 FWD MSRP $27,800
V6 AWD MSRP $29,250
Photos courtesy of Toyota

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