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  5. 2021 Toyota Venza XLE Test Drive Review

You don't have to look hard these days to find proof of Toyota's increased focus on vehicle design. The 2021 Toyota Venza joins the likes of the RAV4 and all-new 2022 Tundra as the more boldly designed products in the Toyota portfolio, and it's also a dedicated hybrid returning some of the best fuel economy of any SUV on the market.

Toyota says that the Venza is a mid-size, two-row SUV, which would put it in the same segment as the Nissan Murano, Chevrolet Blazer and Honda Passport. But the spec sheet actually shows it having less space for passengers and cargo than the compact RAV4 it shares a platform with. Earlier this summer, I had the chance to drive the top Venza Limited trim level, and this time around we're sampling the mid-level 2021 Toyota Venza XLE.

2021 Toyota Venza XLE Exterior

Whereas the original Venza (2009-2015) was a Camry-based model built in the U.S., the 2021 Toyota Venza is essentially a rebadged version of the Japanese-spec Toyota Harrier. And if you're getting a Lexus vibe from the new Venza, that makes sense, as the Harrier was the basis for the Lexus RX until 2008. This new Venza is a stylish SUV, and has a premium look thanks to the chiseled body lines and narrow LED lighting. Even the shape of the grille bears more than a passing resemblance to Lexus' signature spindle grille treatment. The blue Toyota badges signify the hybrid powertrain, while the XLE trim level adds chrome trim, 19-inch wheels, a body-matching rear spoiler, and dual LED daytime running lights.

2021 Toyota Venza XLE Interior

The 2021 Toyota Venza is to the RAV4 what the Avalon is to the Camry, in that the interior is focused primarily on the premium experience. Cabin materials are the same as what you'll find in other higher-line Toyota trim levels, but the interior is cleaner and more cohesive than other SUVs in Toyota's lineup, which gives it an almost Lexus vibe. All 2021 Venzas come with wireless smartphone charging, four USB charging ports, leather-trimmed steering wheel and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But you have to step up to the Limited trim level in order to get the innovative Star Gaze panoramic roof. This Venza XLE added a $510 to upgrade to Toyota's leather-like SofTex and heated and cooled front seats, along with a heated steering wheel. The $2,050 Premium Audio package adds the 12.3-inch touchscreen display with navigation, a nine-speaker JBL sound system and capacitive touch controls for the HVAC system. 

From the outside, the Venza is about six inches longer than the RAV4, but since the two SUVs ride on identical wheelbases and have the same overall width, the cabin space is about the same. Even though it's not a true mid-size SUV, the Venza has plenty of space for five adults. There's a generous amount of headroom and legroom for rear passengers, and the rear seat back can recline for added comfort. The more rounded roofline and raked D-pillars does result in less cargo space than the RAV4 (28.8 behind the rear seats and 55.1 with the rear seats folded flat), which is considerably less than true mid-size SUVs the Venza is being marketed against. 

2021 Toyota Venza XLE Powertrain

Like the Prius, the 2021 Toyota Venza is a dedicated hybrid since the only powertrain it offers is the 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine paired to a lithium-ion battery and an electric drive motor. For those keeping score at home, that's exactly what the current RAV4 Hybrid uses. This system features a combined output of 219 total horsepower, and the Venza has EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 40 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, which was good enough to make it one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs

Although the Venza uses the same wheelbase, powertrain and suspension layout as the RAV4 Hybrid, it has a noticeably smoother and quieter ride. In fact, with an ultra-quiet interior even at highway speeds, this is the one area where the Venza feels most like a Lexus. All Venzas come standard with Electronic On-Demand AWD, which means a second motor is mounted at the rear axle (instead of a transfer case and driveshaft), that can send up to 80 percent of the total power to the rear wheels when wheel slip is detected. I drove the Venza through some light sand to feel the AWD in action, and while that might have proved a challenge for some front-drive SUVs, it worked perfectly. There's even a readout in the digital display to show how torque is being distributed.

2021 Toyota Venza XLE Safety

Where the 2021 Toyota Venza really stands out as a premium family hauler is its high level of safety, which includes a long list of standard safety technology. All Venzas come standard with eight airbags and the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of safety features, which included a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assists and Automatic High Beams. On top of all that, the new Venza has earned a 5-Star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2021 Toyota Venza XLE Overall

The 2021 Toyota Venza might not be a true mid-size SUV. But with excellent fuel economy, decent interior space, and distinctive styling it certainly checks all the right boxes for a comfortable family hauler.

With a base MSRP of $32,670, it's certainly priced competitively with two-row mid-sizers like the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. But what the Venza lacks in size, it more than makes up for with a premium look and feel. Decked out in the XLE trim, this well-equipped tester carried an as-tested price of $39,735, which is about $4,000 less than the fully loaded Venza Limited I tested over the summer.

Jeffrey N. Ross | Sep 29th

2021 Toyota Venza XLE Specs


4-door, 5-passenger, AWD


2.5L I4, electric motor
219 hp, 163 lb-ft
CVT auto



NHTSA Safety Rating

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

AutoNation Drive Test Drive Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

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