My son can never get his socks' toe seam to fit correctly and is known to whip the socks off and then collapse in a disgruntled heap on the floor. You may not have this reaction to socks, but I bet there's something in your car that makes you feel the same way. I can find at least one such feature in most test cars I drive. Except one. The 2011 Toyota Venza wins the award for least annoying vehicle.
In the 2011 Venza, there are no frustrating features and no weird anomalies in the fit and finish; the entertainment system and climate controls are easy to use.
This large hatchback comes with an optional V-6 engine that has good acceleration. While it's not going to wow anyone with its zero to 60 mph stats, the Venza is comfortable enough to drive all day. I liked it most on the highway.
Pricing on the Venza is interesting. The base model with front-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine starts at $27,125. My test car, an all-wheel-drive version with a V-6, starts at $30,400, but with all the optional features on my test car, the price rocketed to $40,174.
While Toyota says the Venza is a large hatchback, it really looks like a wagon. It's got a few angles to keep things interesting and modern, but it isn't too bold. It has tall doors, ease of entry and a spacious cargo area — all things that make family life easier.
The Venza's doors were easy for my kids to open. They do open wide, making them a little tricky for kids to close from the inside. My kids had to lean out a bit to grab and close the doors. The Venza also is easy to get into and out of for adults and older kids; however, little ones may need a hand up. What I loved about the Venza was the instrument cluster's readout that told me which door was open. It stopped me from having to open every single door and the liftgate to find the open-door culprit.
The ease of accessibility continues in the cargo area because my test car came with an optional power liftgate. This is one of those features that's easy to scoff at if you don't have one, but once you've tried it you don't want to be without it. It eases efforts in the grocery-store parking lot, and if you can think of one place you want to ease efforts more than there, well, you just let me know.
The Venza's cargo space is large and somewhat flexible. The roof angles down toward the back, but I was surprised at how much I fit in, right up to the tailgate. I'm a gambling woman and I bet a double stroller would fit in there. The 60/40-split rear seats fold flat if you need extra room for stuff and not people.
The Venza has a standard 182-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder and an optional 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Both are paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. With front-wheel drive, the four-cylinder Venza gets an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg city/highway. The all-wheel-drive four-cylinder Venza gets 20/25 mpg. Mileage numbers drop with the V-6 engine. The front-wheel-drive V-6 Venza gets 19/26 mpg, and the all-wheel-drive version gets 18/25 mpg.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The Venza really shines for families with two or three kids. Its strongest suit is comfort, and as the head chauffeur of your family, you will revel in it.
Secure cupholders in the front seat lead the long list of fantastic features that includes the mobile phone/gadget holder in the center stack. It's a small cubby that has a hidden cord passageway to the center console. You can charge your gadget in this cubby without tangled cords getting in the way. Pair this with the Bluetooth streaming audio and the hands-free phone system and you can keep your attention where it needs to be.
Fortunately, rear seat passengers had a nice ride in my test car. This was facilitated mostly by the rear entertainment system, which includes a flip-down screen with two wireless headphones and a remote. This feature can be yours for a pretty penny ($1,680), but my kids enjoyed it while we had it.
If you have three kids, comfort likely won't be an issue, but proximity will. They'll fit, but they'll be — gulp — touching each other. Peacemaking efforts will be required until one of the children is old enough and big enough to sit in the front seat.
In addition to the gadget dock in the front, there are bottleholders in each door. The Venza also includes a nifty pocket on the passenger's side of the center console that can fit a slim pocketbook, wallet, maps or other smaller items.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The 2011 Venza has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact, roof-strength and rear crash tests and have an electronic stability system. In crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Venza received four out of five stars overall. In the frontal crash test, it scored three stars. It received five stars in the side crash test and four stars in the rollover crash test.
The Venza's backseat easily accommodates child-safety seats. The flat bench helps any kind of car seat to fit, and the seat belt buckles aren't floppy, so kids in booster seats can buckle up with less frustration. The two sets of lower Latch anchors were easy to locate and use. The three tether anchors are found on the cargo area's floor under a mat that has to be removed to use them.
The Venza has a slew of standard safety features such as front-wheel drive, antilock brakes with brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, active front head restraints and seven airbags, including side curtains for both rows and a driver's knee airbag.
Optional safety features include all-wheel drive, a backup camera and an Automatic High Beam system that determines if there's an oncoming car and switches from high- to low-beam headlights.
Get more safety information about the 2011 Toyota Venza here.