2021 Toyota Venza Yearlong Review: What We Loved (and Didn't) About the Upscale Hybrid

When we took delivery of our long-term 2021 Toyota Venza, we asked ourselves if luxury could be mainstream. With its upscale exterior design and polished interior, the Venza could easily be confused for a Lexus, but its attractive price says otherwise. After 12 months with us, the Venza delivered comfort and luxury in a compelling and affordable package.
 
As a midsize two-row SUV, the Venza sits between the RAV4 and Highlander in Toyota's SUV lineup, but as a hybrid-only SUV, it plays a different game in its segment. Some of the competition includes the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Volkswagen Atlas, Chevrolet Blazer, and Honda Passport, with every player tackling the segment in its own way. Whereas Toyota took the upscale hybrid approach, Kia and Honda opted for the rugged way, Chevy went a sportier direction, and Hyundai and VW went down a more mainstream path.
 
At MotorTrend we make every attempt to live with these vehicles like you would so we can identify the things you need to know but might not uncover on a test drive. Our hybrid SUV served as the carriage for the newly expanded Loh family during an important visit to Sacramento, and it took us deep into Texas when we visited Big Bend National Park and Marfa on the way back to Los Angeles.
2021 Toyota Venza Texas Roadtrip 24
 
We chose the XLE model, sandwiched between the LE and Limited in the Venza lineup, because it offers the most bang for your buck. With the SofTex package—a $510 option—we got heated and ventilated faux leather seats, which proved comfortable. The vegan leather was designed to hold less heat over traditional leather, something we appreciated during the hot summer days. The $2,050 Premium Audio package upgraded the 8.0-inch touchscreen to a 12.3-inch display with capacitive controls, navigation, and a nine-speaker JBL audio system. Although the big screen was a nice upgrade, the touch controls for the HVAC and screen were harder to operate over the traditional physical buttons; they were very sensitive, and we missed having knobs for the volume and radio tuning. All in, our Venza checked out at $39,735, a great deal considering its magnificent equipment.
 
 
Although the Venza aced at its primary job, it wasn't perfect. Its hybrid powertrain—a 2.5-liter l-4 with three electric motors for a combined 219 hp—felt stressed at medium throttle input, loudly roaring when accelerating from a stop or when passing on the freeway. Its traction control system was also touchy—when going over a bump, rough pavement, or a steel plate and applying the brakes, the system would briefly cut power and lock the wheels. This didn't happen often, but I noticed it multiple times throughout the year.
We also complained about its interior space and poor packaging given its size. The Venza is longer than the RAV4, yet it has less passenger and cargo space than its smaller sibling. Its cargo floor is too high, and its swoopy roofline and overall shape limit cargo space.
Visiting the dealer was easy. Thanks to the Toyota Connected Services app, we were reminded when it was time to go in for service, and booking an appointment through the app was a breeze. Toyota's maintenance plan covers normal factory scheduled services for the first two years or 25,000 miles, so customers don't have to pay a penny. (We did have to, however, because our Venza was part of a fleet; we spent less than $200 over four visits.)
 
2021 Toyota Venza 1
Compared to other long-term two-row midsize SUVs, the Venza was inexpensive to maintain. Our 2015 Nissan Murano SL AWD cost $589.76 over the 12-month period it stayed with us. That's more expensive than the Venza or the $77.90 we paid for our 2018 Dodge Durango V-8 long-termer. Although we like the two-year complimentary maintenance, we'd prefer to visit the dealer less often; the Venza has scheduled services every 5,000 miles. We never had to visit the dealer outside of the maintenance schedule, though. We avoided any chips on the windshield, flat tires, or other unexpected surprises throughout the year.
The few gas stops we made didn't go unnoticed. The Venza delivers 40/37/39 mpg city/highway/combined per the EPA—pretty good numbers for an SUV this size. We didn't quite hit those numbers on our average, but we weren't far off (35.1 mpg). Still, we saved money at the pump, which we appreciated as gas prices skyrocketed toward the end of 2021.
Overall, our 2021 Toyota Venza long-termer delivered exactly what we expected it to. It's not necessarily a fun SUV to drive, and it isn't perfect, but it does a lot of things well. It's comfortable, it's full of upscale touches, and it comes at a great value—and plenty of people will be happy about that. Although its technology isn't top notch, it has enough to simplify some of your day-to-day commuting needs. And with incredible reliability and a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS, the Venza is quite an attractive package.
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS 2021 Toyota Venza XLE Hybrid
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD
ENGINE TYPE I-4, alum block/head, plus front/rear permanent magnet electric motors
VALVETRAIN DOHC, 4 valves/cyl