Pros: More luxurious than mechanically identical RAV4 Hybrid; excellent fuel economy for an SUV; Lexus-like looks and quality
Cons: Less spacious and versatile than mechanically identical RAV4 Hybrid; wonky touch controls; a bit slow
While the RAV4 got more rugged and SUV-like for its current generation, the 2023 Toyota Venza is for those who’d rather have their compact SUV be more refined and luxurious. It doesn’t need to take them camping or at least look like it could. It has a refined look outside and a luxurious interior with prominently featured technology. Mechanically, however, the Venza is nearly identical to the RAV4 Hybrid. And yes, specifically the hybrid, as every Venza is a hybrid. They’re all all-wheel-drive too. Considering the hybrid is the RAV4’s better powertrain option, there’s certainly no problem there.
What about the Venza’s positioning in the greater compact SUV segment? Well, it definitely has a higher price, as its base LE starts well in the 30s, with the range-topping Limited cresting $40,000. It is more luxurious, however, and despite its “compact” size, has a more upmarket look and feel indicative of some midsize SUVs like a Chevy Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. As such, you can think of the Venza as a more efficient alternative to those, or as a more luxurious and refined alternative to the RAV4 Hybrid and other compact SUVs.
What’s new for 2023?
The Venza’s standard suite of driver assistance and safety technologies is upgraded with improved vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle detection. It also adds emergency steering assistance. Feature updates include all trim levels getting an upgrade to Toyota’s latest infotainment system, while the XLE further gets the 12.3-inch touchscreen standard. There are also new USB ports, an upgraded wireless charging pad, and extra standard equipment for the Limited: a head-up display, an eight-way passenger seat and automatic wipers. Finally, there’s a new trim level for 2023: the Nightshade Edition (pictured above), which adds lots of black trim, 19-inch gloss-black wheels and LED foglights. It is available in Celestial Black, Wind Chill Pearl (a new color for ’23) and Ruby Flare Pearl.
Similar to its exterior styling, the Venza’s interior design is a key area where it differentiates itself from the RAV4. Instead of a blocky, off-road look, the Venza features a sharp, modern and highly styled interior. It’s entering Lexus territory in its highest trim. Distinctive color schemes, contrast dash/seat stitching, and prominent technology help bring the design together. Functionally, the XLE and Limited are hamstrung versus the LE, though. Both the mid-grade and top trim have touch-capacitive controls for the audio and climate systems, which are difficult to identify and operate while driving. The base LE uses physical buttons, which are much easier to use even if they don’t look as fancy.
The big dash-top screen is the interior’s centerpiece. It measures 8 inches on the LE, but the XLE and Limited get a 12.3-inch unit. For 2023, they run Toyota’s latest infotainment software that generally impressed in the Tundra and bZ4X. It continues to run standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa come standard. There’s an additional display in the gauge cluster measuring 4.2 inches in the LE and 7 inches in the others. In general, the Venza’s tech offerings are up-to-date with the competition, if surpassing some rivals when equipped with the big, updated touchscreen.
Note that Toyota has not published pictures of the 2023 Venza interior with the upgraded infotainment system. Below right, you will find a picture of this system in the Toyota bZ4X. Below left is the screen housing in last year’s Venza.
Toyota considers the Venza to be a midsize crossover competitor, but our spec comparison shows it’s on the smaller side of this class versus cars like the Honda Passport, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Blazer. Think of it more as a glorified, style-first RAV4 than a truly utilitarian family crossover.
As a result of this style-over-utility choice, the Venza has significantly less cargo space (28.8 cubic feet behind the second row) than the RAV4 (37.5 cubic feet) despite being 5.7 inches longer overall — see our Toyota cargo test comparison for more on what fits in the cargo area. Rear legroom is identical between the two (37.8 inches), but that says more about the RAV4 given their equally generous amount. Thankfully, the Venza’s roofline doesn’t cut into rear-seat headroom enough to be bothersome unless you’re especially tall. The bigger concern is the optional Star Gaze fixed glass roof, which drops rear headroom by a significant 2.1 inches.
The Venza also doesn’t have roof rails. There are mounting points for aftermarket attachments, but those aren’t as convenient as what you’d find on various RAV4 trim levels.
The 2021 Venza is only available as a hybrid. It’s almost a direct lift from the RAV4 Hybrid, with the main differences being its battery pack chemistry (pricier lithium-ion instead of nickel-metal hydride) and final tuning. Otherwise, you get the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder aided by a trio of electric motors, one of which powers the rear axle to effectively provide standard all-wheel drive. Total system output is 219 combined horsepower, which is pretty weak for a midsize crossover.
On the upside, fuel economy is almost identical to the RAV4, meaning the Venza returns exceptional fuel economy for a vehicle of its size that absolutely demolishes its midsize, non-hybrid competition (the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe offer hybrid trims). EPA estimates for 2023 were not available at the time of this writing, but we doubt they’d be much different (if at all) from those in 2022: 40 mpg city, 37 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined.
The Venza may look like a sporty crossover, but it’s not particularly invigorating to drive. Toyota doesn’t provide a 0-60 mph estimate, but the RAV4 Hybrid gets there in 7.8 seconds and the Venza is approximately 130 pounds heavier. It should therefore be even slower, putting it well in the rearviews of most competitors. At least it feels quicker off the line than the numbers suggest due to the electric motors, but like all Toyota hybrids, there’s plenty of droning under full acceleration that does little to convey a sporty intent.
The Venza rides on the same TNGA-K variant of Toyota’s corporate platform and even shares the RAV4’s 105.9-inch wheelbase (the Lexus NX is mechanically related as well). Road imperfections and potholes are soaked up admirably, and highway cruising is both quiet and comfortable. However, the wind and road noise is not reduced to Lexus-quiet levels of serenity.
At no point does the Venza ever encourage the driver to push it through a winding road. The rear electric motor does a bang-up job of keeping the front wheels from being overwhelmed, but this is no performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system. The eco tires give up quickly, and you can really feel the heft of the tall body around corners. If you’re looking for a more engaging driving experience in Toyota’s lineup, the RAV4 Hybrid XSE and new RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid do a much better job.
What other Toyota Venza reviews can I read?
Our first spin in the revamped Venza. Here we go over the design, engineering and provide further driving impressions.
Our West Coast Editor compares the luggage space of the new Toyota Venza with that in a RAV4 to show the real-world differences between the two.
We pit all three of Toyota’s popular hybrid crossovers against each other to see how the new Venza compares. Note that the RAV4 looks a little different now, but its specs are basically the same.
Although we know how the Venza has been upgraded for 2023, we do not know how much it will cost (at least at the time of this writing). Pricing will almost certainly go up from ’22, but we doubt it would be by much more than a couple hundred bucks.
For reference, prices for 2022 were: LE at $34,455, XLE at $37,990 and Limited at $41,945. All those included the destination charge. The new Nighshade Edition’s pricing will slot in between the XLE and Limited.
Which version would we choose? The base model’s ample equipment and physical controls would make us strongly consider going with it, but it’s also hard to argue with the XLE’s simulated leather upholstery (versus cloth), heated seats, upgraded interior materials and new, jumbo touchscreen. We’d probably skip the Limited, because once you cross over the $40,000 threshold, it seems like the mechanically related Lexus NX 350h hybrid would be a better bet.
Toyota makes its full suite of driver assistance systems standard in the 2021 Venza. Those include automatic emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist detection), emergency steering assist, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering assist, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, auto high beams and road sign recognition. Parking sensors and reverse automatic braking are also now standard on every Venza.
The NHTSA gave the Venza five out of five stars for overall crash protection, including four stars for frontal protection and five stars for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick for its sufficiently high scores in crashworthiness, crash avoidance and headlight performance. The latter failed to net a best-possible “Good” rating, meaning the Venza missed out on the best-possible Top Safety Pick+ rating.