Home » The Stylish, Ahead Of Its Time, Original Toyota Venza Now Offers Near-Lexus Refinement For Used Honda CR-V Money

The Stylish, Ahead Of Its Time, Original Toyota Venza Now Offers Near-Lexus Refinement For Used Honda CR-V Money

Toyota Venza Beige Ts2
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The hardest car to shop for right now is a family crossover for $15,000 or less. After all, everyone wants a crossover, most people don’t have a ton of money to blow, and several years of new car shortages has resulted in a serious used car bottleneck. However, what if I told you there was a cheat code out there that combined interesting styling, loads of features, potent available V6 power, and legendary reliability while still fitting in that price bracket? It’s the original Toyota Venza, and this frequently forgotten crossover is way better than you remember.

The Venza offers near-Lexus refinement, unexpected luxuries, and the sheer confidence of a Toyota badge, so why isn’t anyone talking about it? Well, it wasn’t a huge seller, and when it came out, not everyone understood it. Oh, how the car landscape can change in 15 years.

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Welcome back to Beige Cars You’re Sleeping On, a weekly series in which we raise the profile of some quiet greats. We’re talking vehicles that are secretly awesome, but go unsung because of either a boring image or the lack of an image altogether.

If you cast your mind back to 2009, Toyota showrooms were looking a bit grim. The new Corolla didn’t make a huge effort to compete with the Honda Civic’s dramatic styling, the Avalon was rather plain, the Highlander was generic three-row crossover number five, and much of the lineup didn’t have the same showroom appeal as offerings from Mitsubishi. However, from the depths of Toyota’s beige era came signs of life, and the Venza had styling that’s aged remarkably well.

Toyota Venza 2

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There are zero off-road pretenses to the Venza’s appearance. No cladding, no faux skid plates, no roof rails, no plastic flares. It’s a conscious decision that works, because nobody takes two-row crossovers off-roading. Instead, you get a flashy grille, massive wheels, sculpted flanks, and thin headlights. These days, it’s not the most striking crossover on the road, but it doesn’t look like a 15-year-old vehicle. Toyota put thought into the Venza and it shows.

Toyota Venza Panoramic Moonroof

In aiming the Venza at both empty nesters with some money to blow and savvy upper-middle-class young families, Toyota dropped banger after banger after certified banger on the options list. We’re talking 20-inch wheels, HID headlights, a power liftgate, a panoramic moonroof, JBL surround sound, push-to-start, touch-screen navigation … everything that felt like the future in 2009. A loaded Venza still feels luxurious today, but it wasn’t a Lexus, and that was part of the appeal.

Even though Lexus is a Toyota sub-brand, it carries an elevated prestige that some people just aren’t comfortable with. After all, luxury brands are ostentatious, while Toyotas typically aren’t. Obviously, this is reflected in the price, because holy moly, was there ever a difference. Back in 2010, if you wanted an all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350, you’d be looking at an MSRP of $39,025. However, if you wanted a V6 all-wheel-drive Venza, it started at $29,550, or in the mid-30s with options added. Keep in mind, it had the same engine, same transmission, same platform, and similar refinement as the RX 350 – the Toyota was just much less expensive.

Toyota Venza Interior

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That transverse platform shared with the RX 350 and Camry makes for a ton of interior space. Not only do a litany of center console compartments slide for configurability, the rear seat reclines and there’s a solid 39.1 inches of rear legroom on tap. Best of all, that cabin was an unexpectedly nice place for four adults, with funky woodgrain-like soft-touch plastics, available mahogany, and some pretty comfortable seats. There was even a little pocket to keep an iPhone in. Want to haul furniture? Toyota thought of that and included remote release handles for the rear seatbacks in the cargo area to really open up that load bay. Sure, it might not be the most rectilinear crossover ever made, but access is half the battle.

Toyota Venza Engine

Is the Venza sporty? Absolutely not, and that’s part of the appeal. Because it’s essentially a stylish, tall Camry station wagon, it’s as easy to own as a Camry. It’ll happily commute up and down the highway day in, day out in comfort until the heat death of the universe or the moment we run out of gasoline. The base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine is economical, but the optional 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 turned the Venza into such an unlikely straight-line performer that Motor Trend took a shining to it in a three-car comparison test against the Nissan Murano and the Ford Edge. As per the outlet:

Although it’s not quite as fun or sharp as the Murano, the Venza impresses us as the one that could get up and over the hills the quickest, thanks to its heady 268-horse 3.5-liter V-6, intuitive six-speed slushbox, and grippy Michelins. It posts the briskest 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times—6.5 seconds and 15.0 at 93.7 mph, respectively, not only putting the Edge and Murano on the trailer but also the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T Track—as well as a carlike 0.81 g on the skidpad. “Exceptionally smooth transmission and burly engine. Put your foot in it, and you’re treated to instantaneous and delicious acceleration,” says Loh.

Hot damn, zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds certainly isn’t slow. Add in the aforementioned space and creature comforts, and it’s no wonder the Venza handily won that comparison test. Competency doesn’t always equal popularity, however. In 2009, the original Venza’s most popular year, Toyota sold 54,410 across America. That same year, Toyota sold 83,118 Highlanders, the worst result the Highlander’s ever had. Unsurprisingly, after years of steadily declining sales, Toyota canned the Venza before eventually bringing it back as a smaller hybridized crossover. So what happened?

Toyota Venza Interior 2

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There’s some evidence to suggest not everyone understood the Venza when it launched. NBC News complained about subjects like the sheen of the plastics and the fingertip lightness of the electric power steering before urging shoppers to “Look at the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Ford Edge, and Mazda CX-7 before signing papers on a Venza.” The Equinox? Surely, they weren’t serious. It turns out that Automobile Magazine didn’t quite get it either, albeit approaching the Venza with more self-awareness than NBC News, writing:

I know the Venza is targeted at the Ford Edge and the Nissan Murano, but the entire time I spent behind the wheel I kept thinking that a Subaru would do a better job of being what this Venza is trying to be. The Subaru Forester is similar in price and fuel economy but offers more utility. Maybe I’m missing the mark completely here, but I’d much rather have a Forester, which weighs some 500 pounds less, than the few extra inches of overall vehicle length that the Venza offers.

In 2009, the Toyota Venza was a bit weird. It filled a strange niche at a time when many buyers were looking for either a traditional midsize sedan or something with five o’clock shadow styling, and its only natural competitors were the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano. In 2024, though, the Venza is downright normal. Style-conscious feature-rich midsize two-row crossovers are fairly normalized, and the midsize family sedan is almost a memory.

2013 Toyota Venza Limited

Of course, because the Venza wasn’t a hit, it’s quite good value on the second-hand market. For instance, this loaded 2013 Toyota Venza Limited with just 76,187 miles on the clock is up for sale in Oxnard, Calif. for $15,160. That might sound like a lot for an 11-year-old vehicle, but because of a few turbulent years in the car market, it really isn’t.

2011 Toyota Venza

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Going back a few years and up in miles, this 2011 Venza with 96,491 miles on the clock is currently listed for sale in Phoenix at $10,601. Sure, it may be a fairly low-spec model with cloth seats, but it still has that potent V6, those 20-inch wheels, and that Toyota reputation for reliability. That’s the sort of money similarly-aged Honda CR-Vs with under 100,000 miles on their clocks command, and the Venza seems far more appealing.

Toyota Venza 3

So, if you’re looking for a second-hand family vehicle and aren’t particularly enthused that well-kept decade-old four-cylinder compact crossovers are five-figure cars, why not look at a V6-powered Toyota Venza? So long as sheer excitement isn’t on the docket, this thing does it all, is as pleasant as a warm bath at the end of a cold winter day, and can still wow passengers with its on-board toys. It’s more interesting than a Highlander, more humble than a Lexus, and just flat-out good family transportation that flies completely under the radar. How about that?

(Photo credits: Toyota, Autotrader sellers)

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Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
13 days ago

Just get a Murano. Better looks, better V6, and of course, a much better transmission that allows optimal efficiency or power depending on your needs. The best part is that because the CVT is non-serviceable, it doesn’t need service!

Trevlington
Trevlington
1 month ago

Being in the UK this is not a car I was aware of, but it reminds me a little of the Fiat Croma MK2 (the one based on the Opel Vectra, not the first one developed with the Saab 9000). A (competent but ugly) wagon that ended up with weird proportions and was almost but not quite a crossover.

Wayne F Bailey
Wayne F Bailey
1 month ago

Ok. I’m 77 y/o. I’ve had ~55 cars. I wanted a Venza BEFORE they were introduced. I looked at it as a wagon. I finally got a certified 09, 3 years old.. it replaced an xb Scion. The Venza got better gas mileage, more space! , and quieter. It still is my ex’s driver… probably ~150k miles.
Toyota made a few mistakes with the launch ( actually the first few years).
1. Every one I saw on the lot was over $40k. Way over a erage new car sell $.
2. ALL of the first few interiors were very light color (not a kid car)

Current rides ’19 Rav4 Platinum. ’12 Lexus IC 250 c. Convert

Rapgomi
Rapgomi
1 month ago

I recently needed a car to haul 2 older family members around in and Venzas were at the top of my shopping list. I Iike how they look inside and out, and could put up with a dull driving experience if it was comfortable and meant my other needs. But I could never find one that had just the right price/options/mileage mix, and moved up to looking for a CX-5 or CX-9. Eventually I stumbled onto, and purchased a FIAT 500L with a manual transmission.

I was expecting the 500L to be a joke, but I was so wrong. For 15K less than I thought I would need to spend, I got a car with less than 70K miles, a full length sunroof, a huge rear seat, and its easier to get in and out of than any of the cars I have previously mentioned. Its big inside but drives small and nimble on the road, and Abarth engine and 6 speed are delightfully snarly and entertaining. The issues with the 500L automatics have made the far better manual 500Ls true bargains!

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
1 month ago

Don’t sleep on the Venza. You sleep IN the Venza.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
1 month ago

My parents had one. It liked to eat struts. I blame the 20″ wheels.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
1 month ago

A cousin used to have one, and its a perfectly cromulent car. I always told him it was a station wagon, and still believe that to this day. He did not like the station wagon comments and would always reply “its got 20 inch rims, its a crossover.”

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
1 month ago

Mechanically this has high bang for your buck used. I have to disagree on styling, at best it’s sort of bland at worst it looks like it took all the wrong cues from a minivan. You could get (i think) the same drivetrain in a used RX350s which were (at least when I was looking pre covid) kind of a similar deal; for roughly the same price as a same year RAV4 you get the 3.5 V6 and a 5 speed auto with a genuinely nice interior and arguably better styling than the Venza or RAV4-if you can live with the social stigma of admitting you drive a Lexus.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 month ago

why not look at a V6-powered Toyota Venza?”

For me, I don’t look at that gen of Venza because it’s needlessly big and fat and not all that economical. The 2021+ model would be worth considering given it comes with the same hybrid powertrain as the Sienna… meaning it has a fuel economy rating in the mid to high 30s.


GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 month ago

The original is a good used buy and people that have them seem to really like them. The typical buyer seemed to be those walking into a Toyota dealer expecting to buy a RAV4 but didn’t like how that drove or the swing out rear door, before they dropped that.

I do like the current Venza, which on a spec sheet doesn’t seem to offer anything over a RAV4 but in practice is nicer, not really too far off from a V6 Camry vs. an Avalon IMO. But buying new, it didn’t really offer anything unique. It was the same issue as the Crosstour, just overshadowed by the Honda because Honda had an Accord wagon too (what became the TSX wagon but that wouldn’t have sold any better really).

The Murano and Edge were popular as a “stylish 2-row” option, but those brands didn’t have a successful 3-row crossover yet, which Honda and Toyota did. A Highlander was the same price as the Venza, roomier, same engine with only a little hit in fuel economy. And rode better too, on the 20s the Venza clopped around like a dog walking in tennis shoes.

Really the Venza was more of a Solara replacement – something for empty nesters or DINKs that didn’t need a bigger SUV and/or something more refined than a RAV4 but were moving away from coupes.

Acd
Acd
1 month ago

The worst thing about the Venza was the interior door panels, it looked like some weird elephant skin texture and was just nasty, hard, odd looking plastic.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
1 month ago

I used to think these looked like a Ford Edge beaten with an ugly stick, but it doesn’t look too bad to me anymore.

Palmetto Ranger
Palmetto Ranger
1 month ago

I thought of it as a cheaper R350 without the 3rd row (or the maintenance costs).

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
1 month ago

Looking back, the late aughts were sort of a shake-out period for crossovers, as carmakers threw stuff at the wall to see what would stick (Hyundai Veracruz! Ford Flex!).

That said, for all of its general cromulence, the Venza always seemed more resolved as a design than one of its main contemporaries, the Honda Crosstour. Now THAT was ugly, though I think it’d look pretty cool in “safari” mode with Ridgeline wheels, a big roof rack and some KC HiLites above the windshield.

Charles Laperriere
Charles Laperriere
1 month ago

I purchased a 2010 Venza in 2018 with just under 200 000 KM for my wife, not knowing what this thing was only it’s a Toyota and after driving it a month or two we both agreed this thing is wonderful to drive but most of all reliable as hell. It’s now at 265 000 KMS with no issues other then the original alternator had to be replaced. We will not be trading it in on anything, this weird looking thing as a way of growing on you

MDMK
MDMK
1 month ago

The first gen Venza crawled so the Crown Sigma could run.

I always liked the concept and the right-sized proportions of the Venza. What I couldn’t get past were its oversized and weirdly shaped taillights curving into the corners of the rear hatch glass which was disharmonious with the rest of the Venza’s styling and made it look like a miniature low-spec Sienna.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
1 month ago
Reply to  MDMK

made it look like a miniature low-spec Sienna.

I always figured that was kind of the point? There wasn’t a lot in the Toyota range that was visually similar to the 3rd gen Sienna so the Venza was that ‘missing link’.

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