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Toyota Venza: Wagon? No!

Consumer Reports News: May 25, 2009 12:08 AM

As I’ve written in previous Personal Picks, I’m a big fan of station wagons. They’re a clever way to get added cargo space and utility, while still retaining the handling and ride of a sedan. Really good wagons can combine function and fun.

With the dearth of midsized or larger wagon choices, I was looking forward to the Toyota Venza. Maybe this would be the anticipated replacement for the long-defunct Camry wagon. You see, I think Toyota could sell a ton of Camry wagons--turn one of the most practical sedans out there into a practical wagon.

Now I know station wagons, and the Venza is no wagon.

Soon after we purchased our test Venza, I took it on a long drive to visit my parents. First thing that bothered me was the ride–it clops over expansion joints and impacts punch hard. Some of the blame for this goes to the 20-inch (dubs!) wheels, whose role is more style over function. This is very un-Toyota-like, and it goes a long way to erase the advantage of a quiet interior.

What is typical Toyota is the short seat cushion, which reduces thigh support even for short-legged me. I started squirming about an hour into the trip. It didn’t help that the steering wheel, despite a telescope adjustment, still was a far reach away. Driving the Venza is an enveloping experience, with a high dashboard and fairly short windows–again, not really sedan-like. The rear styling creates big blind zones in the corners. And the long trip gave my wife and I plenty of time to count all of the misaligned dash panels in our car.

When we left my parents’ house to return to Connecticut, there were a few inches of snow on the ground. The AWD system gave plenty of traction, but the wide tires squirmed somewhat in the slush--another disadvantage of 20-inch running gear.

So is the Venza a reincarnated Camry wagon? Nope. Despite a great drivetrain and a roomy back seat, there are a lot of compromises made for style rather than function. As I said in our Venza video, I’d rather buy a Highlander, despite my fondness for wagons. Even though it’s a SUV, the Highlander drives more like a car and has more utility.

--Tom Mutchler

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