Don't bother parsing it. Toyota says the name of the new Venza is a phonological construction out of the words "adventure" and "Monza," the famous Italian racetrack. That's so far-fetched you need a starship to get there. • Expecting driving thrills from the Venza is like reading an owner's manual for party jokes. The Venza actually looks like a deflated version of the Lexus RX, as if they had pulled a magic cork and drained $12,000 out of it.
The Venza is a perfectly serviceable vehicle, and it's priced right: $25,975 for the front-wheel-drive base model with a 2.7-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder.
All-wheel drive will cost you $1,450; the six-cylinder engine (3.5-liter, 268 hp) will dun you an additional $1,850. Add those features and Venza still comes in at $29,250, very respectable for an AWD wagon with a six-cylinder and six-speed transmission.
If you really go bonkers, you can brush $40,000. Tempting options include the panoramic moonroof, auto-dimming high-intensity headlights, JBL sound system, large-display navigation and rear-camera system — wrapped up in a leather-upholstered bow.
It's not like this segment was crying out for another player: Ford Edge, Mazda CX-7, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Murano, Saab SportCombi, just to name a few, are all midmarket four-doors with hatches, all five-passenger kid-schleppers with some Snow Belt appeal. Consumer choice here isn't ruled by flyspecking comparisons of price, features and cost of ownership, but by taste, sensibility and brand allegiance.
Which is to say, if you love Toyota, then you'll love the Venza. This is the automotive equivalent of comfort food.
Speaking of comfort: The front bucket seats are extra-wide — huge, really — and quite soft, apparently to accommodate Americans' fluffy cabooses.
The rear seats, where the kids will sit, are also big and broad and comfortable with lots of storage space behind the seats. I love the door latch-like seat releases that let you flip forward the rear seats with one hand.
The Venza cockpit is stylish and thought-through. The leather-and-wood gearshift is in the lower center stack, as in the corporate cousin Lexus RX. The rest of the center stack fascia wraps itself around the gearshift, nicely organizing the audio and climate-control functions.
The JBL audio/satellite radio/navigation system is easy to use and intuitive. However, the navigation software made several rather large errors on my trip. For instance, it missed the street address of my brother's house by several hundred yards.
Do I detect just the tiniest bit of slippage in the interior? The plastics and vinyl trims feel ever-so-slightly less gratifying and pleasant — cheap, if you like — than those in previous Toyota products, especially the Avalon.
The Venza's wind noise, usually a strong point with the big T's cars, is no better than average. Although it doesn't quite add up to evidence of complacency from the world's biggest carmaker, I think the Venza's surprise-and-delight quotient is only adequate.
As for the Venza's performance, it's certainly not adventurous, and it resembles "Monza" only in its final syllable.
I suppose I should note I got a speeding ticket while crossing North Carolina. I can therefore report that at 83 mph, the Venza hummed along reasonably quietly, keeping an easy grip on the road while I blissfully ignored posted traffic instructions. My bad.