From the inside, the feeling is of spaciousness, especially in the front row.
Keyless entry allowed us to just walk up to the Venza and hop in; all five doors unlock at one touch.
Seat quality is appropriate for a car that might convey a family and their pets on long-distance drives.
The back row seats are surprisingly accommodating.
The center console is designed to be simple, clean, and uncluttered.
The instrument cluster prioritizes an oversized speedometer, which is at the center of the cluster, with a slightly smaller tachometer to the left.
The Venza is thoughtfully designed for people with pets.
There is not much difference in quality between the leather interior and the cloth.
Twisting stalks for lights, wipers and washers, and cruise control are mounted on the steering wheel.
Among the available accessories are a selection of pet products, including a travel harness, rear pet barrier, a pet tent for smaller dogs, and seat cover for the rear bench seat.
And to offer more cargo and passenger space in the process.
Both convey the look and feel of quality.
Both include a nicely textured dash; the cloth interior makes use of carbon-fiber accents for a high-tech appearance, while the leather interior has wood-grain accents to achieve a clean, modern take on classical materials.
Interestingly enough, legroom is actually slightly reduced compared to the Camry, even though interior volume is greater.
It contains low-relief, soft-touch controls for the information center, the audio system and the HVAC (heating/air conditioning) system.
It takes only a moment to adjust for legroom and seat angle, set the mirrors, and select Drive.
Once in the seat, we pressed the Start button and the instrument panel comes to life.
Semi-circular fuel and temperature gauges are smaller and located to the right.
So the interior has been endowed with an unusual mix of qualities, selected to combine easy-to-drive attributes of a premium car with high-utility flexibility of an SUV.
The Auxiliary plug is located out of the way, under a retracting lid that houses cup holders, and the wire can be run so that it is hidden while in use, providing near-perfect integration of the iPod into the Venza's interior.
The console has a soft armrest cover over an unusually deep storage area, which is highly organized.
The cushion length and seat back width are designed for comfort, and there is just enough side bolstering to allow for side-to-side support when the driving is more spirited.
The doors have bottle holders and a map slot.
The front dash layout uses a cleverly arched console and centrally mounted information pod to make it appear as though 60 percent of the front space is devoted to each side.
The harness, dog fence and tent add greatly to safety because the forces involved in a flying dog can be deadly to both dog and humans.
The instruments look good, are bright enough even when the sun hits them directly, and pleasing at night.
The power seats have a nice range of adjustment, easily accommodating our average frame, and the steering wheel telescopes and adjusts about an inch and a half, each way.
The seating position is a tad higher than the average car, more like a minivan, which affords easier visibility of the road ahead.
The shift lever is canted slightly to the driver's side.
The shift position indicator is a modest LED display at center.
The Toyota Venza is intended to be a refined, potentially luxurious alternative to a five-passenger sedan.
The Venza is easy to get into, because the step-in height is quite low, same as a Camry, but the higher roofline makes entry easier for taller people.
There are two interior colors: ivory or light gray.
There is a built-in MP3 player cubby designed to hold players such as iPods securely.
There is also a covered slot that made a perfect place to put our Razor cell phone.
These dimensions make the Venza appear wider and lower, more powerful, and permit increased hip room, head room and a higher seating height.
While the gauges are brightly lit and highly visible, the car is very quiet at idle.
While the Venza is wider and taller overall than the Camry, it shares the same wheelbase, and the same overall length.
With the driver's seat adjusted for a 6-foot person, we easily had enough legroom to be comfortable for long trips.
On the road, the Venza feels very much like a car, and not much like a truck.
The brakes respond to pressure with a nice, easy-to-control mix of pedal assist and firm feedback.
The Venza is not designed to be an off-road vehicle, although it does have 8.1 inches of ground clearance, comparable to compact SUVs.
We were impressed with the stability of the Venza on steep, curving roads covered with wet leaves.
As the day wore on, we tried out both four-cylinder and V6 models, and all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive versions, and drove the now-familiar roads harder, occasionally hitting speeds up to 70 mph.
At those speeds, cornering was achieved with minimal body roll (lean), and steering was light and accurate.
In ordinary driving it rides smoothly and quietly, just like a car, steers easily, and seems as quiet as a Camry.
It was raining and the roads were slick with rain and wet, fallen leaves.
The all-wheel-drive system (also used on the RAV4) can bias torque equally on a 50/50 basis, front to rear.
The terrain in the area is hilly, and the steeper climbs and curving downhills gave us a chance to test the Venza's driveability and grip under somewhat unusual circumstances.
The Venza sits a little higher off the ground than a Camry, so there is a bit more body lean in the corners, but suspension travel is more like a car than an SUV, so the car transitions from side to side cleanly and easily.
We drove smoothly from place to place, wipers and headlights on, observing speed limits between 35 and 55 mph, with minimal need to concentrate.
We drove the Toyota Venza on mostly two-lane roads in and around the Farmington, Pennsylvania, area, a town about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh.
We never felt a wiggle in these slippery conditions, under throttle or braking, all day long.
We still never got into the traction control, or the anti-lock brakes, which speaks well for the tires and the wide stance of the Venza.
With that kind of flexibility, the AWD Venza has the capability to be an especially sure-footed, all-weather transport, and that includes snow.
At the rear, S-shaped tail lamps contribute to the sporty feeling.
In profile, the Venza appears sleek and contemporary, thanks to low rocker panels and narrow doorsills, much more like a car than a SUV.
Viewed from the front, a high, wide grille that flows into flame-shaped headlamps functions to accentuate the overall wide stance of the car.
In keeping with the FT-SX concept vehicle that inspired the design, the wheels are placed out at the corners of the body, snugly positioned in the wheelwells, and there is minimal overhang on either end.
Most of all, the car conveys Toyota's long-view DNA, a way of saying that none of the Venza's design elements are cliches likely to quickly become dated or out of style during the life of the car.
Smooth, fluid lines and aerodynamic sculpting characterize the Toyota Venza, which is slightly shorter and lower overall than most crossovers we've been in.
The 20-inch wheels become especially prominent in the V6 versions, suggesting something surefooted in everyday driving, even sporty on a winding road.
The combination of lamp types combined in the headlamps, and the use of fog lamps, create a crisp, technical feeling.
The end result is to convey the impression of a smart, modern, and practical car.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Farmington, Pennsylvania.
It offers good, smooth performance and handles well in slippery conditions.
It's roomy and comfortable and climbing in and out is easy.
The new Toyota Venza combines the virtues of cars and SUVs resulting in a vehicle that's nice to drive and easy to live with.
The Venza seats five, can carry cargo, and should work well for hauling dogs around.