The Toyota Venza has always felt like an amalgamation of the company’s other, more successful vehicles.

It’s as if designers deconstructed the latest versions of the RAV4, Sienna and Highlander and built one car from the jumbled parts. In actually, the crossover Venza is based on the Camry. While all four of those vehicles have been highly successful, the Venza has stalled.

Through September, Toyota has sold 31,414 this year, roughly a quarter of the number of its longer-tenured siblings. 

It’s easy to sense why consumers might be hesitant to purchase one. On one hand, the Venza, refreshed for 2013 models, possesses the athleticism of a minivan, borrows the sportiness of a Camry and suffers the seating limitations of a two-row crossover.

On the other, the Venza boasts the cargo space and towing capability of an SUV, represents an antidote to customers who loathe minivans and it possesses a practical sensibility in its handling. These factors and more make the Venza worthy of more attention from car shoppers.

At its heart, it’s a fundamentally sound car searching for an identity.

Here's more on what we thought about the Venza.

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How Much?

How Much?

MSRP: $27,700 to $38,870
Invoice: $25,436 to $35,371

As Tested: $34,630

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Key Stats

Key Stats

- 2.7L I-4 or 3.5L V6 engine
- 6-speed automatic transmission
- 181 hp @5,800 RPM or 268 hp @ 6200 RPM
- 20 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway
- Seats 5
- 70.2 cubic feet max cargo capacity

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What We Like

What We Like

Pete: It’s not every day that the opportunity arises to test a vehicle under unplanned conditions. Once in a while, it comes along.

I was driving the Venza in the highway's right lane when the driver in front of me slammed on his brakes for some unknown and inexplicable reason. Faced with a split-second decision to follow suit or switch lanes, I moved to the center lane with a tractor-trailer bearing down. The accelerator met the floor. The Venza delivered.

With all of its 268 horses galloping, I was speeding far ahead in a matter of seconds. What could have been a close call was instead a non-event. The Venza had showed some mettle. More generally, it proved itself a reliable vehicle for a commute filled with a variety of conditions throughout the drive.

The interior is, with one exception, comfortable. It’s a roomy vehicle that not only technically fits five, but probably can comfortably fit five reasonably-sized adults. There is ample storage near the front seats. Regular console space is supplemented by additional space underneath the cup holders.

Autoblog: The Venza’s 268-horsepower V6 never felt strained and its six-speed automatic transmission was a model of certainty, never hunting around for the right ratio. The driveline seemed utterly relaxed at all times, and pulling out to dispatch semi-trucks on long inclines was never an issue.

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What We Don't Like

What We Don't Like

The dashboard needs an overhaul.

The gearshifter is neither mounted to the center console nor the steering wheel. Instead, it’s located in the lower-center portion of the dash – a placement that is awkward. There are preset seat-position buttons where a driver might expect to find window controls. Worse, the engine and fuel gauges look cheap and chintzy.

The headrest is remarkably uncomfortable. This car part might be the vehicular equivalent of offensive linemen in the NFL – it never gets noticed unless there’s a problem. While I can’t remember a headrest standing out in any capacity before, this one brings dubious attention.

Autoblog: The faux wood trim on our model’s center console had an almost matte finish, yet the "matching" parts on the armrests were rendered in a comparatively high-gloss finish. The audio/navigation head unit was also slightly misaligned, as were other visible trim pieces. … None of these issues truly dented our enjoyment of the Venza’s functionality, but … we’ve been raised to expect better attention to detail.

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Bottom Line

Bottom Line

There’s a lot to like about the Venza, particularly with the V6 trims.

A potential buyer has limitless options with this vehicle. Haul a camper? It’s got a towing capacity of 1,000 pounds standard or 3,500 pounds in the V6. Road trip? There’s ample room for kids in the back and 70.2 cubic feet for gear. Fuel economy? The 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway isn’t great, but it’s in line with the rest of the crossover segment.

Assert itself in traffic? It’s got the power.

The Venza is a satisfactory ride that's a jack of all trades. That may be part of its identity problem. If a customer wants a true crossover, why not go with the award-winning RAV4? If they want a family hauler, why not get the additional seating in the best-selling Sienna?

And in perhaps the most natural comparison of the three, if a customer wants a mid-size crossover, why not buy the well-regarded Highlander, which comes with nearly identical fuel economy and price tag?

Improvements needed to upgrade the interior should be easy enough to remedy for the Venza. The more difficult challenge for Toyota might be solving the competition from within.

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