The 2021 Toyota Venza’s interior is a cabin of extremes. After driving the Venza and exploring its interior, we’ve found the midsize hybrid SUV very satisfying and disappointing, depending on where you look.
You’re So Fancy
Although I’m not a fan of our loaded 2021 Venza Limited tester’s black and brown color scheme, the contrasting brown piping on the doors and dash really caught my eye. It’s a cool, premium detail in this segment, and best of all, it’s not relegated just to the Limited trim. The mid-level XLE gets the same style of piping, too.
Tons of Screen Space
An 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard on the base 2021 Venza LE model. That’s good, but we do wish there wasn’t such a big border around the infotainment screen, which comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Some XLEs and all Limiteds feature an enormous 12.3-inch touchscreen. In the Highlander, we’ve had more positive things to say about the bigger screen than the smaller one, which we’ve criticized as functioning too slowly.
The best part of the 12.3-inch screen—besides that it’s more affordable on the Venza than it is on the Highlander—is that you can show Apple CarPlay or Android Auto at the same time you show a hybrid system display. If you make driving efficiently a game, the Venza’s instrument cluster screen has a helpful display that shows what percentage of the time you’ve been driving with the engine off.
When you go for the 12.3-inch screen, you’re forgoing knobs for volume, tuning, and temperature for the driver and front passenger. In place of knobs, Toyota offers touch-capacitive buttons that are flush against the center stack. The visual effect is a car that’s futuristic and advanced, but the controls aren’t as easy to use as knobs or even regular buttons would be.
The Cargo Area’s Higher Ground
The 2021 Venza has a standard hybrid powertrain, but Toyota intends the SUV to compete head-on with non-hybrids, as well. With that in mind, the cargo area is one of the Venza’s low points. Offering just 28.7-28.8 cubic feet of space, the cargo floor is a bit high, and there’s no lever to pull the rear seats down from the cargo area.
Rear-Seat Reflections and a USB Issue
Move to the rear seat, and you’ll find a satisfactory amount of space. Soft front seat backs should help rear-seat passengers who are especially tall, but a drivetrain hump over the floor of the middle seat limits functionality a little. Where we’d like a design change on the Venza and Highlander is with the rear-seat USBs. Although it’s great that every Venza comes with four USB outlets, including two in the rear, the two in back are positioned too low and out of the way for the people who would use them. We also wouldn’t mind if the doors opened wider, like on the Chevrolet Blazer and—one class down—the Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, and new Nissan Rogue.
Let’s Get Soft (Touch)
The Venza reminds us of the Avalon with its generous supply of soft-touch leather-like surfaces. Our Limited-trim model had it all over the door panels and up the center console. Higher-trim XLEs and all Limiteds also add wood-like trim at the bottom of the center stack, a premium touch we appreciate.
What the Heck Is Star Gaze with Frost Control?
Toyota’s headlining feature with the new 2021 Venza is Star Gaze with Frost Control, and we have to tell you: It’s really cool. But it’s also restricted to the Limited model as an option, meaning the only Venzas with the panoramic roof carry a list price of nearly $45,000. The roof’s party trick is a button that changes the glass from opaque to seeing the sky above. Downsides include the fact that you can’t open it, that you have to go without roof rails, and that no regular moonroof is available elsewhere in the Venza range. Still, though, if you go with a loaded Venza, this is a feature you may enjoy playing with.
A Feature Critique
Every 2021 Venza includes wireless charging, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but no Venza offers wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Heated rear seats are also unavailable—not a big deal—but we’d like to see the 360-degree camera system add a front-wheel view. On competitors’ systems, we’ve found that detail can reduce the chances of curbing a wheel as you park.
Yeah, there’s not much. Even so, that’s not surprising for the midsize two-row SUV segment, which generally places a greater value on styling. Anyone who’s ever driven a Nissan Murano or Chevrolet Blazer won’t find it much different, though we still wish the rear headrests would fold out of the way.
So Is the 2021 Toyota Venza’s Interior Good?
Yes! But it’s far from great. A larger cargo area would help, as would controls that don’t put form so much over function. Having said that, the XLE trim will likely feel every bit of its $37,120 price from inside thanks to those soft-touch surfaces, the piping, and the SUV’s hushed ride.