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2013 Toyota Venza Review: A Stylish Family Hauler That is Surprisingly Fun to Drive

The 2013 Toyota Venza XLE does what very few family crossovers can do, offering an interior setting that is plush, loaded and roomy with a chassis and drivetrain that supplies far more fun than you would expect from a vehicle in this class.

The 2013 Toyota Venza is an interesting vehicle. It is a crossover – which means that its not really an SUV but it’s too big to be considered a station wagon. Plus, no one likes to use the terminology “station wagon” anymore so we refer to it as a crossover. Although this is an insanely popular segment with entries from pretty much every company that does business in America, it is not a segment that is generally enjoyed by those who enjoy driving. This is a segment that usually puts function before both form and excitement but the Venza is different. The Venza has an interior that is both very roomy but it is also very stylish and – more importantly – it packs an impressive amount of power into a vehicle that handles very nicely without compromising ride quality.

My 2013 Toyota Venza was fitted with the features of the XLE Premium Package and while the XLE is the midlevel trimline, the Premium Package upgrade adds so many high end gadgets that you will easily mistake this layout for a top of the line vehicle. The 2013 Venza XLE with all wheel drive and the 3.5L V6 carries a standard base price of $35,080 while the XLE Premium Package and destination fees bring the final price as tested to $37,790.

The Exterior
The 2013 Toyota Venza features an exterior styling that is very much like the Toyota Camry – except the styling has been adapted to “fit” the larger body of the Venza. Some might not like this but I have a hard time griping at Toyota for designing a crossover that looks like the bestselling car in America. While some critics have hammered the Camry for its styling not being aggressive enough, I find that both the Camry and the larger Venza have an exterior design that are appropriately aggressive for the segment. Of course, the Venza has a little higher beltline and a body that is understandably bulkier but when admiring the Venza – you can see the touch of Camry in many aspects.

This means that the Toyota Venza has a fairly aggressive looking front fascia with a big, bold grille and a smaller lower grille opening, angled to bolster the sporty feel with a set of high tech looking HID projection headlights flanking the central opening. There is also a set of nice, bright fog lights mounted towards the outer edge of the front fascia with black and chrome bezels that look sporty…and a little classy. This sporty nose is capped by a fairly short hood that hovers over a set of front fenders that flare to allow for a wide stance that helps to protect the Venza from the awkward, high riding look of many crossovers.

Along the sides, the 2013 Toyota Venza has a long, flat roofline and tapers down slightly in the back while the natural body line gradually rises from front to rear to give the Venza a sporty posture that is once again helped by the front and rear wheel flares. The 20 inch wheels with a silver painted 5-spoke design look sharp without being too much for the segment. Best of all, while there is a generous amount of ground clearance, there isn’t a whole lot of wheel gap between the tires and fenders and that simple fact goes a long way in preventing the Venza looking like an awkward little SUV.

Out back, the Toyota Venza has big, bright taillights that are mounted high on the body for excellent visibility while the angular design continues the sporty feel. The rear hatch looks small from the outside relative to the size of the rear end but when you open the hatch, you are welcomed by a very large opening that makes for easy loading and unloading. Capping off the sporty feel that I like about this Toyota crossover is a set of chrome dual exhaust tips and a low profile rear spoiler mounted atop the dark tinted back glass.

The 2013 Toyota Venza XLE is high riding crossover but the design of this vehicle allows it to have a much sportier stance than some competitors while the various features around the outside of the vehicle really drive home the sporty feel of the Venza. Toyota has done an excellent job of crafting a smallish crossover that is vastly more stylish than the competition but the company has achieved that look without killing the versatility of the Venza.

The Interior
the interior of the 2013 Toyota Venza XLE is just as impressive and sporty as the exterior and the black leather treatment in my test car was a big part of that. The interior is almost entirely black – from the dash to the door panels to the carpeting to the leather clad seats but white contrasting stitching on all of the leather surfaces and a faux carbon fiber trim with some matte silver here and there create the kind of layout that you would see in a model intended to be sporty. The headliner is light and breaks up the darkness of the interior while a massive dual panel sun roof offers a chance to gaze at the stars for front and rear riders.

The front seats of the 2013 Toyota Venza XLE are heated and feature power adjustment controls with a wide range for tall and short drivers alike. These front buckets have deep side bolsters and moderator hip bolsters with thick padding across the entire face of the seats so they are comfortable on a long drive – or when hammering the turns…if that is the sort of thing that you plan to do in the Venza. Both the driver and front passenger have plenty of leg, knee, hip, shoulder and head room while elbow room across the padded leather armrest could get a little tight with two large adults up front.

In the back, there is a ton of leg room for all three seating positions and in very rare form, the center seat is actually wide enough to be considered a seat. Both outboard rear seating spots offer a ton of room in every dimension even though the center seat is big enough for someone to sit there. Granted, with three people in the back seat they will likely find the hip, shoulder and elbow room to be a little tight but the center seat is far more substantial than any vehicle in this class that I have driven. The Venza also has a huge rear cargo area with a roll-out tonneau and with the pull of a latch located in the cargo area, the back seats fold down flat and effectively double the amount of hauling space.

In terms of high tech amenities, the 2013 Toyota Venza XLE falls in the middle of the group – with many of the features that you really want like dual zone climate control, a touch screen infotainment system with navigation and a powerful JBL sound system but you won’t find any excessive (and expensive) features like a fancy digital gauge cluster. There is a small driver’s information screen located high on the middle of the dash and there are full controls for the hands free phone system and the stereo as well as push button start but this isn’t a vehicle that will require you to take classes to figure out how to listen to the radio. My one complaint with the interior amenities is one that I have had with several Toyota Motors vehicles and that is the lack of dedicated Navigation button on or around the infotainment system. To get to the map or nav system, you have to go into the stereo menu applications and select it. In this day and age, navigation and maps are heavily enough used that they deserve a quick access button from the main screen or around the touchscreen.

The 2013 Toyota Venza XLE also has an interesting intangible that is something that I don’t often rave about in my reviews. I am a man who likes places to store things in a vehicle. I like convenient consoles storage compartments, big door pockets and things like that which I can reach from my spot in the driver’s seat. The Venza has a very cool center console with a sliding top that allows you to chose just how far you want it open so you can have it completely closed with two full sized cup holders and when it is adjusted like that, there is a slot that you can open to access small things.

You can also move the face back one slot so that you have constant access to the storage area and only one cup holder or you can move the lid all of the way back and have full access and no cup holders. The padded armrest also lifts up to reveal another large storage area and when you have the center cup holders hidden, there are a pair of cup holder slots in each front door…so I can see this being a great vehicle for a small family to drive a very long distance with plenty of space for mom and dad to stow things while the Venza is in motion. Finally, there is a lid in the center stack that pops up to reveal a universal phone holder that I just love. Great idea.

The 2013 Toyota Venza XLE has tons of passenger space with real seating for three people in the back seat, a massive cargo area with the ability to expand with the pull of a handle, an easy to use infotainment system, tons of storage space around the driver and a level of comfort that makes this a great vehicle for a long trip or daily driving.

The Drive
The 2013 Toyota Venza XLE is offered in either front wheel drive with a 4-cylinder engine or all wheel drive with a 3.5LM V6. My test vehicle was fitted with the V6 engine option and I was mighty glad to see it as the 268 horsepower and 246lb-ft of torque really make this a very stout vehicle. Toyota is not often given any credit for their engines but that available power affords the Venza impressive levels of acceleration from a stop or when in motion so whether you are trying to get ahead of the guy next to you when leaving a stop light or you are trying to hustle around slower traffic on the highway – the V6 Venza is willing and very capable. From a sporty driving aspect, I would love to see some shift paddles rather than manual shift option on the column shifter as the column shifter doesn’t give you much of the connected feeling that you get with paddles or some column shifters…but I should keep in mind that this is a crossover and not a sport sedan. Even without the ability to pick through the gears very accurately, the Venza makes very good use of the available power and packs enough power to get down the road at speeds well above any posted limit.

One of the most crucial aspects of any good family hauler is a comfortable ride and while the 2013 Toyota Venza delivers that smooth, quality ride – it also handles surprisingly well. The Venza does sit a little lower than some of the competition so where some other vehicles tend to “float” a bit on the highway, the Venza feels very planted when cruising down the freeway at higher speeds. It takes the long, sweeping turns on the highway at speed without any noticeable body roll and it feels very confident while doing so. As someone who likes to get from point A to point B on the highway without wasting much time, I was really pleased with how well the Venza handled itself while being put through the paces. Also, the Venza’s steering system provided adequate feedback with just enough of a feel for the road to keep the driver from feeling disconnected but it also won’t beat you up on a long drive. Around town, the Venza was whisper quiet inside and while it has its limitations – this is a very that will carve through the turns a bit with the 268 horsepower hard at work.

Now, Toyota is known for their stunning fuel economy and while the Venza offers solid fuel economy, it is really not as stunning as some of the brand’s other models. My test vehicle was expected to get 18 around town, 25 on the highway and 21 miles per gallon combined – all of which I found to be very realistic. I averaged 20.6mpg while driving the Venza and on one tank of fuel that was mostly highway driving, I hit 24.9 miles per gallon and it should be noted that by no means do I drive with a light foot.

When most people think Toyota or crossover, they probably don’t think “fun to drive” but the company has really done a nice job with the 2013 Venza – packing a powerful engine and a suspension system that combines driving quality with driving excitement into a crossover that will deliver a far more engaging driving experience than you would expect. I love to drive and I really enjoyed driving the 2013 Venza as it was one of the few crossovers I’ve driven (and I’ve driven a lot of them) that handles more like a sporty sedan and accelerates hard enough to get on your way in a hurry.

The Final Word
If you are looking for a roomy family vehicle with seating for four adults that isnt a total bore-fest to drive – the 2013 Toyota Venza might be your next new vehicle. It has a nicely equipped interior with the technology that you expect but it keeps the cost down by avoiding a bunch of the unnecessary items that many consumers in this segment really don’t want or need. Sure, a high tech digital gauge cluster is nice but not when it raises the price by a thousand dollars but a nice touchscreen infotainment system with navigation and a solid sound system is worth the cost.

The Venza has what pretty much everyone wants from their new car in this day and age but it doesn’t force you into a bunch of high tech jazz that you can do without – especially when it keeps the price down. Best of all, this is one of the few crossovers that I have driven (possibly the only one under $40k) that will handle well enough and accelerate hard enough to be entertaining.

Click any of the thumbnails at the top of the review to check out our entire 2013 Toyota Venza gallery!

This story is updated on May 11, 2018.


Keith Griffin    December 7, 2013 - 7:56PM

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If I could only have one vehicle for the rest of my life, the Toyota Venza would be my first choice because it does so many things well. Keep in mind I said one vehicle for the rest of my life - and I could drive nothing else ever again. The Venza would handle 98 percent of my needs.