2009 Toyota Venza

Touch the Sky

An optional panoramic sunroof has separate glass panels for first and second-row passengers, giving the back of the car a more spacious feel. The center stack is the focal point for the wing-shaped instrument panel, topped with the screen for the optional navigation system.

Controls above the navigation screen allow drivers to access comfort and convenience software previously limited to dealership technicians. Using a button, the driver can scroll through settings for door locks, keyless entry, interior and exterior lighting and display brightness. A second button allows the driver to change settings, adjusting the relock timer, the number of doors that unlocks with the keyless entry, and lighting configurations.

A cleverly conceived floor console has a sliding armrest and two large bins: under the front cupholders, and under the armrest. I was especially intrigued by the bin under the cupholders, since it would make a great hiding spot for valuables at the trailhead.

A cell phone or iPod holder at the base of the center stack has a feed hole for wires, which plug into power outlets underneath. All four doors have bottle and map holders. The middle seatback in the second row down to create an armrest, with two more cupholders.

A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel keeps the wheel from obstructing the forward vision of smaller drivers. Redundant steering wheel controls allow the driver to use Bluetooth wireless phone technology, program the audio, and engage the cruise control with a minimum of distraction.

Configurable Cargo Area

There are two sets of levers to fold the second-row seats flat: on the sides of the seat cushions, and on either side of the liftgate. Both sets of controls fold the seats flat in a single step. The tonneau cover is easy to remove, creating plenty of space to load a bicycle inside.

A twelve-volt plug in and cargo area lamp are handy for buyers who plan to take their vehicles camping, or need unload gear before dawn for an early-morning race.

Four tie-down loops secure large cargo. A full-sized spare under the cargo floor is easy to reach, and can take the driver further than undersized spare tires in some competitive products.

Standard Safety

All cars come with seven airbags, active front headrests, four-channel antilock brakes, traction and vehicle stability control.

A new automatic high beam automatically dims the lamps for oncoming traffic, allowing the driver to use the brighter lamps more often on dark roads, while remaining courteous to other drivers.

Pricing for the Venza begins at $25,975 for the four-cylinder car and $27,800 for the V6, not including a $720 destination charge. All-wheel drive adds $1450 to either model, while the panoramic sunroof costs $1050.

2009 Toyota Venza FWD

Likes: An attractive, versatile car with good fuel economy and available all-wheel drive. Second-row seats are easy to fold flat to extend the cargo floor. A standard power liftgate makes it easier to load up the cargo area.

Dislike: Thick D pillars create larger blind spots to the rear of the car.

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