I don't quite understand cars like the Toyota Venza.
It's a bigger, taller version of the Camry sedan, making it either a very car-like crossover or a beefed-up station wagon, depending on how you look at it.
Toyota's marketing department says the Venza is "appealing to customers who prioritize bold, innovative design, a luxurious and refined interior and excellent handling, but they still require roominess and versatility."
That sounds great but it leaves me with two big questions: Why should I buy a Venza when I can get even more "roominess and versatility" from the Highlander parked next to it on the dealer's lot? And is the Venza actually a better car than the popular, much-loved Camry?
I suspect the answer to the first question is simple. You buy a Venza over a Highlander because you like the way it looks.
It is a handsome car, at least by crossover standards, after Toyota gave it refreshed styling for 2013. It's sleek and almost coupe-like, not dripping with faux machismo like the crossovers that try to mimic boxy, old-school SUVs. I like that about it.
It's also a much more appealing body than what Honda served up with the Accord Crosstour, a similar car-crossover-wagon thing. Rear visibility is drastically better in the Venza than the competition at Honda, too.
On the second question — whether the Venza is better than the Camry it's based on — the answer isn't quite as clear.
If I want a car that gets better gas mileage, accelerates faster and handles slightly better, a Camry will do the trick at a base price $5,000 less than its portly Venza sibling. For slightly more money, a Highlander's big cargo space and folding third-row seat are awfully tempting.
From the driver's seat, the Venza feels like a Camry on stilts. It's predictably soft, quiet and smooth riding, as can be expected in a Toyota product, but it rides up higher to give better visibility of the road. It's certainly one of the most car-like crossovers for sale today, without a hint of off-road pretensions.
Power comes from your choice of a four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine. The 2.7-liter four makes 181 horsepower and is rated for 27 mpg on the highway (21 city). A stronger choice is the 2.5-liter V6 that makes 268 horses and is still rated for 26 mpg on the highway (19 city).
Pricing starts at $27,700 for the four-cylinder LE version, or $31,360 for the nicer XLE. Toyota also offers a Limited model for $37,420 with leather seats and lots of upgrades.
Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at email@example.com.
What was tested?
2013 Toyota Venza LE ($27,700). Options: None. Price as tested: $27,700.
Why buy it?
It's a bigger, taller Toyota Camry with a hatchback opening for carrying cargo. It has sleeker looks than most crossovers.
You can save money and drive an arguably better car by sticking with the Camry, or get even more versatility from the similarly priced Highlander.