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  • Writer's pictureMitchell Weitzman

2023 Toyota Venza Nightshade review: A great everyday package

Sharp looks, excellent MPG, and a nice interior make for Toyota's best everyday offering

Toyota Venza Nightshade review | The Road beat

2023 Toyota Venza Nightshade review with The Road Beat

Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman

What is it?

Toyota's Venza crossover, a hybrid-only vehicle based on the RAV4, but with its own unique (and improved) design language and an upscale interior. Interior dimensions might be down compared to its RAV4 sibling, but it's still plenty for the everyday person and family. Selecting the Nightshade brings some cool finishing touches to the exterior, easily identifiable by gloss black trim pieces scattered about. While it's not sold in the same numbers as the RAV4, I find the Venza to not only be the more desirable option, but maybe the best volume vehicle that Toyota currently makes (Considering Toyota does not manufacturer the Supra, that would be BMW).

Buy it for...

The exceptional mileage the Venza achieves. During a week of mixed and tame driving, I averaged a stellar 34 MPG overall, a number consistent with past Venzas tested. You might be thinking that the advertised economy on a Venza is nearly 40, and you'd be right, but in the real world, a still-stellar 34 is a realistic expectation. For the record, the last RAV4 Hybrid I tested also recorded 34 MPG. Either way, you cannot go wrong with choosing a Venza and keeping efficiency in mind; It's simply one of the most efficient crossovers ever made.

Toyota Venza Nightshade ruby flare pearl

While not keen on performance, the hybrid powertrain is superbly integrated and makes for smooth transitions between temporary electric and then normal hybrid/combustion modes. Other systems in rival hybrids (even Toyota's new Tundra hybrid) can have hiccups or shudders as the ICE fires up each time, but not the Venza. Toyota has been making hybrids for over 20 years, and their expertise here shows in making a seamless and transparent powertrain.

Style is another strong suit shared by the Venza, with a rounded, proportional shape augmented by sharp creases front and rear, appearing more elegant than the boxy RAV4. The exterior shape is highly reminiscent of a Lexus in terms of styling cues, just minus the gaping spindly grille, which is a compliment considering a Lexus is a luxury product. The fashion continues on the inside with an interior built to an appreciable degree of finesse and quality compared to what you'd get in a RAV4. Mazda continues to reign supreme here, with the cabins in their CX-5 and CX-50 Signature trims approaching that of actual luxury German offerings, but the Venza is a nice step on from a RAV4 and with a personality all its own. It's smaller on the inside than its corporate sibling, but this is a car that is large enough for almost all tasks and everyday needs. If a fully-grown yellow lab can fit in here with total comfort, then it's big enough.

Toyota Venza Nightshade interior review

Venza also packs all the safety and technology amenities you could ask for in 2023, including blind spot and collision monitoring and wireless Apple CarPlay. More on this later, but on the spec sheet, there's a lot going for it.

Mainstream Toyotas are usually boring to drive, and the Venza is no different, but that's what most motorists are looking for in a car like this. The steering is accurate and easy to place on the road, even if there's no feel, and the handling has enough going for it to keep you on the road even in relatively brisk cornering with little fuss. Ride quality also impresses and makes for a comfortable and quiet cruiser on the highway for long hauls. Adding a panoramic sunroof adds to the appeal to increase the perceived space inside.

Skip because...

You want something actually exciting. Apart from an attractive shape, there's little to excite the consumer here, being a dull driving experience. If you're looking for a vehicle that gives you a fizz you're craving, nobody does fizz at this price point better than Mazda.

Acceleration is also weak, with 0-60 MPH requiring 8 seconds. This rarely hinders day-to-day usability, but if you mash your foot down to pass someone, you will be disappointed at the lack of oomph available.

Toyota Venza Nightshade exterior image

Despite all the technology onboard, I found the collision warning too aggressive, with myself incurring the wrath of temporary limp mode, triggered from following a car in front too close (I really wasn't that close) when pulling away from a red light. It's quite annoying and forces you to have delayed responses to not have the car shut down on you. It also prohibits your movement longer than necessary as cars behind me honked once, even with my foot flat to the floor trying to go, held back by collision avoidance keeping me in limbo. I don't know what to tell you, when a light turns green, I release the brake to go. Just if the car in front hasn't released the brake yet or is slow to respond, be warned you could trigger the collision system.

I do the find the updated infotainment mostly easy to use, but some of the graphics, as written before about Toyotas, are too stark and I even once got the unfortunate pleasure of having the bright white daylight mode flash and blind me upon startup in the evening, before reverting correctly to the easy-on-the-eyes night mode. Also, the bezels around the display are quite thick.

Toyota Venza Nightshade exterior detail

On a hot 100-degree day, there were four of us in the car for about an hour while driving to Lodi, CA, and we all thought the air conditioning was rather weak. I understand it was really hot, but this is a brand new car, and even on full blast, we never felt actually cool even after a full hour in the car. Further, the air coming out of the vents never felt that cold. You end up hearing the fans churning and turning, but it never felt comparatively effective. I also just drove a new Toyota Tundra hybrid that exhibited the same behavior.

Space should be adequate for most anyone, but if you are wanting to maximize interior volume, a RAV4 or even Highlander could be the better decision. From that tapered and sloping roofline, yes, you do have to make some concessions on overall space, but it's perfectly suited for most people.

A Hybrid for everyone

Venza continues to be a solid choice for anyone considering a crossover and compact utility vehicle. The fact it's a hybrid sweetens the deal in the age of rising gasoline prices, also making for a great first hybrid for those that have not experienced one before. Cons and problems aside, this is easily one of, if not the best volume models Toyota currently produces. Due to its lower popularity than the RAV4, it's nearly a Toyota that can allow one to stand out. A shame that the slower sales of the Venza are leading to its discontinuation at the end of the 2024 model year. I personally prefer Mazda's CX-50, but that doesn't get close to the 34 MPG Venza can master, even healthily beating out the 29 MPG the latest Honda CR-V Hybrid achieved. A somewhat boring car, this, but a very accomplished one and with some added Nightshade-pizzazz.

2023 Toyota Venza XLE Nightshade

Price as-tested: $41,665

Pros: Excellent economy; Interior more refined than a RAV4

Cons: Being discontinued; Overtly aggressive collision warnings


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