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Is this vehicle a hatchback, wagon, minivan or crossover sport utility vehicle? Judging from comments people made during a recent week of driving, plus some online research, any one of those classifications might be worthy of the 2012 Toyota Venza.

For the record, Toyota says the attractive-looking Venza is a crossover SUV. Yet a woman approached me in a parking lot and asked, “how do you like the minivan.” A co-worker called it an SUV, and one well respected vehicle website says the Venza is a hatchback, while another calls it a wagon. The classification issue probably stems from the low roofline that is not a typical crossover styling theme.

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For the sake of argument, we’ll stick with the Toyota categorization – the Venza is a five-passenger crossover SUV, which means it’s essentially a sedan with the flexibility of an SUV. Due to its uniqueness, it’s difficult to come up with a true competitor.

The Venza debuted in 2009 when Toyota engineers combined the design elements of the Camry sedan and the Highlander, its versatile SUV. The idea was to create a vehicle that possesses comfort, utility and is easy to drive.

I would classify the Venza as very family-friendly, even though it doesn’t come with three rows of seating. From an interior standpoint, the Venza is practical and well thought out. There are numerous storage areas, cubicles and bins to place an iPod or other small devices. All five people have roomy and comfortable seats, making the Venza accommodating for short trips or more sizable journeys.

The cockpit design is also smart, featuring practical locations of cupholders, a streamlined center console, and audio and climate control functions that don’t require flipping through the car manual for immediate research. Cargo space is solid in the normal configuration and when the second row goes down, the hauling area is a spacious 70 cubic feet. Note that the second row doesn’t lay completely flat.

Offered in three trims – LE, XLE and Limited – only the upgraded Limited comes with the larger engine, a fairly powerful 3.5-liter, V6 with 268 horsepower that can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.9 seconds. Many car shoppers might be better off with the 2.7-liter, four-cylinder that produces 182 horsepower. If an around town, kid-transporter is the Venza’s main function, the lesser engine should work just fine. Note that the Venza is front-wheel drive, but has an all-wheel drive option.

The downside of going with the Limited model is price. The basic LE model runs $27,425, while the Limited has as sticker price that exceeds $36,000 when all-wheel drive is added.

The Venza is pleasant to drive, yet doesn’t quite reach the coveted “fun” category. It’s easy to maneuver in small areas and provides the driver a good road feel in tight turns and is enhanced by a solid braking capacity. What’s not cool about the Venza is the low roofline that limits visibility

The Venza isn’t exciting to drive, especially the four-cylinder version. The vehicle’s true value is its family-friendly nature. Although pricing is on the high side, this is a Toyota product that has many enviable qualities. And of course the added attraction in owning a Venza is debating with friends is it a wagon, minivan, crossover SUV or a hatchback!

2012 Toyota Venza

  • Performance: 2.7-liter, four-cylinder, 182 horsepower; 3.5-liter, V6, 268 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 19-27 mpg
  • Price: $27.425 to $36,465
  • Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/60,000 miles
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