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A Look At The Toyota Highlander, Venza With Car-Guy Brian Champagne

Brian Champagne

That’s the power liftgate on the Highlander Toyota loaned us. It was the 14th-best-selling vehicle in the states last year, because it has grown with demand: Since it was born in 2001, it got nine inches longer, four inches wider, and put on 660 pounds, though it doesn’t like to talk about that. It also grew a third row of seats. It’s built on a car platform and is a pleasant thing to drive around.

That’s the power liftgate on the Venza Toyota loaned us. In 2008 it came out as a bland-looking family crossover built on a Camry platform. America agreed with me about the bland, because Toyota never sold more than 55,000 Venzas a year, which are fine numbers for smaller car companies, but Toyota killed it in 2015.


So why bring it back? I have two guesses.


First, it shares a platform and is a cheaper version of the RX, Lexus’ best-seller. It also looks like a bigger version of the Toyota RAV4. The top-3 vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were full-size pickups, but fourth place was the RAV4. Fifth place was almost 100,000 units back. The RAV4 almost doubles Highlander sales, so even its coattails can be profitable.


My second guess, it’s cooler this time around. You can only get it as a hybrid, and it’s all-wheel drive. It has the power basics, and the extra-pansy heated steering wheel.


You can talk to it, and it will talk to you. And it learns your boring driving pattern and adapts the hybrid charging and discharging when it knows you’re coming to that same hill you always do.


The glass roof goes from clear to frosted. It vibrates the steering wheel when you drift out of your lane.

The stereo lacks a volume knob, but it ‘s the loudest system Toyota’s ever done. 


Brian Champagne grew up in the less-famous Central California but left after starting his television news career there. He worked 22 years in news for NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates in four markets. He served as chief photographer for KTXL-TV in Sacramento, but worked in front of the camera, too.