Toyota Venza turns heads.

  What is it?
2009 Toyota Venza

What's special about it?
Not every new vehicle is built to please a young, active, trend-setting audience. Although the 2009 Toyota Venza is a product of the same Calty design studios that brought you the FJ Cruiser, it's not retro and it won't appeal to 20-year-olds. Instead, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Camry.

Of course that's no coincidence. The Venza rides on the same wheelbase as the Camry. It also has a nearly identical footprint to the Highlander, but stands almost 6 inches shorter. So it is exactly what it looks like: a tall Camry wagon with five-passenger seating. Toyota's decision to call the '09 Venza a "crossover sedan" is likely a defensive marketing move. Recent discontinuations of the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx, Dodge Magnum and Mazda 6 wagon suggest some of you still suffer from station-wagon aversion.

We doubt, however, that Toyota will have difficulty selling the Venza when it goes on sale late in the 2008 model year. It has been carefully researched and engineered to please a specific audience — aging baby boomers and young families who want more convenience and luxury than a Camry provides but don't require the utilitarian bulk of a seven-passenger Highlander.

Toyota has paid particular attention to ease of access. The company says it's easier to step in and out of the 2009 Toyota Venza than either a sedan or an SUV, yet it offers the elevated ride height that people like. Similarly, the liftover height into the cargo bay is low, says Toyota, and there are release levers for the flat-folding, 60/40-split rear seats within the cargo bay for easy access through the rear hatch.

Inside the cabin, designers moved the shift lever and the climate controls up in the dash to put them within easy reach of the driver seat. The Venza also strikes us as a touch more elegant than its platform mates. The center console has a more flowing shape than the chunky designs in the others and the distinct two-tone décor includes contrasting piping on the optional leather seats. Extra wood-grain trim doesn't hurt either, and this will be the first Toyota with a panoramic glass roof option.

Storage space has also been on the minds of the Calty designers. In addition to a purse-size container in the center console that includes a power point and an auxiliary audio jack, there's a second compartment intended for the front passenger's use. It, too, has a power point, and Toyota says it's large enough to hold magazines.

Given its size and premium appearance, you'd expect the Venza to have Toyota's excellent 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission, and it does. But there's a new base engine for those seeking better fuel economy and a lower price tag. It's a very large four-cylinder engine displacing 2.7 liters. We don't yet know how much horsepower and torque it will make, but we do know it will use a six-speed automatic as well. Both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive will be available.

Toyota says the Venza combines the "aggressive handling typically found in a performance coupe" and the "on-road comfort of an upscale sedan." We suspect the compromise will swing in favor of the latter, but this tall wagon wears larger wheels and tires than its siblings. Four-cylinder Toyota Venzas have 19-inch alloys with 245/55R19 tires, while V6 models upgrade to 245/50R20 rubber.

Safety equipment for the 2009 Toyota Venza is extensive, and in addition to the usual stuff like stability control and curtain-type airbags, it has a driver's knee airbag plus active front head restraints. Major options include automatic high-beam headlights, keyless startup, JBL audio, a navigation system, a rearview camera, a rear entertainment system, a power liftgate and Bluetooth.

What's Edmunds' take?
From its conservative styling to its nonsensical name, the 2009 Toyota Venza crossover wagon (because it's not a sedan) is intended for lifelong Toyota owners who say they don't want another Camry, but secretly do. — Erin Riches, Senior Editor