Together with Toyota Credit Canada, Toyota Canada just announced a deal to supply 24 zero-emission Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell cars to Lyft in B.C., a ride hailing company, which will be rentable to a select…
Together with Toyota Credit Canada, Toyota Canada just announced a deal to supply 24 zero-emission Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell cars to Lyft in B.C., a ride hailing company, which will be rentable to a select group of Lyft drivers through Toyota’s new KINTO Share program.
KINTO Share is an app that will allow eligible Lyft drivers to pick up a Mirai at one of three Toyota dealerships across Vancouver’s Lower Mainland (metropolitan area), for a weekly rental rate of $198 plus taxes and fees, inclusive of insurance, scheduled maintenance, and unlimited kilometres.
“Toyota’s KINTO Share program is proud to partner with Lyft to demonstrate a zero-emission mobility-as-a-service model in another important step toward achieving our global sustainability objectives,” said Mitchell Foreman, Director of Advanced and Connected Technologies at Toyota Canada. “This proof-of-concept project also allows more Canadians to experience hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles first-hand, demonstrating their viability and efficiency, especially for fleets.”
The deal, announced Wednesday, is a trial program that Toyota hopes to roll out across Canada in the near future, while also an opportunity to educate Canadians about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
“Everybody who sits in the back seat [of a Mirai] is going to be able to learn a little bit more about hydrogen technology,” said Stephen Beatty, Toyota Canada’s Vice President, Corporate. “There’s no way that we could do that on our own.”
While good for Toyota, the partnership also shines brightly on Lyft, a company that competes directly with Uber for ride hailing customers that hire chauffeured cars via apps on their smartphones. Lyft not only gets visibility for engaging in the program, but wins accolades for increasing its zero-emissions fleet.
“Lyft’s mission is to improve peoples’ lives with the world’s best transportation, and to achieve this, we need to make transportation more sustainable,” said Peter Lukomskyj, General Manager, Lyft in B.C. “This partnership will better serve current drivers and those who don’t have a vehicle, but want to drive with Lyft for supplemental income, while moving us toward our goal of reaching 100-percent electric vehicles on the platform by 2030.”
Toyota’s Mirai, which features a 151-horsepower electric motor with 247 pound-feet of torque, was the world’s first mass production hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV when launched six years ago. Compared to regular plug-in electric vehicles, which can take multiple days to fully charge via a regular 12-volt household outlet, or at the very least hours when using a fast-charging system, the Mirai can be refuelled in about five minutes at specially equipped hydrogen refuelling stations located throughout the Greater Vancouver area. Once filled, the Mirai has up to 500 kilometres of range, while only emitting water from its tailpipe. What’s more, the car’s zero-emission status makes it eligible for BC’s HOV lanes, thus reducing commuting times during peak hours. This bonus feature can be especially important for the profitability of a ride hailing driver.
The road to practical hydrogen fuel-cell usage in the automotive market has been slow but steady, with plenty of automakers, including Chevrolet (GM), Daimler-Benz, Ford, Fiat, Kia, Lotus, Mazda, Nissan, PSA and Renault initially taking on the challenge, albeit amongst mainstream automakers Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and BMW are leading the charge now.
Toyota was first on the market with this Mirai sedan, now being used for the Lyft program, but Hyundai currently offers its hydrogen fuel-cell Nexo crossover SUV to early adopters, plus a domestic market commercial truck dubbed Xcient. Of note, Honda offers its Clarity Fuel-Cell sedan to lessors in California, while BMW has announced a hydrogen fuel-cell powered X5 SUV for 2022. Additionally, a number of smaller players produce hydrogen fuel-cell alternatives, including China’s Roewe (in partnership with SAIC-GM-Wuling and based on a 2010 Buick Lacrosse), the UK’s Riversimple, and Germany’s Gumpert.
Toyota will soon replace the version of the Mirai provided to Lyft with a more conventionally designed second-generation model introduced last year, which reportedly provides greater range. This updated Mirai will likely be used for expanding the Lyft program across Canada.
While the current Mirai’s styling won’t be to everyone’s taste, its relatively low sales of 11,100 units worldwide have more to do with consumers’ inability to easily refill the car, than anything to do with aesthetics. Therefore, key to hydrogen fuel-cell adoption is the expansion of a refuelling infrastructure (BC only has four refuelling stations, three of which are in Vancouver, claims HTEC — Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corporation, which operates all four stations), and Canada’s federal government has helped further this cause.
“Hydrogen will play a significant role in B.C.’s clean energy future, generating environmental and economic benefits across the province,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. “This new partnership will help demonstrate these benefits, move us toward our CleanBC goals and put B.C. on the road to a clean energy future.”
The government of Canada’s Hydrogen Strategy for Canada program was designed to make Canada a global hydrogen leader, while the province of British Columbia has been helping to promote hydrogen usage via its 2018 CleanBC plan and the 2019 Hydrogen Study, which emphasized transportation fuels with a focus on fuel-cell electric and other zero-emission vehicles.
“Reducing emissions from transportation is a critical part of our plan to create a cleaner, healthier future for our children and grandchildren,” commented The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, P.C. M.P. “The Government of Canada is pleased to see collaborations like this one between Lyft Canada and Toyota Canada, which will not only benefit our environment, but also help position Canada as a world leader in the uptake of hydrogen technologies.”
It should also be noted that Vancouver has played an important role in the development of hydrogen fuel-cell technology, with firms like Ballard Power Systems (a leading developer and manufacturer of proton exchange membrane fuel cell products), Fuelex Energy (distributor of Esso Fuels, Mobil Lubricants and hydrogen), Loop Energy (a leading designer of fuel cell systems for commercial vehicles), and OverDrive Fuel Cell Engineering (hydrogen fuel cell stack engineering and manufacturing) all situated in the adjacent suburb of Burnaby.
Additionally, firms like Carbon Engineering (that develops technology to capture carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere), HTEC Hydrogen Technology and Energy Corporation—which develops and manufactures hydrogen refuelling pump/station infrastructure), and Powertech Labs (which also designs and constructs modular compressed hydrogen refuelling stations) are located nearby. The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (CHFCA) is headquartered in Vancouver too, as is the Ocean Geothermal Energy Foundation, which is focused on generating clean hydrogen power.
“Hydrogen BC is about collaboration with the private and public sectors to accelerate our transition to a new zero emission paradigm,” said Colin Armstrong, Chair of Hydrogen BC and CEO of HTEC. “This collaboration is a market changing event that will rapidly increase the amount of hydrogen and fuel cell electric vehicles in operation. The KINTO Share program will also allow vast numbers of people to experience these vehicles first hand.”
Notably, the Canadian government unveiled a hydrogen strategy in December, hoping to grow the clean fuel sector. As part of the program, a $1.5 billion CAD low-carbon fuel investment fund was created.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota
If you’re the adventurous type and therefore require something to get you as far into (and out of) the wilderness as possible, there might be more options than you think amongst mainstream volume brands.…
If you’re the adventurous type and therefore require something to get you as far into (and out of) the wilderness as possible, there might be more options than you think amongst mainstream volume brands.
Jeep’s much more refined Grand Cherokee is also respected off the beaten path, but it’s larger, more upscale and therefore pricier than the SUVs just mentioned, while Dodge and Ford provide their Durango and Explorer utilities in this upper class respectively, albeit with limited 4×4 capability.
If you’re willing to move up to something larger, heavier and even more expensive, the full-size Nissan Armada is certainly trail-ready thanks to being nearly identical to the legendary world-market Patrol. Speaking of legendary and large, Toyota’s Land Cruiser is thought by many to be the ultimate 4×4, but it’s not directly available in Canada and quite pricey as well, causing some in the super-sized SUV segment to opt for the Japanese brand’s Tundra-based Sequoia instead.
Alternatively, more full-size utility buyers will choose a Ford Expedition or one of the General’s Chevy Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon/Yukon XL twins, all of which are as good for transporting a sizeable family with all their gear across town, as they’re capable of seeking out remote campsites at the ends of unmaintained logging roads.
Then there’s the Toyota 4Runner, a good compromise between full-size and compact utilities. As for its 4×4 prowess, those not already familiar with the 4Runner’s superb off-road capability can gain confidence by learning it’s based off of the global-market Land Cruiser Prado (redesigned and sold as the Lexus GX here), so it comes by its rock-crawling tenacity naturally.
Of course, every time I get a 4Runner I put it to the test. This is when I’m glad that Toyota hasn’t made it the most technologically advanced 4×4 on the market, but rather stayed with tried and true (some would say archaic) components. Instead of utilizing a modern eight-speed automatic transmission, its gearbox incorporates just five forward speeds, which according to all the mechanics I’ve ever spoken to means there are three fewer things to go wrong. The first use of this ECT-i five-speed automatic with overdrive in a light truck application was for the 2004 4Runner model year when it came mated to Toyota’s fabulous 4.7-litre V8 (that’s a version I’d love to pick up), Toyota having replaced its old four-speed auto with this five-speed across the line the following year.
The 4.0-litre “1GR” V6 under the hood is even more experienced, dating back to 2002 in its old GRN210/215 VVT-I phase. That model only made 236 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, with Toyota introducing the current Dual VVT-I version boasting 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque in 2010 (which actually added 10 horsepower over the old V8 that was discontinued after 2009, albeit 28 fewer lb-ft of torque).
Heaving this hefty 2,155-kilo (4,750-lb) body-on-frame SUV down the road makes a guy wish that Toyota once again offered it with a V8, but the 4.6-litre mill in the aforementioned GX 460 is even thirstier than the 4Runner’s V6, at least on paper. The Toyota SUV’s powertrain sucks back 14.8 L/100km in the city, 12.5 on the highway and 13.8 combined compared to Lexus’ 16.2 city, 12.3 highway and 14.5 combined, and the GX gets an additional forward gear. Yes, fuel economy is the bane of both Toyota/Lexus off-roaders, but before you start worrying about all the regular unleaded you’ll be pumping into your new ride, I’ll refer you back to those mechanics that say you’ll get it all back in a lack of repairs if you keep either past warranty.
I should probably insert something about the 4Runner’s especially good resale and/or residual values here, the current model expected to depreciate slowest in the “Mid-size Crossover/SUV” class according to The Canadian Black Book 2019 study, with the GX 460 taking top-spot in its “Mid-size Luxury Crossover/SUV” segment. The Toyota brand holds its value best overall too, adds The Canadian Black Book, and has zero vehicles in the fastest depreciating category. A special mention should go out to Jeep that leads its “Compact Crossover/SUV” class with the Wrangler, nothing new here, but only fair to mention.
Like that Jeep, the 4Runner uses a part-time four-wheel drive system to power all four wheels. This means only the rear wheels get torque unless the front axle is manually engaged into either four-high or four-low via the second shift lever on the lower console, the latter requiring a bit of muscle. It all has a nice mechanical feel to it that brings back memories of decades past, something I happen to like in an SUV.
That’s probably why I like and collect mechanical tool watches, particularly Seikos and Citizens. Yes, there’s a Japanese theme here, but it’s hard to argue against these brands’ similarly simple, straight-forward, dependable values. The 4Runner is the SKX007 diver of the automotive world, a watch that doesn’t even hack or manually wind. Still, like that forever-stylish timepiece, the ruggedly handsome 4Runner is fully capable of taking a beating, and plenty comfortable too.
Those unfamiliar with body-on-frame SUVs tend to believe they ride like trucks (to coin a phrase, as the Tacoma and Tundra ride pretty well too), but due to greater curb weight than their car-based crossover counterparts, and generous suspension travel required for off-road use, the 4Runner is actually quite smooth over rough pavement and easy to drive around town thanks to its tall vantage point and reasonable dimensions. It’s decent through fast-paced curves too, due to an independent double-wishbone front suspension design up front and a four-link setup in the back, plus stabilizer bars at each end, not to mention Toyota’s impressive (and standard) Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that limits body lean by up to 50 percent at higher speeds, but let’s be real, it’s not going to out-hustle a RAV4 or Highlander when the road starts to twist.
On that note, it’s comfortable in all five seats too. And yes, I’m aware it also comes with three rows for up to seven occupants, but I won’t go so far as to say its third row is good for anyone but small kids. Being that my children are grown and grandkids are probably still a long way away, I’d personally opt for the as-tested two-row variant. Rear seat legroom should be more than adequate for all heights, by the way, plus there’s ample side-to-side room for larger folk too.
This two-row version provides 1,336 litres (47.2 cubic feet) of cargo space below its standard retractable cargo cover, aft of its second row, which should be ample for most. Of course, Toyota offers the Sequoia for 4×4 fans that need more, but sales to 543 last year clearly say the 4Runner’s space is enough. I particularly like that its rear seatbacks fold in the most convenient 40/20/40 configuration, which allows longer items like skis to fit down the middle while rear occupants enjoy the optimal window seats. Folding them flat offers up 2,540 litres (89.7 cu ft) of total stowage space, including up to 737 kg (1,625 lbs) of payload. Not enough? The 4Runner can trailer up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) in standard trim thanks to an included receiver hitch and wiring harness with 4- and 7-pin connectors, plus this awesome looking Venture Edition gives you the option of loading gear in the full-metal basket on top of the roof.
This last point makes clear that the Venture Edition was mostly focused on life in the wild instead of navigating the urban jungle, as the just-noted Yakima MegaWarrior Rooftop Basket, measuring 1,321 millimetres (52 inches) in length, 1,219 mm (48 in) in width, and 165 mm (6.5 in) tall, increases the 4Runner’s overall height by 193 mm (7.6 in) for a total road to parkade ceiling-mounted pipe-collision height of 2,009 mm (79.09 in)—the Venture Edition’s 17-inch TRD alloys on 265/70 Bridgestone Dueller H/T mud-and-snow rubber means that it measures in at 1,816 mm (71.5 in) tall, sans basket. Sure, you can remove the rooftop carrier to make it more practical during everyday use, but this limits some of the Venture’s visual appeal while touring around town.
Additional Venture Edition extras not yet mentioned include blackened side mirrors, door handles (featuring proximity entry buttons), roof spoiler and badges, Predator side steps for an easier step up when climbing inside, all-weather floor mats, a windshield wiper de-icer, mudguards, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, dual front- and twin second-row USB ports, a household-style 120-volt power outlet in the cargo compartment, active front headrests, eight total airbags, and Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of advanced driver assistance features, which include automatic Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Options not already mentioned include a sliding rear cargo deck with an under-floor storage compartment.
Take note, the very helpful side steps just mentioned will most definitely get in the way during extreme off-roading, potentially hanging up on rocks, roots and sharp crests, so while you’re fastening the basket back onto the roof rails you may want to unbolt these before entering the backcountry. As for the 4Runner’s ability when such low-hanging hooks are removed, it’s one of few iconic 4x4s available today as noted above.
Having headed straight over to my local watery mess of a sand, mud and rock infested off-road area I was saddened to find out there wasn’t much of it left, the riverside land being redeveloped for petroleum storage and thus, no longer available to off-road enthusiasts. Normally this little spit of dirt is filled with every sort of 4×4, ATV, dirt bike and the like, but alas it shall no longer enjoy the company of us crazies that it’s allocated to more productive work, and I will no longer have this conveniently close location for my own sandbox playtime and photographic exploits.
I did manage to trek over a few last remaining trails that are now bulldozed flat, showing this 4Runner Venture Edition in its element, so make sure to enjoy our photo gallery above. With “L4” engaged and deep ruts of dried mud below, I engaged the overhead console-mounted Active Trac (A-TRAC) brake lock differential (it’s right next to the standard moonroof’s controls). A-TRAC stops a given wheel from spinning before redirecting torque to the wheel with traction, and locks the electronic rear differential. I also dialled in some Crawl Control to maintain a steady speed while lifting myself up with both feet to more easily see over the hood for any obstacles that might be in my way. Crawl Control provides up to five throttle speeds for this purpose. This reminds me of my dad using the old-school dash-mounted hand throttle/choke to do much the same in his now classic Land Cruiser FJ, but it incorporated a manual gearbox and therefore relied on its low gear ratio to automatically apply engine braking when going downhill, while the wholly modernized 4Runner system in fact applies brake pressure electronically in order to maintain a chosen speed when trekking downhill. The 4Runner’s Hill Start Assist Control system also helps in such situations, albeit going uphill.
The dial next to this one is for engaging the automated Multi-Terrain Select system. This sets the drivetrain and electronic driving aids up for the majority of conditions you might face when off-road, from light- to heavy-duty trails, the system’s most capable auto-setting being rock mode. Other settings include its second-most capable mogul setting, which is followed by loose rock. All of the above are only operable when the secondary set of low (L4) gears are in use, incidentally, whereas the least capable mud and sand mode can be utilized when both L4 and H4 are engaged.
The 4Runner’s 244 mm (9.6 in) of ground clearance and 33/26-degree approach/departure angles mean that it shouldn’t drag over obstacles, but if rocks hit the undercarriage rest assured that rugged skid plates are in place to protect the engine, front suspension and transfer case. Again, those standard side steps could interfere with your forward momentum.
These steps can also be damaging to shins if you’re not paying close attention when climbing inside, something I experienced a couple of times (followed by expletives), but some of that pain will ease once seated in the model’s comfortable driver’s perch. I found the primary seat ideal for my five-foot-eight, long-legged, short-torso body type, with the rake and reach of the steering column ample for comfortable yet controlled operation, which is probably the most important issue I have with any new vehicle I test drive (and have had with many Toyotas in the past—they’re improving).
Looking around and tapping everything like I always do (so annoying to past significant others), all the 4Runner’s knobs, buttons and rocker switches look and feel heavy-duty, as if Toyota pulled inspiration from Casio’s nearly indestructible G-Shock (the Mudmaster seems fitting, although I prefer my more classic looking and smaller DW-5600BB-1CR). Tolerances are tight, their quality good, and finishing quite impressive overall, at least compared to previous 4Runner models.
I can’t remember Toyota using carbon fibre-like trim inside a 4Runner before either. The big, new, glossy 8.0-inch centre touchscreen on the centre stack is impressive too, this coming packed full of the latest technologies such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa, not to mention very accurate Dynamic Navigation featuring detailed mapping. The audio system was pretty good too, thanks in part to standard satellite radio, while the rear camera (incorporating stationary “projected path” graphics combined with rear parking sonar) was much better than previous iterations. Other functions include a weather page, traffic condition information, apps, etcetera, while the primary instruments are less forward thinking yet still do a good job delivering key driving info, with easily legible backlit Optitron dials and a useful multi-info display at centre.
Like that G-Shock mentioned a moment ago, the cabin styling theme is mostly rectangular in shape, and thus purposefully utilitarian. Nevertheless, it was refined enough for me, with the rear two-thirds of the front and rear door uppers covered in contrast-stitched and padded faux leather. The door inserts and armrests were wrapped similarly below, the latter softly padded all the up way to the front portion of each door panel, thus protecting outer knees from chafing on what would otherwise be hard plastic. The centre armrest received the identical black and red application, as did the SofTex-upholstered seats’ side bolsters, while both front headrests featured “TRD” embroidered in red for a sporty look. As for the dash top, it was coated in a textured synthetic that reduced glare nicely, therefore, together with the previously-noted glossed carbon-look surface treatment on the lower console, and the metallic glossy black background used for the centre stack surround surfacing and the door pulls trim, the 4Runner Venture Edition looked quite fancy for a non-Limited 4Runner.
What’s new for 2021? Not a heck of a lot, although standard LED headlights are a nice addition for a model expected to be totally revamped for 2022 (I have no verification of a redesign, but that’s the word on the street… or, er, trail). LED fog lamps also join the frontal update, while new Lunar Rock paint will make the entire SUV look at least as good as the one used for this review. Also new, new black TRD alloys will soon be encircled by Nitto Terra Grappler A/T tires, while Toyota is said to have retuned the dampers to enhance isolation off the beaten path.
At $55,390 (plus freight and fees), the 4Runner Venture Edition isn’t exactly an off-roader for bargain hunters, although it has few mid-size, 4×4-capable competitors, all of which will cost about the same or more if outfitted similarly. Once again, when factoring in resale (or residual) values, and then adding expected long-term reliability, the 4Runner makes the best investment.
Remember the Venza? Toyota was fairly early to the mid-size crossover utility party with its 2009–2015 Venza, a tall five-door wagon-like family hauler that was a lot more like a CUV (Crossover Utility…
Remember the Venza? Toyota was fairly early to the mid-size crossover utility party with its 2009–2015 Venza, a tall five-door wagon-like family hauler that was a lot more like a CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) or tall wagon than an SUV. Despite decent sales for its first four years, and Toyota’s need for a mid-size five-passenger crossover SUV, the Japanese brand discontinued it without a replacement after six years on the market.
Fortunately for Toyota and all who appreciate the brand for its excellent reliability and better than average resale values, the Toyota Venza will make its return to the Canadian market for the 2021 model year as a new mid-size utility, with standard all-wheel drive and an even more unexpected standard hybrid drivetrain.
With the Venza, Toyota is following through on its commitment to electrify its entire lineup by 2025, this new hybrid joined by a completely redesigned Sienna for 2021, which will also be available exclusively with a hybrid electric drivetrain. Other Toyota vehicles sold with the brand’s full hybrid drive system include the iconic Prius, now with available with AWD-e four-season control, the Corolla Hybrid, the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Highlander Hybrid, while the Prius Prime offers plug-in capability and 100-percent electric mobility for short commuting distances at city and highway speeds, plus last but hardly least is the Mirai fuel-cell electric that’s powered by hydrogen.
Since the original Venza’s departure, Toyota has lacked a two-row crossover SUV in the mid-size segment (the 4Runner is an off-road capable 4×4 that competes more directly against Jeep’s Wrangler Unlimited), which means that it’s been missing out on one of the more lucrative categories in the industry. Arch-rival Ford, for instance, sells its Edge in this class, along with the ultra-popular three-row Explorer that goes up against Toyota’s Highlander. The Edge was number one in Canada’s mid-size SUV class last year with 19,965 deliveries compared to the Highlander’s 13,811 new buyers. Collectively the Edge and Explorer were good for 29,632 sales during 2019, which is an impressive sales lead yet, but this doesn’t factor in that 2019 was a particularly bad year for the larger Ford due to the slow rollout of its redesigned 2020 model. Ford claimed the problem had to do with production issues, but either way the result was a disastrous 47-percent plunge in year-over-year Canadian deliveries.
As it is there are five two-row mid-size SUVs that regularly sell better than the Highlander in Canada’s mid-size segment, with Ford’s Edge joined by the Hyundai Santa Fe (now only available with two rows due to the new Palisade) that sold 18,929 units in 2019, the Jeep Grand Cherokee that pulled in 18,659 new buyers last year, the Kia Sorento (now only sold with two rows due to the new Telluride) that was good for 16,054 sales during the same 12 months, and the entirely new Chevrolet Blazer that found 15,210 Canadian owners in 2019. When Nissan finally redesigns its Murano it’ll probably attract more buyers than the larger Highlander too, being that its 12,000 deliveries aren’t all that far behind the bigger Toyota and five-seat crossover SUVs mostly do better than seven- and eight-seat variants, so the new 2021 Venza will soon fill a sizeable void in the brand’s SUV lineup.
Choosing to only offer a hybrid drivetrain is a bold move for Toyota, but as long as pricing is competitive it should be well received. After all, Toyota initiated the modern-day hybrid market segment with its original 1998 Prius (2001 in Canada), and its various hybrid-electric drivetrains have garnered bulletproof reputations for reliability along with plenty of praise for their fuel economy.
While official Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy figures have yet to be announced, the new 2021 Venza has been estimated by Toyota to achieve 5.9 L/100km in combined city and highway driving. Active grille shutters, which automatically open and close electronically to provide system cooling or enhanced aerodynamics as needed, help Toyota achieve this impressive number. All said it should become the most fuel-efficient mid-size SUV in Canada when available, and if pump prices continue to rise across the country, as they have been recently, it could very well be a strong selling point.
For a bit more background, the original Venza shared its underpinnings with the Japanese domestic market Toyota Harrier (amongst other Toyota/Lexus products like the Camry and Highlander), which was even more closely aligned with our Lexus RX (the first-gen Harrier was sold here as the barely disguised 1999–2003 Lexus RX 300). The five-plus years without the Venza in this country, spanning from 2016 until now, saw a third-generation Harrier come and go in Japan, while the fourth-gen Harrier is now nearly identical to the new 2021 Venza.
Those familiar with Toyota’s 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder hybrid powertrain used in the Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid (plus the Avalon Hybrid in the U.S.) will be happy to hear the new Venza hybrid will utilize the same well-proven powertrain, as will the redesigned 2021 Sienna mentioned earlier. In Venza form the powertrain’s combined system output equals 219 horsepower, which makes it identical to the RAV4 Hybrid while more potent than the Camry Hybrid (208 hp) and not quite as formidable as the Highlander Hybrid (240 hp).
The updated Toyota Hybrid System II uses a new lighter lithium-ion battery that also improves performance, while the Venza’s two electric motors deliver strong near-immediate torque as well as advanced Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel Drive, the rear-mounted motor powering the back wheels when slippage occurs during takeoff or on slippery road surfaces. The drive system can divert up to 80 percent of motive force to the rear wheels, in fact, although take note the system is designed to utilize the front wheels most often in order to limit fuel usage.
To this end Toyota includes an Eco mode that “changes the throttle and environmental logic” to maximize efficiencies says Toyota, but both Normal and Sport modes, the former “ideal for everyday driving” and the latter sharpening “throttle response,” are also part of the package, while an EV mode will allow limited use of all-electric battery power at “low speeds for short distances,” just like with other non-plug-in Toyota hybrid models.
Toyota says the Venza’s regenerative brakes, which capture electricity caused by braking friction before rerouting it to the SUV’s electrical system, provide greater control than in previous iterations, and can actually be employed for a “downshifting” effect via the sequential gear lever’s manual mode. Each downward shift increases regenerative braking in steps, which “fosters greater control when driving in hilly areas,” adds Toyota, while the hybrid system also improves ride comfort by “finely controlling the drive torque to suppress pitch under acceleration and deceleration.” This is called differential torque pre-load, and is especially useful when starting off or cornering on normal or slippery roads. The feature also helps enhance steering performance at higher speeds, plus straight-line stability and controllability on rough roads. Toyota is also employing new Active Cornering Assist (ACA) electronic brake vectoring in order to minimize understeer and therefore enhance driving dynamics further.
The new Venza rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture K (TNGA-K) platform architecture that also underpins the 2018–present Camry, 2019–present Avalon, 2019–present RAV4, 2020 Highlander, and new 2021 Sienna, plus the 2019–present Lexus ES and future Lexus NX and RX SUVs, which in a press release is promised to deliver an “intuitive driving experience” with “greater driving refinement” including “comfortable urban and highway performance” plus “predictable handling, and low noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH)” levels. The new platform incorporates extensive high-strength steel for a more rigid construction that improves the front strut and rear multi-link suspension’s ride comfort and handling, not to mention safety overall.
The 2021 Venza LE rolls on 18-inch multi-spoke two-tone alloy wheels, while XLE and Limited come standard with 19-inch multi-spoke super chrome finished alloy wheels.
Take a peek inside a near loaded Venza XLE or top-tier Limited and along with sophisticated touch-sensitive capacitive controls that replace physical buttons on the centre stack you’ll likely first notice the premium-sized 12.3-inch centre infotainment touchscreen, but even the standard 8.0-inch centre display in the base LE is large for an entry-level head unit.
The larger uprated system features a premium 12-channel, 1,200-watt, nine-speaker (with a sub) JBL audio system that Toyota describes as “sonically gorgeous,” as well as embedded navigation with Destination Assist and switchable driver or front passenger operation, while both systems include Android Auto (including Google Assistant) and Apple CarPlay (with Siri) smartphone integration, plus Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and the list goes on.
Speaking of cool tech, a fully digital instrument cluster is optional, as is a 10-inch colour head-up display unit that projects key info (such as vehicle speed, hybrid system details, and TSS 2.0 safety and driver assist functions) onto the windscreen, while an electronic rearview mirror with auto-dimming capability and an integrated HomeLink universal remote provides a more expansive view out the back, especially helpful if rear passengers or cargo is blocking the rearward view. The mirror can be switched between conventional and digital operation by the flick of a switch, while parking can be further enhanced by a move up to Limited trim that also incorporates an overhead camera system dubbed Panoramic View Monitor. The standard camera gets “projected path” active guidelines as well as an available “rear camera cleaning system [that] sprays washer fluid to clear away water droplets, mud, snow, and snow-melting road treatments from the lens,” says Toyota.
Toyota is also leading most competitors by making wireless phone charging available on the majority of its models, so therefore this handy feature will be optional on the Venza, while additional upgrades include ventilated seats, a proximity-sensing Smart Key System that works on all four doors as well as the liftgate, the latter also providing hands-free powered operation, while plenty more features are available.
On the subject of more, an innovative new feature dubbed “Star Gaze” is a fixed electrochromic panoramic glass roof capable of switching between transparent and frosted modes within a single second via a switch on the overhead console. Toyota says the frosted mode “brightens the interior while reducing direct sunlight, giving the cabin an even more open, airy, and inviting feeling.”
All Venza trims come standard with Toyota’s TSS 2.0 suite of advanced safety and driver assistive features including pre-collision system and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, blindspot monitoring, lane departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane tracing assist, automatic high beam assist, and full-speed adaptive cruise control.
As far as interior roominess goes, expect a passenger compartment similarly sized to the first two rows in a Highlander, which makes it more accommodating than the RAV4. The Venza’s dedicated cargo compartment measures 1,027 litres (36.2 cubic feet) behind the rear seatbacks, which is in fact 32 litres (1.1 cu ft) less than the RAV4’s 1,059-litre (37.4 cu-ft) capacity behind the second row, and 1,010 litres (35.6 cu ft) less than the Highlander when its third-row is lowered.
The 2021 Venza will arrive in Toyota Canada dealerships this summer with pricing to be announced closer to its on-sale date.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota
No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally. It…
No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally.
It took three years to get a slightly updated version of the first-generation Prius to North America in 2000, but four generations and some interesting side roads later (notably the subcompact Prius c hatchback and tall wagon-like Prius v) Toyota’s dedicated Prius hybrid has long become legend. It has sold more examples than any other electrified car in history, but Toyota has plenty of additional hybrids to its name.
Along with the plug-in Prius Prime that allows for more EV-only range, Toyota most recently added the all-new 2020 Corolla Hybrid to its gasoline-electric lineup, while the Camry Hybrid has long been popular with those needing a larger sedan. We don’t get the Avalon Hybrid here in Canada, but the RAV4 Hybrid more than makes up for the large luxury sedan’s loss, and next year it arrives as the 2021 RAV4 Prime plug-in too, whereas the Highlander Hybrid remains the only electrified mid-size SUV available in the mainstream volume-branded sector. Additionally, Toyota offers one of the only hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles available today, its innovative Mirai taking the hybrid-electric concept into completely new territory.
Of note, Toyota’s 15-million hybrid milestone was partially made up by its Lexus luxury division, which adds seven more gasoline-electric models to Toyota’s namesake range of eight, including (in order of base price) the entry-level UX 250h subcompact crossover SUV, the NX 300h compact SUV, the ES 300h mid-size sedan, the the RX 450h mid-size SUV, the RX 450h L three-row mid-size SUV, the LC 500h personal sport-luxury coupe, and finally Lexus’ flagship LS 500h full-size luxury sedan (Lexus previously offered the HS 250h compact sedan, the CT 200h compact hatchback and the GS 450h mid-size sport sedan).
While 15 hybrid models from two brands is impressive, outside of Canada Toyota and Lexus provide 44 unique hybrid vehicles, while hybrids made up 52 percent of Toyota’s overall volume in Europe last year. What’s more, Toyota accounts for 80 percent of all hybrid sales globally.
Despite recently dropping the Prius v and Prius c models, Toyota shows no signs of slowing down hybrid integration, or continuing to develop its hydrogen fuel cell and full electric programs moving forward. Back in June last year, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi announced that half of the automaker’s global sales would be electrified by 2025, which is five years more aggressive than previously planned. This would likely be a mix of hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and fully electric (BEV) vehicles, but Terashi was clear to point out that an entirely new line of BEVs would be designed for global consumption, and while Toyota had previously spoken of 2020 for the launch of its first BEV, our current global health problem and concurring financial challenges will likely interfere with this plan.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota
Well, I’ve done my cursory scan of Toyota Canada dealer websites, and yes in fact there are new 2019 Prius Prime models available in most provinces. This means you can still get some great discounts…
Well, I’ve done my cursory scan of Toyota Canada dealer websites, and yes in fact there are new 2019 Prius Prime models available in most provinces. This means you can still get some great discounts at the retail level, plus Toyota is offering zero-percent factory leasing and financing for the 2019 model, compared to a best of 2.99 percent for the 2020.
If your lease is expiring amidst the COVID-19 outbreak we’re all currently enduring, or you just need a new vehicle, most dealerships are still running with full or partial staff, but the focus these days is more on service than sales. It’s not like you can go on a test drive or even sit in a car, but those wanting to take advantage of end-of-model-year deals or special financing/lease rates should try purchasing online, after which your local dealer will prep the vehicle and hand over the keys, while wearing gloves no doubt.
Being that we’re so far into the 2020 calendar year, let alone the 2020 model year, let’s talk about all the improvements made to the 2020 Prius Prime so you can decide whether to save on a 2019 or pay a little more for a 2020. For a bit of background, Toyota redesigned the regular Prius into this current fourth-generation model for the 2016 model year and added the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Prime variant for 2017. The standard hybrid version received a fairly extensive refresh for 2019 that cleaned up its styling for more mainstream appeal, which incidentally didn’t affect the car being reviewed here, but that said the 2020 Prius Prime has been given some significant updates that we’ll overview now.
For reasons I can’t quite explain, early Prius Primes came standard with gloss white interior trim on the steering wheel and shifter surround, which stood in stark contrast to the glossy black plastic everywhere else. What’s more, they fixed a large centre console between the rear outboard seats that reduced seating to four for 2019, a problem now remedied for 2020 so that the new Prime can carry five. Both issues made me wonder whether or not Toyota’s design team wasn’t initially taking notes on Chevy’s first-gen Volt, and by doing so had decided that shiny white interior plastic and a fixed rear centre console were prerequisites for plug-in hybrids. Fortunately, the Volt’s design team chose to go all black and remove the rear centre console for its second-generation design (that was much too closely aligned to the Chevy Cruze and has since been discontinued along with its non-electrified gasoline/diesel-fed platform mate), and as it appears the interior design team at Toyota followed Chevy’s lead with the same deletions for the updated 2020 Prius Prime.
Additional 2020 updates include standard Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio, sunvisor extenders, and a new easier-to-access switchgear location for the seat warmer toggles, plus two new standard USB-A ports for rear passengers.
Trims don’t change going into 2020, with the base model once again being joined by Upgrade trim, the latter of which can be improved upon by a Technology package. According to CarCostCanada, the base price for both model years is set to $32,990 plus freight and fees, but take note that Toyota now throws in a tonneau/cargo cover for free, something that used to be part of the Technology package, thus reducing the latter package’ price from $3,125 to $3,000. This isn’t the only price that goes down for 2020, however. In fact, the Upgrade trim’s price tag drops $455 from $35,445 to $34,990, for reasons they don’t explain.
Prius Prime’s Upgrade trim adds a 4.6-inch larger 11.6-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation (that replaces the Scout GPS Link service and its three-year subscription), wireless phone charging, Softex breathable leatherette upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat (that replaces the six-way manual seat used in the base model), illuminated entry with a step lamp, a special smart charging lid, plus proximity-sensing keyless access for the front passenger’s door and rear hatch handle (it comes standard for the driver’s door), but take note the move to Upgrade trim deletes the Safety Connect system including its Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency Assistance button (SOS), and Enhanced Roadside Assistance program (three-year subscription).
The Technology package included with my tester adds fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, a really handy head-up display, an always welcome auto-dimming rearview mirror, a Homelink remote garage door opener, a great sounding 10-speaker JBL audio system, helpful front clearance parking sensors, semi-self-parking, blindspot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
It would be low hanging fruit to insert a joke right now about the need for blindspot monitoring and the equal requirement of watching your mirrors in a car that produces a mere 121 net horsepower and an unspecified amount of torque, not to mention an electronic continuously variable automatic (CVT) that’s hardly sporty, all of which might cause traffic to zip past as if it was standing still, but like with all hybrids the Prime isn’t as slow as its engine specifications suggest. Electric torque is immediate, needing no time to spool up revs like an internal combustion engine, and while all-wheel drive isn’t available with this plug-in Prius, the front wheels hook up well off the line for acceleration that’s more than adequate when taking off from stoplights, merging onto highways and passing large, slow moving highway trucks.
The Prime is also quite capable through the corners, but like it’s non-plug-in Prius sibling it’s set up more for comfort than speed, with very good ride quality considering its low rolling resistance tires. What’s more, its extremely tight turning circle made it manoeuvrable in confined parking spaces. This is exactly the way most Prius owners want their car to behave, because optimizing fuel economy is the end game, after all. To that end the 2019 Prius Prime has an exceptionally good Transport Canada rating of 4.3 L/100km in the city, 4.4 on the highway and 4.3 combined, compared to 4.4 city, 4.6 highway and 4.4 combined for the regular Prius, and 4.5, 4.9 and 4.7 respectively for the AWD version. Of course, the Prime is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) so you could theoretically drive solely on electric power if you had the patience and practical ability to recharge it every 40 kilometres or so, which is its claimed EV range.
Possibly an even greater asset is the ability to park the Prime at coveted charging stations that are almost always right next to the doors of shopping malls and other facilities. Better yet, with appropriate stickers attached to the rear bumper you can use the much faster HOV lane on your way home during rush hour traffic when alone.
Toyota follows up the Prime’s comfort-oriented luxury driving experience with a cabin that’s actually quite refined as well. Below and between a set of fabric-wrapped A pillars, the Prime gets a soft-touch dash top and instrument panel, including a sound-absorbing soft-painted composite under the windscreen, plus soft-touch front door uppers, padded door inserts front to back, and nicely furnished armrests. Toyota added some attractive metallic and piano black lacquered detailing across the instrument panel, the latter blending nicely into the extra-large optional 11.6-inch vertical touchscreen display at centre (which as noted replaces the base model’s 7.0-inch display in Upgrade trim).
Before I delve into that, each Prius Prime gets an ultra-wide albeit somewhat narrow digital gauge cluster up on the dash top in the centre position, but it’s canted towards the driver with most primary functions closer to the driver than passenger, so it feels a little more driver-centric than in past versions, and certainly didn’t cause me any problem. In fact, I found it easy to glance at without having to take my eyes fully from the road, and it’s a nice gauge cluster to look at too, thanks to attractive graphics with rich colours, deep contrasts, and crisp resolution. When upgrading to the aforementioned Technology package it’s complemented by a monochromatic head-up display that can be positioned for driver height. It places key info directly ahead of the driver for optimal visibility.
Back to the big vertical centre touchscreen, it really makes a grand statement upon entry, mimicking Tesla in some respects. It was easy to use, and featured a wonderfully large, near full-screen navigation map, while the bottom half of the screen can be temporarily used for other commands via a pop-up interface.
That Softex pleather mentioned a moment ago is actually quite nice, and truly breathes better than most synthetic hides. The driver’s seat is extremely comfortable with good lower back support that’s enhanced via two-way powered lumbar adjustment, while the side bolsters are really impressive too. The tilt and telescopic steering column also gave me ample reach, so therefore I was able to get comfortable and feel in control of the car, which hasn’t always been the case with Toyota products.
The steering wheel rim is pleather-wrapped too, and wonderfully soft, while it also features a heatable rim that was oh so appreciated during winter testing. The switchgear on the two side spokes was high in quality, which can be said for the rest of the car’s buttons, knobs and switches too. The quick access buttons around the outside of the infotainment system are touch-sensitive, which is a nice “touch,” sorry for the pun. Speaking of touch, I still love the electric blue digital-style shift knob that’s always been part of the Prius experience. All in all, this latest, greatest Prius is a high quality product from front to back.
Toyota doesn’t go so far as to wrap the rear door uppers in soft-touch synthetic, but the rest of the rear cabin is finished just as nicely as that up front. This even goes for the aforementioned centre console fixed between the two rear seats, which includes some nice piano black lacquer around the cupholders as well as a comfortable centre armrest sitting atop a storage bin below. I noted its removal as a bonus for the 2020 model, but if you don’t have kids or grandchildren to shuttle, it’s a very nice feature that rear passengers will certainly appreciate. On this note, I was surprised to find individual rear buckets in back, this giving the car a much more premium look and feel than others in the class. There’s plenty of space to stretch out back there too, both for legroom and headroom, while thanks to good lower back support I was thoroughly comfortable as well. Additionally, Toyota includes a vent on the sides of each seat, which helps to cool off the rear passenger area nicely.
The cargo compartment is wide and spacious, although it’s fairly shallow due to the large battery positioned below the load floor. There’s also a small covered storage area complete with a portable charging cord hiding below the rearmost portion of that floor. The rear seats fold forward in the usual 60/40 configuration, but they sit quite a bit lower than the cargo floor so it’s not a completely flat surface. Such are some compromises often made when choosing a plug-in electric vehicle, although this point in mind the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, the Prime’s closest competitor now that the Volt is gone, didn’t have this problem (it’s cargo floor sits a bit lower than its folded rear seatbacks, which incline slightly as with most cars in this class).
Now that I’m grumbling (although that wasn’t much of a complaint), I will never understand why the Prius has always had a beeping signal inside the car when reversing. It can only be heard from within the car, which makes it one of the strangest features ever created for any car, and serves absolutely no purpose. I mean, if you’re not aware enough to know that you put your car into reverse then you really shouldn’t be behind the wheel. The need for a beeping signal to remind when you’re in reverse is absolutely silly, and in fact it audibly interferes with the parking sensor beep, which goes off at the same time. Please, Toyota, rectify this ridiculous feature once and for all. Now that was a decent grumble.
Of course, the annoying reverse beeper hasn’t stopped the Prius from becoming the world’s best-selling hybrid-electric vehicle, and this latest incarnation fully deserves to wear the coveted blue and silver nameplate, whether in regular, AWD or PHEV form.