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FAMILY-FRIENDLY: Toyota’s Venza a clever mash-up of station wagon, CUV

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s amazing how automotive segments have blurred in a short period of time.

Consider Toyota’s Venza. It it a station wagon? A crossover? Some kind of a hybrid of both?

The latter probably comes closest to the mark. It does sit tall, with a healthy 8.1 inches of ground clearance, compared to, say, a compact Nissan Rouge, a true crossover utility vehicle at 7.6 inches.

And it does have generous cargo space, a maximum of 70.2 cubic feet with rear seats folded, slightly more than the Rogue’s 70.0 cubic feet.

The Venza also boasts 3,500 pounds of towing capacity (a towing package is standard on V-6-equipped Venzas). At 1,000 pounds, the Rouge can’t come close to meeting that figure, hamstrung as it is by its four-cylinder engine versus the Venza’s powerful V-6.

It should be noted, however, that the admittedly smaller Rogue does crush the Venza in fuel economy. The Nissan’s 25 mpg city rating ties with the Venza’s highway rating, while on the open road the Rogue rates 32 mpg.

While these comparisons somewhat fall into an apples-to-oranges category, they do illustrate the Venza’s pseudo-crossover bona fides.

However, the station-wagon side of its personality comes across louder and clearer, largely boosted by its attractive exterior design. The Venza simply doesn’t look like a CUV, even less than a Subaru Outback does.

venzainteriorThe spacious cabin of the Venza, particularly that in our high-end Limited model, approaches the near-luxury ambiance of some premium vehicles. With its leather upholstery and attractive, multi-textured dash design, the big wagon provides plenty of comfort for five in relatively high-grade surroundings. Only a few patches of rather obviously faux wood on doors and console strike a less-than-deluxe note.

There are some other small instances that suggest the Venza is getting on in years, such as the absence of one-touch lane-change turn signals and the by-now-commonplace safety assists such as blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and brake-based forward collision mitigation.

Venza’s V-6 is a true gem, propelling the wagon smoothly, quietly, down the highway without a hint of truckiness. Crossover or station wagon, it’s a handsome, well-engineered family hauler with a generous dollop of utility thrown in for good measure.