It’s been a few years since we have had the opportunity to test drive the lesser-known Toyota Venza model, six to be exact. We have always considered the Venza to be more of an off-shoot from the old station wagon models from years gone by — it just had that look to it and didn’t get much publicity from the automaker.

This year, however, Toyota has done a complete redesign on the Venza, and it now has a more grown-up and aggressive look than it ever has before, and it only comes with a hybrid-power train.

There may be those that bemoan driving that kind of vehicle, but we have found, over the past 10 years, any Toyota hybrid will outperform our expectations and those put forth by the company. So, we were excited to see and get some extended seat time in the all new Venza that is now being made in the Toyota Takaoka Plant in Japan.

In the manufacturer’s own words, they set out to “break the sameness barrier with the all-new 2021 Venza Crossover.” After a week with the design, we were of the opinion that they had done a very good job in breaking that barrier and creating something that will play well in the marketplace that is very crossover friendly.

Good, bad or indifferent, this year, with Toyota deciding to produce the Venza in a hybrid-only version is what the future holds. We really like this plan and have never been disappointed with a hybrid version, or anything the company that pretty much invented the technology over the past 20 years.

After a week with the Venza, which mostly included driving around town as well as a trip to Salt Lake City to look for Christmas gifts, we managed to get a very nice 38 miles per gallon. The EPA puts the Venza right at 39 combined, so we were in the ballpark.

The average person who did most of their driving in an urban environment would get the best mileage as these types of vehicles tend to do much better around town.

All-electric vehicles are great, and as their driving ranges become extended, they seem to make more sense, however, we think the technology Toyota has developed is just as good. Coming up with an SUV that can get up to 40 miles per gallon and go any distance is a plus.

We have even heard stories of folks on longer drives in an all-electric car that have been told to slow down and ration the amount of air conditioning they are using or they will not make the next charging point. Guess it just takes more trip planning and being able to spend longer during pit stops.

Electric is the wave of the future, and we will all have one someday, but until that time Toyota has defiantly broken the sameness barrier with the hybrid Venza.

Inside, the new Venza is all about the driver and passengers and keeping them completely comfortable and surrounded with luxury, technology and safety.

Probably the coolest addition, this year, is the panoramic roof called the Star Gaze, however, that alone would not usually tip the scales for a crossover as we have had many with large panoramic roofs. What makes the Star Gaze unique is its ability to change from clear to frosted with the push of a button using electrochromic glass technology.

This blocks the interior from direct sun light when its not wanted but still allows the inside to be illuminated by natural light. This was a great addition, and the first time we have seen it in a vehicle, in some show home but never in a car to this point.

The center piece for the driver and passenger was the 12.3-inch infotainment screen, which is now located high in the center of the dashboard for easy access by either. It is completely configurable and can be switched easily for more driver-friendly use or passenger use.

The limited trim level that we drove also came with a new, nine-speaker JBL sound system that included a rear subwoofer and a 1,200 watt amplification system, the most powerful offered to date by Toyota. This entire system has also been tuned to the interior space of the Venza, and yes, it was an awesome experience.

With all this technology put into getting the interior perfect, it only raised more questions as to how they would keep the environment as noise-free as possible. This year, the designers have added insulation and body sealing materials throughout the floor and ceiling of the crossover, along with a new carpet pad that is all one piece and covers 92% of all holes and gaps.

Acoustic glass has also been added to outside to keep noise out along with insulation throughout the engine compartment designed to keep sound from getting to the occupants so they can listen or talk with one another without worrying about what is going on outside of the crossover.

Of course, the seats were heated along with the steering wheel making the December drive even better as the first real snow of the season arrived during our week with the Venza.

The Venza comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes Pre-Collision System with Daytime and Low-Light Vehicle and Pedestrian Detection, Daytime Bicyclist Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, Lane Tracing Assist, and Road Sign Assist.

Last but not least, we really loved the 10-inch full color head- up display that put ever important bit of information right in front of us when driving.

The new Venza is definitely something different and unique in the crossover world and worth a look as Toyota easily breaks the sameness barrier.

Base Price: $39,800

Price as Driven: $43,100