Unexpected luxury. While the Venza starts where most rivals like the Chevrolet Blazer and Honda Passport are, it feels far more upscale inside and out. The Toyota's detailing resembles a Lexus — even more than the most basic Toyota Highlander does, and it could even pass for a much more expensive Lexus RX.

It's the interior that really sets the Venza apart, though, with plenty of soft-touch materials and high-quality materials. All but the base Venza LE gets a synthetic material that looks and feels like leather and the Limited trim can be equipped with a panoramic sunroof.

Even the ride feels more comfortable than rival SUVs that try for a rugged feel, or others that are too soft and can make people in the rear seat feel more nauseous than pampered. It's a fine line but the Venza pulls it off. Just don't expect particularly sharp handling.

Great efficiency expectations. The Venza comes equipped only with a hybrid powertrain. Lifted from many Toyota vehicles like the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, it's rated by the EPA at up to 40 mpg — and that's with all-wheel-drive. That's also far above what direct rivals can muster.

Toyota made the system relatively seamless, too, so power around town or when cruising on the highway. It adds to the Venza feeling refined and even luxurious. And it also reinforces the Venza's relaxed nature, with a quiet interior and a soft, comfortable ride.

Unexpected cost. Luxury doesn't come cheap, though. While the base Venza is competitively priced, other versions push into the territory of larger mainstream SUVs or premium ones. While the top Limited model comes with all of the desirable features, there are several premium-badged SUVs that are about the same price that offer a posh experience for the same money or less.

There's another consideration that the Venza uses the same hybrid powertrain as the RAV4's, and is more expensive, but smaller inside. It's not exactly small inside, but the Venza won't be as comfortable inside for four or five people and it won't hold as much cargo, all thanks to the more curvaceous exterior design.

Not too punchy, either. With 219 horsepower, the Venza has considerably less power than the vehicles in its price class — including the four-cylinder Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport. It also weighs more than a RAV4 Hybrid, thanks to its extra sound deadening and luxury features.

All of this conspires to give the Venza less-than-thrilling performance, even for an SUV. That goes less noticed in city traffic, but merging or passing on highways isn't as smooth as in other vehicles.

And the continuously variable transmission that makes the Venza so seamless when cruising or at low speeds gets loud and raucous at higher speeds. It spoils that refined character that rivals with stronger engines do a better job at muffling. That's not to say the Venza is best left at low speeds, but there are much better choices for those who want a vehicle that's more enthusiastic to drive.

Final thoughts. The Toyota Venza is an unexpected midsize two-row SUV in a class of look-alike rivals that typically try to look tough off-roaders. It skews significantly towards the luxury side of things and, with its hybrid powertrain, produces fuel economy figures that are better than even some of Toyota's small cars.

While the exterior styling looks high quality, the interior is even better, with intuitive controls that are wrapped with plush materials. There are even some interesting technology options, too. And the Venza offers a feel that most $30,000-$40,000 SUVs give.

Not everything is perfect, though. That efficient hybrid system is no match for turbocharged or V6-powered SUVs of the same price when passing power is needed, and it makes the entire system sound unrefined and less luxurious. And watch the options, because it's easy to push the Venza's price up significantly.

But the Venza has standard all-wheel-drive and most rivals don't, while a Subaru Outback's four-cylinder engine isn't as efficient or much more responsive, and looks far more utilitarian inside and out. That makes this Toyota something of a unicorn among these two-row SUVs.

It may not be a completely unimpeachable impersonation of a Lexus SUV, but it might be all that many buyers want and need.

Check prices for the 2022 Toyota Venza »