Toyota comes out with more than a car

  • 10-Jan-2009 07:28 EST
Toyota says Calty designers approached the Venza with the desire to create a sedan with a wide stance and sporty exterior but also include SUV attributes such as cargo space, towing capability, and all-wheel-drive performance.

Toyota's Venza, its name captured metaphorically as an amalgam of Monza and adventure, is also literally an amalgam of a Highlander and a Camry. Its floorpan consists of three welded pieces, with the front section coming courtesy of the Highlander, the passenger section from the Camry with added crossmember reinforcements, and a rear section unique to the Venza.

While some of those sections are global, Toyota says that all aspects of Venza’s engineering and design were targeted specifically for the North American market, where it will be sold exclusively. Venza was primarily engineered at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, MI.

The design began as the FT-SX concept that was revealed at the North American International Auto Show in 2005. It was the creation of Toyota’s Calty Design studios in Newport Beach, CA, and Ann Arbor, MI.

Calty relies on clay models. After designers get through validation, figure out what lines may need to change, and feedback is provided from manufacturing, they make a full-size clay model. According to one Toyota insider, “Calty is really proud of the fact that they sculpt first and then they put [the data] into the computer vs. the other way around. They think that allows them to create more expressive designs.”

“Designers and engineers usually go through a bit of tug-of-war when it comes to taking a vehicle from concept to reality,” said Tim Morrison, Corporate Manager, Marketing for Car and Van, Toyota. “But when it comes to building a vehicle that people actually drive, factors such as engineering, suppliers, tooling, and safety regulations typically change designers’ original visions.

“In the case of Venza, Calty designers worked closely with the engineers at Toyota Technical Center [TTC] to bring the vehicle to life,” he said. “Like FJ Cruiser, Venza retained most of the styling cues from conception to execution.”

Still, there is the question of what it is if Toyota insists it is not an SUV, a wagon, a coupe, or a sedan. Three out of four of those options are eliminated if one considers towing capacity: adding the optional tow package to the Venza enables the V6 version to tow 3500 lb (1590 kg) and the I4 to tow 2500 lb (1135 kg). While those figures may conjure up an image of an SUV, the Venza's "styling, dimensions, and features are more car than SUV," said Morrison. "I refer to it as a 'car optimized,' or 70% car and 30% SUV."

The tow package is also optimized, at least in terms of overall mass impact. "It depends on the vehicle specs, but with a heavy-duty alternator, a larger cooling fan for increased output, and an engine oil cooler, only about 6.5 lb are added with the package," said Craig Payne, Principal Engineer on the Venza.

Rocker panels were lowered and the doorsills narrowed. As a result, the sweeping integrated rocker panels provide easy ingress/egress, yet with a sightline higher than Camry. The rear load-in height is lower than Camry and almost as low as the Sienna van.

Venza features a body structure that relies on high tensile-strength steel, gussets, and crossmembers for its strength, rigidity, and lighter weight. Front suspension is a rigid L-arm-type MacPherson strut with a stabilizer bar, and rear suspension is a dual-link MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar.

Both engine versions are available with standard front-wheel drive (FWD) or an optional on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that can distribute a torque ratio up to 50:50 to the front and rear axles.

Shared with the Avalon, Camry, Highlander, and RAV4, the Venza's 3.5-L V6 produces 268 hp (200 kW) at 6200 rpm and 246 lb·ft (334 N·m) at 4700 rpm. The V6 FWD has 2008 U.S. EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 19 city/26 highway mpg, and the AWD comes in at 18 city/25 highway mpg.

Debuting first on the Highlander in December, then on the Venza in January, Toyota's 2.7-L four-cylinder engine will deliver 182 hp (136 kW) at 5800 rpm and 182 lb·ft (247 N·m) at 4200 rpm. The engine, which will be built in Japan, features an aluminum block and head, with a magnesium valve cover. Its bore and stroke are 3.70 x 3.27 in (94 x 83 mm). Toyota’s internal estimates for fuel economy are 21 city/29 highway mpg on the FWD model and 20 city/28 highway for AWD.

Both engines are mated to a six-speed sequential-shift automatic transmission with intelligence, designed by Toyota and Aisin.

Calty's Ann Arbor's Project Chief Designer, Benjamin Jimenez, integrated a "floating concept" of the instrument cluster to create what Toyota refers to as a "60/60 center dashboard."

"Most car interiors are like dual cockpits, where both driver and front passengers feel as if they only have access to 40% of the available space," said Jimenez. "The flow of Venza's center console is a bit of an optical illusion. Both driver and passenger will feel as if 60% of the space is in their personal zone."

Venza will be assembled solely at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in Georgetown, KY. More than 70% of its components will come from North American suppliers, with its sales goal being about 60,000 units for 2009.

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