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Would a luxury Toyota RAV4 hybrid-based SUV like the stylish all-new Toyota Venza sell in Australia?

Join the Venza bus: If Toyota makes it all add up, Australians might be able to party in the Toyota RAV4-based Venza luxury SUV

Would a medium SUV based on the Toyota RAV4 but with sportier styling, luxury specification and a hybrid powertrain availability find a ready market in this country?

This is what Toyota Australia’s product planners are contemplating right now with the all-new Venza – or Harrier, as it is known in Japan.

Based on the latest TNGA GA-K architecture underpinning the popular Toyota RAV4, the new-for-2021 Venza echoes the latter by offering both 2.0-litre petrol and 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid four-cylinder engine options. As with the RAV4 hybrid, there are either front-drive (2WD) single-motor or twin motors (on each axle) to create E-Motor AWD system.

In both pricing and sizing, the Venza would slot between the RAV4 and the Toyota Kluger large SUV (which switches to the RAV4’s TNGA GA-K platform when the all-new and totally redesigned model arrives by mid 2021), putting it in the $40,000 to $60,000 bracket.

In other words, a modern-day Toyota Cressida, but in SUV drag, for the post-Baby Boomer generations.

According to a Toyota Australia spokesperson, while there is no decision to announce on the future of the Venza for now, it is not off the table and may eventually make it to Australia somewhere down the track.

“Currently there are no plans for us to bring the Venza here,” they said. “This vehicle has been built for the North American market with no current plans to adapt it for introduction to Australia.

“We will continue to monitor market demand and would not rule it out for the future, but currently we have no plans to introduce this model here.”

Though the Venza sits on the same 2690mm wheelbase as the RAV4, it is both longer and a little lower overall. A more couple-like silhouette smooths away the donor SUV’s boxiness, imbuing it with a sportier style. The additional 170mm length doesn’t translate to an extra row of seating, however; that’s the Kluger’s (or off-road biased Fortuner’s) job in Toyota’s burgeoning SUV armoury.

Historically, larger non-premium five-seater SUVs have struggled in Australia, with the slow-selling Ford Endura (based on the North American-market Edge and closest in concept to the Venza) being the most recent example. Nissan also tried and failed with the Murano several years back. Only the Jeep Grand Cherokee has gained any sort of traction with consumers, though much of that is due to the American 4x4 brand’s off-road capabilities.

On the other hand, luxury-branded alternatives have fared far better, as evidenced by the success of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Lexus NX. Year-to-date sales in the over-$60K medium SUV segment remain relatively buoyant, even in this COVID-19 affected year, down 11.9 per cent to the end of August compared to over 20 per cent for the overall market. Toyota would be looking at gate-crashing this party.

Speaking of Lexus, if Australia does get the go-ahead for Venza, it won’t be the first time we’ve seen this series, albeit under another badge; furthermore, it and the Harrier operated as completely separate models for almost a decade up until this year abroad.

Launched in Japan in 1997, the first two generations of Camry-based Harrier models were twinned with the Lexus RX line, with the latter (in Mk2 XU30 guise) arriving in Australia from 2003. But for Japan, the Harrier switched to the smaller ‘Toyota New MC’ platform that served the 2014-2019 RAV4 and current Lexus NX, among a host of other Toyota SUVs.

Meanwhile, Venza launched in 2009 as the Toyota crossover version of the larger third-generation RX (since it retained the Camry/Lexus ES base), and was built solely in the United States as a left-hand-drive-only proposition until production was phased out in 2015 due to lacklustre sales.

Nowadays, Venza is a rebadged fourth-generation (XU80-series) Harrier, built just in Japan, and ready for global export including to North America, because Toyota USA sees plenty of sales potential this time around.

Will Australia follow suit? With RAV4 hybrid demand far-exceeding supply, don’t bet against it.