The curiously massive touchscreen in the redesigned Toyota Venza Limited

The 2021 Toyota Venza Limited driving down a city street.
Credit: Toyota

I want a touchscreen in a car that is so big, I can watch movies in my driveway. It should stretch all the way from the side panel of the door, below the windshield, and around to the passenger door. By the way, I’d like 18-speaker surround sound and a subwoofer the size of a refrigerator.

Now, Mercedes-Benz actually showcased something like that at CES 2021 recently (a virtual tradeshow we attended here at Gearadical), and it’s pretty cool. The only problem with some of these future tech announcements is they sometimes fail to materialize in the real world.

For now, I’m happy with the massive 12.3-inch touchscreen in the 2021 Toyota Venza Limited, a redesigned version of the car Toyota kept on the road only for a few years. (I’ve driven many of the previous versions although it’s been a while.) The new model has a much more elegant and stately crossover look, while the original was a wagon and crossover mix. 

To this day, when I see the original Venza on the road, I always wonder what it is until I see the nameplate. That new model is just as eye-catching because it looks modern and sleek, not because it has any hint of being a wagon. I feel like Toyota realized the Venza is still a popular car (or looked at the used car data) and brought back the brand (but not the design). No matter, because the new Venza drives with a sporty zip and is just as remarkable.

The standout feature though is the touchscreen, which seems to perch above the center console. I don’t miss the days when a touchscreen in any car (circa 2010) was not that responsive and made me wish I was using an Apple iPad (which launched that same year). These days, you can expect every sipe and gesture to work perfectly.

It’s also handy that, at this larger size, you can run Apple CarPlay comfortably on one side, taking up about two-thirds of the screen, and still see a few extra settings and controls. I noticed, even when I was using a map in CarPlay or listening to text messages, that the far right of the touchscreen still showed my current music selection (artist, album, and track).

I also noticed the colors really pop. I’ve seen some touchscreens in cars that look a bit dim or even foggy, thanks to a protective coating or poor design. On the Venza, the screen looks and feels durable but has a brightness and clarity that tells me Toyota has been refining the touchscreen design to make sure you can see everything and also interact with the screen. My guess is the next step is to add light haptic feedback to touchscreens so you know when you press an icon that it worked because of a slight buzz sensation on the screen.

So how do we get to the next stage of even bigger touchscreens? It’s possible we’re in the same stage of development where HDTV models started getting bigger and bigger, but also cheaper and cheaper. I have tested HiSense televisions with a 65-inch screen that only cost about $400. These days, a touchscreen in a car has to pass many safety checks so it doesn’t shatter when you hit a pothole but also to make sure it can withstand jabs and scratches, coffee spills, and kids tapping it with their fist. It’s likely a cost issue. Yes, every new car could have a 56-inch screen, but the car would have to cost quite a bit more.

I can accept 12.3-inches for now. Everything looked crisp and readable, and I could easily find my route using the navigation. I might need to wait a few years before I can watch a movie on a 56-inch screen and not have to pay thousands for that type of upgrade.