Toyota calls the 2009 Venza the most North American car it has ever built.

And in the next breath officials also call it one of the most important cars in the company’s history.

Well, when you already have Corolla, Camry and Matrix, then a lot has to be riding on this next vehicle.

At the launch of the 2009 Venza in the hills of Pennsylvania, Toyota opened the presentation by declaring the Venza as a whole new kind of family car that isn’t really a family car. It’s hard to put a label on Venza. It blurs the line between station wagon, crossover and luxury car.

About the closest thing to it in concept is the Mercedes-Benz R-Class. With a price said to start at under $30,000, I guess you could think of it as R-Class light.

This is the first Toyota vehicle specifically aimed at North Americans, designed in California and built in Kentucky. Canadians were the inspiration for the side rocker panels that are covered by the door panel to keep out slush and snow. Because the rockers are at nearly the level of the floor, there is no step over to get in. So when you get in and out in the winter, and your pant legs brush the sill, they won’t get wet or muddy.

With a length of 4.8 m, the wheelbase is a full 2,775 mm larger, which makes for sizeable passenger volume. To lower the roof as much as possible while retaining enough headroom for stadium-style second row seating, Toyota stylists came up with the clever idea of minimizing gaps.

The bonus is Venza looks very slick. By adding in 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels on the four-cylinder and V6 models respectively, the Venza comes across as a concept car that made it to the street.

The interior is outstanding in its little details. There is a power point on the transmission wall with a cubbie just below for the front passenger. The 60/40 rear seat has a one-touch fold-down lever. That is in addition to remote back seat releases grafted into each rear cargo wall. The back seats recline for extra comfort.

Another thing I found was a character line across the dash running into each front door where it then widens and creates a recess that is also an armrest.

Fuel numbers for the four-cylinder FWD are 10.0/6.8/8.5L/100 km city/highway/combined respectively. For the AWD, they are: 10.2/7.1/8.8L/100 km. For the V6 FWD/AWD they are 11.0/7.6/9.5L/100 km and 11.5/7.9/9.9L/100 km city/highway/combined.

It looks like in trying to create the next generation North American car, Toyota has sensed an emerging trend and is ready to move on it.

2009 Toyota Venza

Type: Five-passenger wagon
Price: Not available
Engine: 2.7-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve DOHC; 3.5-litre DOHC V6
HP: 182-268

• Slick looks
• Lots of room