DETROIT – Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. debuts in Detroit the all-new ’09 Venza cross/utility vehicle, a product designed exclusively for sale in the North American market.

Designed and engineered by Toyota technical centers in Ann Arbor, MI, and Newport Beach, CA, the 5-passenger Venza will be built at the auto maker’s plant in Georgetown, KY. It’s slated to arrive at dealers late this year, although pricing has not been announced.

Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager-Toyota Div., says the Venza combines the styling, comfort and “fun-to-drive” aspects of a sedan, but with the utility of an SUV.

“This winning combination will be ideal for active Boomers and young couples with small families,” Carter says in a statement ahead of the Venza’s premier at the North American International Auto Show later today.

The Venza arguably enters the hottest segment in North America. CUVs accounted for 2.8 million units in the U.S. in 2007, an increase of nearly 18% vs. year-ago, according to Ward’s data.

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Venza designers avoided traditional SUV styling themes, the auto maker says, and instead drew inspiration from a sleek sedan concept. But utility remained a focal point, as the Venza provides abundant cargo space with all five passengers aboard, Toyota says.

Unique attributes include an instrument-panel design that offers both the driver and front passenger the look and feel that 60% of the IP is accessible from their seating position.

The center console houses the gear-shift lever and hides a large storage well that will accommodate a sizable purse. The Venza also marks the first Toyota vehicle in the U.S. with standard 20-in. alloy wheels and an available panoramic roof.

Automatic high-beam headlamps, which use sensors to detect oncoming traffic and switch to low-beam, also represent a first for Toyota.

The Venza arrives with a choice of two powertrains – a 2.7L 4-cyl. engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission and a 3.5L 6-cyl. mill with a 6-speed gearbox. Toyota has not released horsepower and torque numbers on the 4-cyl. engine, but says the V-6 will deliver 268 hp and 246 lb.-ft. (334 Nm) of torque, boasting a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs. (1,587 kg).

The 6-cyl. powertrain also comes with the option of front- or all-wheel drive.