The Toyota Crown is a crossover now, but, you know, it’s kind of cool. I didn’t want it to be; I’d rather have clutched my pearls and cursed Toyota for selling out the dignity of the Crown. But the truth is the 2023 Toyota Crown is fine — maybe even better than fine. OK, let me be truthful: I like the Toyota Crown crossover.
(Full Disclosure: Toyota invited me to the Crown debut in Austin, Texas. The company flew me out and paid for my room in a Hill Country hotel/resort, where Toyota pulled the curtain off its new crossover — and pleasantly surprised me.)
When Toyota announced that a new Crown was in the works, and would be coming to the U.S., the car world was collectively surprised. The Crown name has always been affixed to ambitious, luxurious Toyota sedans, ones that almost never made it to the North American market. But as it turned out, the sedan didn’t really come back, at least not for us. What was revealed to the group of American journalists, and what will be sold in U.S. Toyota dealers, is not a sedan and not exactly an SUV. It’s something that lives in limbo.
Toyota can claim that the Crown is still a full-size sedan, but that’s obviously not true. In fact, it’s canonically untrue, as the announcement of the Japanese-market Crown lineup shows: In Toyota’s home market, the new Crown lineup includes a conventional sedan, a crossover-ish wagon, a fastback-ish SUV, and a variant that’s nearly identical to what we’re getting in the U.S., called Crown Crossover Type in its JDM guise.
When I saw the Crown “Sedan type” I wanted to be mad all over again, but I’d be feeling that way in bad faith — because the Crown crossover is much better than I expected. I had to bite my tongue and admit my first reaction was a knee-jerk response to Toyota wanting to have its cake and eat it, too.
That was before Toyota uncovered the car and made me reconsider my disdain for crossovers. Of course, it would take the Crown coming back to the U.S. to make me wonder why I’m mad at crossovers in the first place. I love small cars, is all. But I asked myself if the Crown would pass my personal litmus test: If you erase all the badges (and the history they imply), and see the car for what it really is, does it still carry the same impression?
Yeah, it passed the test. The 2023 Toyota Crown has a striking profile in person!
I know it’s hard to believe — I wouldn’t blame anyone for coming away with a different impression. But, dammit, this crossover looks good up close. Especially when you get past the initial shock of the new Crown being neither a traditional sedan nor a conventional crossover clad in swaths of black plastic.
The paint is the first thing you notice, because a Crown in anything other than a Steinway black finish is odd. Next you notice that the paint is actually two-tone, with gloss black accents. Once you get over the lack of tiny flags on the hood (many vintage Crowns were diplomatic or government vehicles in Japan), you notice the downward slope of the rear end and the dramatic ride height. Toyota calls it a “lift-up” style, and while the ride height kind of clashes with the sloping rear, it all comes together somehow. It’s just so much sleeker than photos suggest.
Even with its silly low-profile tires and oversized wheels, this crossover looks good. The paint finish is rich; Mazda has one of the best red finishes of any make now, but the Supersonic Red on this Crown Platinum was utterly rad.
The interior looks and feels luxe. I’m especially a fan of the ergonomic gear selector. But the rest of the Crown’s cabin was clearly designed with comfort and luxury in mind, which is another reason why the Crown grew on me.
The Crown coming back to the U.S. will finally give back to Toyota some of the luster it lent to Lexus. The Crown is about as nice as any Lexus I’ve sat in, but it’s still unafraid to get weird with it. In the end, that’s the conflict, isn’t it?
Should the Toyota Crown be a conservative flagship, or a car with mass appeal? The crossover will still be made in Japan, continuing a longstanding tradition whereby Toyota builds its proudest products in its home country. But the fact that Toyota wants to sell the Crown in the two largest car markets in the world — the U.S. and China — gives us an idea of why this Crown has the high-riding body and bulbous proportions of a utility vehicle.
Americans still buy more pickup trucks than anything else, with SUVs and crossovers filling out most of the top 10 bestseller slots. China is transitioning to EVs in bigger numbers than most markets, but its well-heeled buyers want bigger cars. That’s likely why the Crown crossover is the version that’s being exported, while the Sedan Type, Estate Type and Sport Type will all stay JDM-only.
I wish the U.S. Crown got the same insignia as in Japan. The home-market crown-shaped logo is classy — up there with the gold “Limited” badges of old Toyotas. But little touches like that come and go, while the icons persist. I guess I should be grateful the Crown is back in the U.S. at all. I’m just happy the Crown we’re getting looks better than I first gave it credit for. Even if it is a crossover.