Since 1955, the Toyota Crown has been a staple of Toyota’s lineup. It’s not only one of the automaker’s oldest models, but also one of the oldest car nameplates still around today. Only a handful of models outdate it, such as the Volkswagen Beetle, Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes-Benz SL, and of course Toyota’s own Land Cruiser. The Crown name has been around longer than the Ford Mustang, Mini, and Porsche 911.
It was also the first Toyota model exported to North America, continuing to be sold for four generations before being replaced by the Cressida. It was also used by Toyota to pioneer several new advancements—it was the first Japanese car to have a torque-converter automatic transmission called “Toyoglide”, the sixth generation was the first turbocharged Toyota passenger car, and the eighth generation was the first Toyota to be equipped with an airbag.
All of this is to say the Crown is a big deal, but in recent decades, primarily in Japan. It’s kept its rear-wheel drive layout and despite looking not far off a Camry, packs some interesting tech too.
So is this piece of forbidden fruit worth lusting after, or just another four-door that can stay home when the import ban drops in 25 years?
(Full Disclosure: Toyota of Japan loaned me a Crown tester for a few days with a tank of fuel.)
What Is It?
It’s a big, premium executive sedan that’s about as versatile as big sedans get. It’s used as everything from official government transportation and police cars to taxis and as family cars. The Crown wasn’t always a sedan though—it’s had a variety of body styles including a station wagon (up until 2003), a hardtop coupe, a two-door coupe, and even a pickup truck.
A friend from America likened the Crown to the Ford Crown Victoria/Lincoln Town Car in that it’s pretty much used for everything.
Since its 14th generation launched in 2012, the Crown has undergone a drastic styling change to brush off some of the “old fart” image, and it’s worked for the better. The latest generation Crown, now in its 15th generation launched in June 2018, looks ready to carry on the legacy of its predecessors into the future.
Since the Crown has been part of Toyota’s history, and in turn Japan’s history, for generations, it has been perceived as a symbol of all nice things. It’s the sort of car people aspire to own.
I remember shortly after moving to New Zealand how my dad, who’s an old school Japanese guy, went out of his way to import a Toyota Crown simply because he wanted a Crown and there weren’t any available in the country at the time. There were probably several cost-effective alternatives, but in his mind the Crown was the ultimate sedan.
I loved that car. He had the Royal Saloon which came with the larger 2JZ 3.0-liter inline-six engine. Though thirsty, it was smooth and quick. Dad’s Crown provided many great road trip memories and coincidentally this test car I’ve got is in a similar blue-grey color as his old one.
So to pay homage to my little history with the Crown I decided the best way to test the new Crown would be to embark on a week-long road trip across Japan, just like in the old days.
Specs That Matter
The current Crown is available with a choice of three engines; a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder petrol with 245 horsepower, a 2.5-liter four cylinder gasoline hybrid with 184 HP, and a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline hybrid with 300 HP. If you know Toyota motors, all of these should sound familiar. They’re all used in a variety of Toyota and Lexus cars around the world.
The version I’m testing is the mid-range 2.5-liter hybrid in ‘G’ trim specification, which was pretty much the ideal spec.
With its 2.5-liter four cylinder hybrid, Toyota claims it’ll average 56.4 MPG on the Japanese fuel economy cycle. I didn’t get it that high, but I was still able to eke out 40 MPH from it over 1,600 miles of driving. I only needed to fill up three times too, only two of which were from near empty.
That is impressive because this isn’t a small car, especially with four adults and luggage for a week. The Crown Hybrid weighs in at 3858 lbs and measures 193.30 inches long, 70.86 inches wide, and 57.28 inches tall.
How Does It Drive?
As such it drives like you’d expect it to; like a big wafty executive car.
And not even like a dynamic one, like a BMW 5 Series or a Jaguar XF. This is old-school executive luxury, and makes no apologies for it.
The steering is vague and passive. It’s light to operate and there’s not much feel or feedback from it, but that’s fine. The people who buy these cars don’t want unnecessarily heavy steering; they want something easy to steer out of their office car park after a long day of Doing Business.
That’s not to say it’s a dull car to drive, just for different tastes. There’s three different driving modes to choose from; Eco, Normal, and Sport. Sport heavies up the steering and holds “gears” for longer, but it all feels too artificial. I especially didn’t like the heavier steering feel which felt like turning in a tub of honey.
In normal day-to-day scenarios with the driving mode set in Normal Mode, the Crown handles as competently as you’d expect a big modern Toyota to behave. Even when pushed it remains neutral with no nasty surprise oversteer. This isn’t a RWD Toyota you can compete with in the D1GP.
Yet what stood out the most was how planted it felt all the time. It’s a big thing, the Crown, and the mass certainly helps keep it stuck to the ground. Where many other Japanese cars feel like they’re made from paper thin steel and the slightest gust of wind could send them up in the air, the Crown felt very Teutonic, if in stability but not outright cornering. If you’ve driven a Lexus GS, the Crown will feel familiar.
That said, apart from the hybrid powertrain, the new Crown is unrelated to the current GS. It sits on a new Toyota New Global Architecture platform, which replaces the old N Platform on which the GS and previous generation Crown sat on.
But leave it on long straight roads, like a motorway for example, and the Crown starts to make a lot of sense. This is a great road trip companion. Certainly, I couldn’t have asked for a better car to cover more than 1,600 miles in. It never skipped a beat, secluded us from the outside world, and had adequate get up and go for overtaking on Japan’s busy motorway network. If you need to drive from Tokyo to Osaka regularly, few cars can make the journey as relaxing and as easy as a Crown.
What it lacks in driving dynamics it makes up in comfort. In many ways, think of the Crown as an Alphard sedan (or rather the Alphard as a Crown minivan). It’s the same sort of relaxed old school comfort.
Your pulse never gets too high in a Crown. It deals with bumps much better than the Alphard and isolates you from the outside world even more thanks to some cleaver active noise cancelling technology. There could literally be a zombie apocalypse happening outside and you wouldn’t notice, or care.
It’s got the right amount of space for four to be comfortable. While it’s got five seats it’s definitely made to be a four seater. You could squeeze a fifth passenger on the middle seat, perhaps the office intern, but you wouldn’t want to for long distances.
The transmission tunnel can be quite intrusive but the footwell is large enough to accommodate another pair of feet. With four, everyone has the right amount of personal space.
Headroom, shoulder room and legroom are all just right, though if space is your main concern I would direct you toward the Alphard.
As you’d expect from its status symbol positioning, the Crown is chock full of the latest tech and equipment. There’s multi-way electric seats with heating and ventilation, a heads up display, an amazing 360 degree camera, lane departure warning, blind spot assist, rear cross traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic LED headlights, and it even has dual screens on the centre console.
What it doesn’t have is Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which seems like an odd omission in a 2019 car. Instead, you have to make use of the OEM Toyota infotainment system which is basically a simplified version of the Lexus system. Luckily there’s no silly touchpad here as it’s all operated via touchsceen.
Since this was the mid-trim ‘G’ model the interior was a mix of leather and cloth. The dashboard, central armrest and door trim were in leather while the seats were fabric, which I adored. Fabric seats are underrated and are more comfortable being left out in the sun than leather. Leather, especially the fake stuff you get in so many “premium” cars these days, doesn’t always equate to luxury, and the sooner people understand this the better.
It’s pretty economical too. For a 3,800-pound executive sedan, it managed to average 40 MPG during the time I had with it. That’s from a mix of driving on the motorway, in towns, and on rural roads. Like I said, I literally only had to fill up the 17.43 gallon tank three times over the entire road trip. Who still needs diesel anymore?
As mentioned, the driving dynamics certainly aren’t on par with the class leaders. The CVT doesn’t like being pushed out of its comfort zone either. Around town and cruising on the motorway it’s fine. BUt surprise it with sudden acceleration and, like a stubborn child, it will flat out let you know when it doesn’t like what you’ve asked it do.
It’d be fine if it was only that but if the A/C was in recirculate mode you’d get a nose full of what smelled like burning plastic from the transmission. The CVT really wasn’t made for flat-out acceleration. The larger V6 hybrid comes with a proper eight-speed automatic gearbox, which I’m sure behaves much better.
The trunk was spacious enough to fit overnight bags and backpacks for four, only just. Every time we needed to get something out, it was like a game of Tetris trying to rearrange everything back in to fit just right. If we had bigger suitcases, or if we were business-doing people with golf clubs, it’d be a struggle to get everything in there.
I understand the luggage space can be comprised as it’s a hybrid that needs to accommodate batteries, but still, something this big should be able to fit more in its trunk. You can get a non-hybrid version with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, which might improve luggage capacity.
The base Crown starts from ¥4,606,200 (about $41,300) and goes all up to ¥7,187,400 (around $64,500) for the top spec G-Executive trim. This ‘G’ trim test car starts from ¥5,621,400 ($50,430) and with the options it costs ¥6,112,260 ($54,830) as tested.
That might be a big ask for some for a Toyota, but this is barely a Toyota. The Crown is pretty much its own thing now, one of the few Toyota models to get its own logo on the steering wheel. For many in Japan the Crown is still the sedan to aspire to.
If you think of it as a Lexus GS (although it’s bigger than that car) for Toyota Avalon money, then it almost seems like decent value. It’s hard to explain the appeal of the Crown, it’s been such an important part of Toyota’s history and has built up it’s own unique reputation in over six decades it’s hard to compare it to cars such as a Mercedes E-Class or Audi A6.
Toyota probably will never sell the Crown in the West again. That’s what Lexus is for. The Crown name still holds some weight in Asia where it’s exported to in select markets.
But perhaps there’s a case for a more affordable rear-wheel drive alternative to a Lexus. If you forget about the opulent top-spec $64k G-Executive model, the more reasonable trim levels might be a decent alternative to an Avalon.
Certainly in markets like Australia and New Zealand where there’s a big absence in affordable full-size rear-wheel drive sedans, the Crown would be a successor to the fallen Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon. It could also take over their roles as government cars, police cars, and taxis. Heck, it could even take that role in North America too.
So, worth collecting in 25 years? If you want the ultimate in attainable Japanese luxury, you may find yourself marking your calendars now.