The Crown proves Toyota can make an engaging hybrid system.
It hasn't been offered in the United States since 1972, but the Crown is an important model for Toyota. In fact, it was the first mass-market Toyota to ever be exported to the US in 1958. The 2023 Toyota Crown returns to compete in the struggling full-size sedan segment, but with a special trick up its sleeve. Unlike the discontinued Avalon, the Crown comes with standard hybrid power and a raised appearance that makes it look reminiscent of a crossover. Aside from the short-lived Volvo S60 Cross Country, we can't remember any modern vehicles offered in the US that fit this sedan-SUV mold that aren't EVs a la Polestar 2 and Tesla Model 3.
To find out if the Crown's unique proportions will breathe new life into a dying vehicle class, CarBuzz flew out to Nashville, Tennessee, to sample it on some beautiful country back roads.
The Crown is an odd duck, making it difficult to describe. It measures 60.6 inches tall, a sizable 3.7 inches taller than a Camry. Despite this, the Crown only boasts 5.8 inches of ground clearance, just 0.1 more than its more conventional sibling. That's because the proportions are deceptive. It may look like a crossover, but the Crown's added height mainly comes from a taller belt line, not a significantly lifted suspension.
If you like the look of a sedan but prefer a higher ingress/egress point, the Crown may suit the bill. Toyota will offer three different body styles in other markets, including a traditional sedan and two SUVs, but this strange pseudo sedan is the only one confirmed for the US.
Awkward shape aside, we find the Crown to look futuristic and luxurious, especially in the new bi-tone Bronze Age color pictured below. The two-tone options might be too Need For Speed: Underground to certain buyers, but it does give the Crown a sporty appearance. 19-inch wheels come standard, while the upper trims ride on 21-inchers.
The Crown's interior is as up-market as a Toyota can be before it becomes a Lexus. Limited and Platinum grades offer heated/ventilated leather seats in black or black with chestnut and macadamia, but we came away enamored by the black woven fabric on the XLE. This high-quality cloth reminds us of the wool seats offered in the Japanese-market Century sedan; they are soft to the touch and breathe better than leather.
A 12.3-inch touchscreen comes standard on all grades, as does an equally-sized digital gauge cluster display. The touchscreen is powered by the latest Toyota infotainment system, meaning it gets wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Legroom is plentiful in both rows, though taller journalists at the drive event complained that headroom was lacking. At 5'8", we had no issues.
All three Crown grades come standard with hybrid power, but there are two distinct systems available. XLE and Limited grades include a familiar fourth-generation Toyota Hybrid System with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors. This system sends 236 combined horsepower to an all-wheel drivetrain through an eCVT. If you value fuel economy, get the standard hybrid, as it's rated for 42/41/41 mpg city/highway/combined. Gas mileage comes at the expense of performance, as its 0-60 mph sprint isn't stellar, taking a sluggish 7.6 seconds.
The Platinum grade is the only one to get Toyota's new Hybrid MAX setup, which dumps the naturally aspirated engine in favor of a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-pot. Combined with a front electric motor and rear eAxle, the Hybrid Max delivers 340 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque out to a permanent AWD system that can split power 70:30 up to 20:80. Most significantly, this system uses a six-speed automatic rather than a direct drive, which completely transforms the driving experience. Its fuel economy isn't as impressive (29/32/30), but the 0-60 time drops to just 5.7 seconds.
Toyota says the Crown is not a replacement for the Avalon, but based on its price and position in the market, Avalon owners will see this as the natural progression from their current rides. If you're looking for a soft, comfortable cruiser, the Crown fits the bill; it floats over road imperfections, especially when equipped with the adaptive variable suspension on the Platinum model. Its steering is precise, though this lifted sedan will not challenge a Kia Stinger on a winding road. We felt relatively confident in the handling, though we imagine the standard-height version that's offered in Japan would provide a more precise driving experience.
In a straight line, the standard hybrid system feels like any previous Toyota hybrid we've driven. It's fabulous when driven timidly, but it sounds strained when you want to go fast. As for the Hybrid Max, it changes the game for Toyota hybrids. By adding an actual transmission, you no longer have to hear the engine groan under hard acceleration. The shifts add a greater connection to the vehicle and the boost in power makes a world of difference when getting up to speed or executing a passing maneuver.
Pricing for the Crown XLE starts at $39,950, making it more expensive than the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Kia Stinger, and Nissan Maxima but less than the Volkswagen Arteon. But since none of those vehicles offers a hybrid drivetrain, the Crown feels like it's in a class of its own. Stepping up to the Limited grade for $45,550 adds a more luxurious interior and technology inside. If you want the Hybrid Max drivetrain, the only way to get it is to step up to the Platinum for $52,350. That's pricier than a Lexus ES Hybrid, but the Crown does have noticeably more power.
Our opinions about the Crown are mixed. On the positive side, it rides well and serves as a commendable Avalon replacement in a market that's limited for full-size sedans. The standard hybrid system may not be rapid, but it delivers excellent fuel economy without completely compromising performance. Meanwhile, the optional Hybrid Max delivers acceleration we've never felt from a Toyota hybrid before while managing to average 30 mpg.
As for the negatives, the Crown's unique proportions will not be to everyone's liking, and the price borders on premium territory. Practicality is somewhat limited, too, since the Crown has a traditional sedan trunk rather than a spacious liftback. 15.2 cubic feet of storage is fine, but it's far less than the Arteon and Stinger offer.
We imagine the market for the Crown is small, but there will certainly be some diehard sedan loyalists out there who will love it. If the Crown succeeds, we hope Toyota will consider bringing other variants to the US.