Toyota Crown returns as luxury — or sport — sedan

John Gilbert

It’s been a recurring theme in this column to try to describe the sometimes confusing identification by Toyota of some of its similar vehicles, whether sedans or SUVs, and we now have a new contender in the company’s attempt to leave us scratching our heads — even as we might consider which new Toyota to purchase.

In the last 50 years, I’ve tried to keep track of Toyota’s expansive list of vehicles in Japan, Asia, Korea and Europe and how they might differ from those we see and buy in the U.S. One of the cars I often saw in other countries was the Toyota Crown, which had previously been sold in the U.S. as a top-tier sedan for Toyota back in the 1960s.

My suspicion was that Toyota was going to branch off a whole luxury brand, which they did, called Lexus, and they didn’t need the Crown as their  – uh, crowning achievement. But now, we can’t say why, Toyota is bringing the Crown back into the U.S. and the only question is what the company’s intentions are. Is the new Crown a luxury sedan replacement for the recently discontinued Avalon? Is the Crown intended to fulfill the intentions of the corporation to make its sedans more fun and satisfying to drive?

You can tell that objective by the commercials, which show men and women driving along an innocent city street but they are all smiling so broadly they appear to be having enough fun to make them giddy! When we got our hands on a new Crown for a week’s road test, both my wife, Joan, and I were seriously impressed, with only an occasional asterisk.

It seems to be a distinct upgrade from the top Camry now available, and it rivals some of the similar-sized Lexus sedans, such as the Lexus ES. So as we’re about to anoint it as Toyota’s new luxury pace-setter, Joan made her main complaint distinctly. While a sleek, almost sporty-coupe style 4-door sedan, the bright “Supersonic Red” Crown came with the entire hood, roof and hatch lid high-gloss black instead of the car’s bright red. And the grille also was gloss black, where flat black would have been an obvious compromise.

That, Joan stressed, makes it look like a sporty sedan, not a luxury sedan. There was nothing to do but agree with her, and as the week went on, I bought into that disparity even more. On top of that, the gloss black overlapped onto the sculptured sides of the car, into panels of gloss black on the lower sides. As a compromise, I suggested that maybe a flat black might have been less jarring than the gloss black, but Joan wouldn’t buy that. But inside the car, we were both impressed with the driver’s bucket seat and the ease of recognizing and adjusting the controls.

Most specifically, after I spent a few days educating myself on what was under the hood and how it operated, we liked the support of the driver’s bucket and the easy shifting with the steering wheel paddles to go up and down the 6-speed smoothly.

Turns out, Toyota has built a 2.5-liter dual-overhead-camshaft 4 cylinder for many years, and it was the company’s standard engine whenever the vehicle needed some power but maybe not a V6. The engine is still available with a turbocharger and delivers 236 horsepower.

But in the Crown, and in certain other new Toyota models, an all-new 2.4-liter DOHC 4-cylinder, packaged in the Crown with two electric motors, one in front and one in the rear, which comes with an inverter, and altogether the gas/hybrid system develops 340 horsepower and a potent 400 foot-pounds of torque to power all four wheels.

Downshift when you enter a freeway and step on it, and the response is immediate and strong. The 6-speed automatic transmission is governed by paddles on the steering wheel, and the readout of the gears shows up on the instrument panel and also on the head-up display, which is a handy feature. It’s easy to rise in fourth or fifth gear, thinking you must be in a higher cruising gear.

The price of the Crown is high, starting at a base of $40,350 before you start loading up performance and option packages. The 2.4 Turbo Hybrid was the Max Platinum model and its total sticker was $55,618. While that’s a lot for a Toyota sedan, even one with so many options and features, it is not a lot for a high-tech car powered by a high-tech new engine and a hybrid. It does, apparently, fill the void left by the departed Avalon, which began life as a slightly stretched Camry with some luxury features.

Joan, by the way, also noticed the front passenger bucket lacked the driver’s supportive back and lumbar adjustments, which she contends would give her a backache on a long trip. We also got 31.8 miles per gallon, which isn’t bad for a 4,308-pound sedan, but we would like more from our hybrid.

Otherwise, the only adjustment we might make if we bought the car was to check on the other colors to see if we could somehow circumvent the jolt of the gloss black contrasting panels. Or maybe you could choose a Crown without the black panels. In that case, we’d take it and work on playing with the handling mode adjustments.