The auto industry is often chastised for the conservative pack mentality of its designs. Consider the calculated sameness of today’s crossovers, all chasing the same theoretical family customer. But the fact remains that from time to time, car designers love to get weird. Whether it’s an affinity for excess on the luxury side of the equation, or too many management cooks throwing endless ingredients at a whiteboard, buyers can reliably count on at least one, if not two or three, unusual additions to the marketplace on a yearly basis.
The latest of these outliers is the 2023 Toyota Crown. Ostensibly a replacement for the slow-selling Avalon sedan, a big four-door lost amidst a seat of SUVs, the Crown makes a valiant attempt to be everything to everyone — at least, everyone who’s in the market for full-size machinery. To that end, it abandons the Avalon’s three-box design in favor of a swoopy silhouette that suggests a hatchback, while also riding high enough to tantalize those who may in the past have envied Volvo’s stilted Cross Country series.
It’s a low-risk, high-reward scenario for Toyota. The Avalon’s shrinking business means there’s no foul in removing that piece from the board, and likewise, borrowing the Crown name from its long-running Japanese-market counterpart won’t ruffle any feathers on this side of the Pacific. Although the Crown badge is also being plastered on a flock of similarly-sized models found elsewhere in the world (drawing from more traditional four-door and five-door templates), so far Toyota is taking it slow in America with just a single shape.
|Vehicle||2023 Toyota Crown|
|Price of Model Tested||$55,140|
|Vehicle Type||Four-door hybrid sedan|
|Engine||2.4-liter four-cylinder, single electric motor hybrid (340 hp, 400 lb-ft torque total)|
|Fuel Economy||29 mpg city, 32 mpg highway EPA rating (up to 39 mpg in our testing)|
|Availability||As of early 2023|
“Weird” in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, especially if it takes a vehicle in a new or exciting direction that its rivals haven’t been brave enough to explore. That being said, sometimes not going far enough into offbeat territory can sentence a car like the Crown to an in-between status that doesn’t fully realize the potential of its ostensibly daring design.
It’s impossible to examine the Toyota Crown without mentioning its startling profile. Everything about seeing the Crown from the side suggests the idea of an SUV, from its muscular wheel arches to its dramatically tapered tail. It’s no accident that this particular body style was chosen as the American debut for the Crown name, given the modern obsession with crossovers and their ilk.
Overall, it’s a successful visual effort, especially in the two-tone, black-and-copper finish of the example I tested. I routinely fielded questions about its provenance from curious onlookers, a level of attention the sleepy Avalon wouldn’t have been able to muster even at an AARP convention.
Review: Toyota GR Corolla Is a Blast From the PastOld-school overtones underscore this rough-around-the-edges pocket rocket
The Crown’s utility-focused image is deflated a bit the first time you try to actually haul something with it. Here, we have a traditional trunk rather than a practical hatchback, which actually checks in at one cubic foot smaller than the now-departed Avalon. I’ll never understand the faux-hatch mindset that guides this type of design, nor the similarly puzzling decision to constrict the pass-through opening that connects the trunk to the fold-down rear seats. When hauling a load of boxes during my test drive, I ended up stacking half on the seats themselves and dumping the difference in the trunk rather than taking advantage of the limited 60/40 split when folding down the rear seats.
Toyota’s Best-Driving Hybrid System
Helping to make up for the Crown’s limited promise of practicality is Toyota’s new Hybrid Max drivetrain. Outfitted exclusively to the top-tier Platinum trim level, this setup pairs a four-cylinder gas engine with a single electric motor to offer 340 horsepower and a surprising 400 lb-ft of torque.
Those are impressive figures for an electrically-assisted automobile, but much more important for Toyota is the drivetrain’s smooth and quiet operation. Most of the rest of the brand’s hybrids are notorious for their loud, buzzy noises when traveling at higher rates of speed, particularly in larger applications like the Venza crossover and the Sienna minivan. The Crown displayed none of this behavior, leading to one of the most seamless gasoline/electric performances I’ve experienced in quite a while.
Credit is due not just to the engineering team behind the Hybrid Max system, but also the decision to use a six-speed automatic transmission versus the more drone-inducing continuously-variable gearbox found elsewhere in the Toyota lineup. Fuel mileage was also respectable, showing as 24 mpg in mixed driving but ranging up to 39 mpg on longer highway stretches, with the latter beating the brand’s advertised rating. (For the Limited and XLE models, fuel economy is estimated at 42 mpg city, 41 mpg highway.)
I enjoyed the predictable power delivery that was part and parcel of the Crown’s traditional automatic transmission, and I never found the vehicle lacking when it was time to pass. Handling is much more restrained than the car’s acceleration, with a tendency to float and bob rather than duck and weave when attempting to negotiate a bend in the road at speed. That’s something I can live with in a vehicle this size, which isn’t presenting itself as particularly sporty.
Those who aren’t willing to pay the $53,000 asking price for Platinum status might have a harder time tolerating the lesser hybrid system outfitted to the XLE and Limited models. Although I haven’t driven it in the Crown, it’s essentially the same noisome arrangement found in other Toyota models described above, which seems likely to rob the vehicle of both speed and poise.
Next Time, Push Farther
Walking the line between weirdly wonderful and strangely suspect isn’t an easy task, especially for car companies gambling that their perspective on busting the status quo will resonate with buyers who’ve been programmed for years on what to expect in a certain class of vehicle. For every big swing sales standout like the BMW X6 “four-door SUV coupe,” there’s a counterweight like the 6 Series GT, a fantastically practical, lightning-quick also-ran whose would-be buyers couldn’t see past its blob-like styling.
The Crown makes big SUV promises with its styling that it can’t quite meet when it comes time to load up and roll out, which is a particular disappointment given the rest of its package. Eye-catching sheet metal, a quick and quiet hybrid power plant, and an interior that is both comfortable and more upscale than expected given its Toyota roots are enough of a foundation on which to build a more daring vision of practicality (like the soon-to-depart Kia Stinger) than what we ended up getting.
The Crown fulfills its role as a replacement for the Avalon, but denying it the chance to go “full weird” robs it of the chance to truly separate itself from the few full-size, sedan-like entities still prowling our roads.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.