Don’t call it an SUV – 2023 Toyota Crown, reviewed – Ars Technica
The sedan may not have properly become extinct like the non-avian dinosaurs, but it has certainly fallen out of favor with the car-buying public. This is a topic Toyota is all too familiar with — even with the rise of SUVs, the Camry sedan remains the country’s best-selling vehicle rather than a minivan, crossover or SUV. So its designers were clearly reading the tea leaves when it came time to replace the Avalon. This variant is called the Crown, and while it certainly checks the “four doors and a trunk” criteria, its bold styling makes it the most SUV-like sedan I’ve encountered in some time.
The Crown shares the TNGA-K platform with other large Toyotas and Lexuses, including the aforementioned Camry, as well as SUVs like the Venza, Highlander, RX, and even a minivan. These are all largely conventional, ignoring for the moment Lexus’s large cheese grater grille.
The Crown is less conventional, starting about four inches taller than the Camry – 60.6 inches (1,539 mm) despite near-identical ground clearance. It’s the same width as the Camry (72.4 inches or 1840 mm depending on which flavor you’re talking about) but four inches longer at 196.1 inches (4980 mm), and with an inch longer wheelbase (112.2 inches/2850 mm). It more or less conforms to the three-box shape one would expect from a sedan.
For such an aggressively styled vehicle, Toyota’s press materials are remarkably restrained, describing how its “ambiance breaks away from the conventions of a typical sedan with a side profile that flows into the wide rear end. The dynamic body style is amplified by the character’s rounded, sweeping lines Which gives it a ready-to-go, eye-catching look.”
I still can’t decide whether I like it or not – the shape makes me think of a Jaguar I-Pace for some reason, even though that car has much more straight edges than a graceful crown. From other angles, it looks as if a shiny black Prius was eaten by a bronze car.
All Toyota Crown vehicles are hybrids, but you’ll get a different powertrain depending on which model you choose. The $39,950 Crown Maximum power output is 236 hp (176 kW), with the front hybrid rated at 118 hp (88 kW) and 149 lb-ft (202 Nm) and the rear hybrid rated at 54 hp (40 kW) and 89 lb-ft (120 Nm).
Our test car was the $52,350 Crown Platinum, which offers a completely different hybrid powertrain but is still all-wheel drive (called Hybrid Max). In this case, the gasoline engine is a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, generating 264 hp (197 kW) and 332 lb-ft (450 Nm). This engine uses a six-speed automatic transmission instead of a CVT. The Hybrid Max’s two electric motors also have more power, with 82 hp (61 kW) and 215 lb-ft (450 Nm) at the front and 79 hp (59 kW) and 124 lb-ft (168 Nm) at the rear axle.
Combined output is 340 hp (254 kW) and 400 lb-ft (542 Nm), and the front-to-rear power split ranges from 70:30 to 20:80 depending on road conditions and situation.
The less powerful hybrid powertrain is the one you can choose if you’re looking for good fuel efficiency, as it’s rated at 41 mpg (5.7 L/100 km). The Hybrid Max powertrain has noticeably more power and torque but has an identical NiMH traction battery, so it’s no surprise it’s not as efficient. The impact on consumption is less than the increase in output – the EPA rates it at 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km), although we fell a few mpg below that.
The Platinum comes with large 21-inch wheels and offsets any ride penalty for the thinner tires with its standard adaptive suspension. The suspension tuning is definitely biased more towards comfort than performance – which isn’t a bad thing, to be honest. There are a range of drive modes to choose from, including Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom settings. I spent most of our testing week with the Crown in Normal or Comfort mode—the Sport settings add weight to the steering and alter the damping, but the sedan rolls so much through turns that it can be viewed as a canyon carver or a machine begging you to take the long way home.
It’s not an unpleasant car to drive around in. The cross-height driving position translates to great visibility ahead, and unlike the Prius or bZ4x, you don’t need to drive with the steering wheel in your lap to see the main instrument display. The user experience would be a little better if you didn’t always have to remember to turn on the brake hold feature every time you start the car, which is a common Toyota feature. In 2023, it’s okay if the car remembers some settings while it sleeps.
The Crown Platinum (as well as the Limited) gets Toyota’s 12.3-inch infotainment system. The user interface is restrained and responsive but a bit limited in what it will show you. The fact that it’s entirely touch-based interaction holds it back, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both built-in and wireless and look good, filling the big screen. (Note that wireless connections can be a bit glitchy, and restarting the phone usually resolves any issues.)
The back seat is better for seating two people rather than three — the way the seat is positioned slightly from the door is probably what determines the style-processing part of my brain that thinks about I-Paces. But an occasion to help a friend (as a publicity photo) for a story about the D.C. ride-sharing program that preceded all startups allowed me to get some backseat time with a chauffeur, and it’s comfortable and feels bright and spacious with everyone that glass. The trunk is also spacious at 15.2 cubic feet (430 litres).
I’m drawn to the Crown’s quirky design, which is fun if not engaging to drive. However, I’m not entirely sold on the Hybrid Max powertrain. It’s not particularly efficient, and since the Crown doesn’t feel like a GT or sports car, I’m not sure it needs the extra power. But I’m glad Toyota is trying new things.