2023 Toyota Crown Review
The answer to a question no one asked
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Toyota Crown confuses me.
I understand why it exists and why it has returned to America after decades away. Crown is one of the oldest nameplates in automotive, but you’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. This is the 15th generation of Crown and the first in the US since well before I was born. Toyota swears that it is not a replacement for the departed Avalon, but it takes the same place in the lineup and at nearly the same price point.
The Avalon existed so that people who didn’t care what brand car they drove could buy something a bit nicer than a Camry but cheaper than a Lexus. And there was a $10,000 price gap between the Avalon and the Lexus ES, which made sense because you don’t want to pay Lexus money for a Toyota… Or do you?
That’s the question I’m struggling to answer. A fully loaded Toyota Crown prices out to around $52,000. You can get a well-equipped Lexus ES for that, and I asked Toyota who would buy the Crown over the ES at the same price. Their not-great answer was that the Crown is a bit sportier and would appeal to sporty buyers. About that, I’m not so sure.
It’s not that the Toyota Crown is a lousy car. Far from it. It has an interesting look, appearing to be a bit of a fastback, but it’s just a sedan with a sharply sloping rear window. The seating position is that of a crossover, which should make it easy for the target market — empty-nesters making around $125,000 per year — to slide in and out of the front seats comfortably.
I drove the top-of-the-line Platinum trim, which had almost every option you could ever want to fit into it. There was a nice stereo, a panoramic sunroof, ample storage, and heated and cooled seats. Interestingly, it brings over the Climate Concierge feature from Lexus, where the seats will be automatically heated or cooled based on your climate control settings. For example, if it’s a cold day, your heated seats will turn on automatically and turn off again once the car warms up.
There are two power trains available, including a new 340-horsepower all-wheel-drive hybrid option that turns the Crown into something of a sport sedan. It’s an excellent powertrain that Toyota is clearly excited about, and it will make its way into many other vehicles over time, I’m sure.
But are empty-nesters making $125,000 a year looking for a sporty, upscale Toyota? The Lexus ES F Sport already exists and fills this slot nicely in the Toyota/Lexus lineup. The whole point of the Avalon was to buy a large premium sedan without paying a luxury price. The Crown throws that out the window and prices a fully loaded trim like my Platinum similarly to a well-equipped Lexus ES.
Only where the ES is refined and luxurious, the Crown will irritate you every time you sit in it because the steering wheel has a giant Toyota logo in the middle and has a swathe of icky vinyl straight out of the Toyota Corolla on it. That’s not something I want to see in my new $50,000 Toyota Crown.
Still, the Crown is rather good to drive. The Hybrid Max powertrain is a delight, and the car is quiet, capable, and comfortable. On the outside, while the look may be polarizing (especially in the odd two-tone black and red color), it’s certainly not bad looking and might even be handsome, depending on your predilection.
The Crown is the flagship Toyota in Japan, and I understand why they wanted to bring it here. But I fear Toyota has misjudged the US market, which is rapidly fleeing sedans for SUVs and crossovers, and besides, Lexus already has a vehicle in this segment and near this price point.
I suspect Toyota will sell a bunch simply on it being new, but I can’t see the Crown being any more successful than the Avalon was. It’s a niche vehicle in a niche segment. At the very least, it's certainly a conversation starter.