• Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Mountain Wheels: New-to-America 2023 Toyota Crown brings family car curiosity

Striking in its looks, the Toyota Crown is an entirely new model for the U.S. market, but its futuristic style and technology may be a bit too much to take for some buyers.
Andy Stonehouse/Mountain Wheels

As recently promised, we are indeed working our way through the automobiles featured at this year’s Rocky Mountain Driving Experience. I am, however, giving myself a few weeks to recover from actually driving both the devastating Acura Integra Type S and the Toyota GR Corolla rally car, so let’s hit the unusual, but pleasant, 2023 Toyota Crown hybrid in the meantime.

Aside from the new crop of electric vehicles on the market, especially the Korean offerings, Crown is indeed the most visually striking new car out there — largely because it actually is a car, a full-fledged family sedan, with standard electronic all-wheel drive.

Its second biggest curiosity is the fact that the Crown has been in production in Japan since 1955 and was the company’s first mass-market automobile. American audiences had a version almost 70 years ago, but the nameplate never made it back to the U.S. until now.

You’d have a hard time seeing that the exceptionally high-roofed, robot-faced/plowblade-fascia’d 2023 model had anything in common with its previous dozens of generations.

In fact, its proportions and overall looks are so unusual, the Crown has received an absolutely polarizing reaction from automobile writers — which leaves it up to consumers to see if they actually find it cool, or a little too weird for its own good. (My online searches suggest I am actually more a fan of the outgoing, 15th-generation Crown, which looks like a super-strangely nosed Lexus LS sedan.)

Considering that the 2023 Crown is basically the replacement for the outgoing Toyota Avalon, a mostly inoffensive, Lexus-lite sedan, Crown is a pretty strong stylistic statement. Its long, ultra-rounded and overly tall cabin and lines are further accentuated by the optional, $550 two-tone, gloss-black-in-the-middle and bronze/red/white/”heavy metal” paint jobs, and wheels so huge they look like Matchbox toy car features. Overall, it’s 4 inches taller than a Camry, with a 112-inch wheelbase and a substantial 196-inch overall length.

Then there’s the powertrain options. Crown’s two basic models get a 2.5-liter version of the Toyota hybrid system, putting out 235 total horsepower and a less-thrilling 163 pound-feet of torque, but also getting a combined 41 city/highway mpg. Prices start at about $40,000 for the XLE and $45,550 for the Limited with that setup.

I drove the $52,350 Crown Platinum, which gets the new turbo Hybrid Max setup you’ll see in vehicles including the upcoming three-row Grand Highlander. Its 2.4-liter hybrid engine provides a much more vivid 340 combined horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. A good chunk of that power comes from Toyota’s “eAxle,” a water-cooled 60 kilowatt electric motor designed to give you a substantial kick in the pants when you need it.

The only major downside to Platinum’s extra output is mileage, which drops to 30 combined official mpg, or the 24.5 mpg I got driving it like it had 400 pound-feet of torque. The upside is zero to 60 mph times of about 5.7 seconds, which is still pretty impressive for a largeish passenger car with a 2.4-liter engine.

In real life, it’s certainly an odd automobile, and the somewhat lumpy ride characteristics and increasingly futuristic tech and interior bits designed for a very specific audience. Like, maybe dads who grew up driving Scion tCs and want a family vehicle that takes that and “Ghost in the Shell” futurism and … is also a hybrid? Or something.

Despite that big humped roof, it’s not actually minivan-sized inside, just a traditional two-row passenger experience, with 38.9 inches of rear legroom and only 38 inches of headroom. A fixed, non-opening glass roof provides more front and rear light.

Up front, there’s a lot of drama going on with a vivid, 12.3-inch digital instrument display and another 12.3-inch infotainment screen. I hoped for more utility from the bright display, but you often get something like 24 active icons for safety systems and settings. Toyota is also big on its Wi-Fi-powered mapping and connectivity systems, but those often brown out when you’re in the mountains and can’t get a signal. Being anywhere in Summit County, you are in the mountains.

The design also includes a very funky center console with an upright phone charger slot, a curious USB outlet pillar and another one of those new Lexus-derived microshifters.

Crown moves just a little closer to partially self-driving status with a light-autonomous mode that only lasts for 10 seconds at a time before it requires you to provide steering inputs. My biggest gripe with Crown was the lack of smoothness and insulation from road noise, which are the kind of things I’d be looking for at this price and auto category. I’m not sure if the pleasant but only-briefly-drag-racy horsepower and 21-inch wheels (it’s got a Sport-Plus mode, for the love of Pete) are a full tradeoff for that.


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