2023 Toyota Crown Review: The Strange Hybrid That's Replacing A Luxury Favorite

  • Genuinely head-turning design (especially with bi-color paint)
  • Hybrid MAX engine is potent
  • Comfortable long-distance highway cruiser
  • Interior doesn't live up to exterior styling
  • You can have fast, or frugal, but not both
  • Some practicality compromises

The 2023 Crown is my favorite model from Toyota's current range, even if I'm still not quite clear on what the point of it is. A mainstay in Japan, the nameplate's North American history is more patchy: U.S. sales ended with the fourth generation in 1972. Now, in its sixteenth generation, the Crown has been rebooted as a series, not a single model, with this stretched sedan the first to reach American dealerships.

Toyota has a history of making weird cars that mash up neighboring categories. The Venza, for example, is billed as a crossover but feels more like a jacked-up wagon. Then there was the C-HR, a crossover that was also meant to be a coupe, and which Toyota unceremoniously yanked from the U.S. market.

For an automaker with a reputation for being sensible — yes, Prius, Camry, and Corolla, I'm talking about you — oddities like the Crown are a welcome diversion. Still, to paraphrase the old (and over-quoted) "Jurassic Park" line, there's a difference between something being possible and something being wise. So, which side of that line does the 2023 Crown fall on?

Are you an SUV, or a sedan, or... what?

To say the Toyota Crown is an odd-looking car is to flirt with understatement. The automaker — with an honesty that seems admirably forthright, given the tendency of the industry to create a new sub-niche whenever possible — calls it a sedan, though it's a lifted one. With 5.8 inches of ground clearance, though, it gains a mere tenth of an inch over a Camry. However, the roof of that Camry is also almost four inches lower overall than the Crown.

If you don't want the height of an SUV, but find a regular sedan troublesome to get in and out of, the Crown promises easy access and exit. Visibility is somewhat better than in a Camry, too — though still lower than you'd have from a crossover — but the elevated seating means headroom in the rear is snug.

Really, though, the strange proportions (only emphasized by the bi-color paint, a $550 option on the Platinum trim) are about turning heads. Fellow motorists craned out of their windows to check out the Crown's Bronze Age and Black bodywork; I saw at least one also filming on their phone. If the traditional sedan has been damned by the idea that it's the car your parents (or grandparents) learned to drive in, the Crown upends that preconception.

Do you want frugal or do you want fast?

Toyota offers two engines with the Crown, and while they're both all-wheel drive hybrids, they take very different approaches to electrification. The standard drivetrain on the XLE and Limited trims is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which with the electric motors musters a total of 236 horsepower. It's the economy hero here: up to 42 mpg in the city, 41 mpg on the highway, and 41 mpg combined, in no small part because the sedan can cut the drive to the rear wheels when the extra performance and traction aren't required.

The 2023 Crown Platinum switches that out for Toyota's Hybrid MAX engine, a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder combined with more potent electric motors for a total of 340 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. Here, the all-wheel drive is always enabled, though the sedan can switch between either a 70/30 or 20/80 front and rear power split.

While the standard drivetrain uses a CVT, the Hybrid MAX swaps that out for a 6-speed automatic. It also gets adaptive variable suspension on top of the standard independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear setup.

Only the standard Crown engine offers an EV Mode, however, albeit one which will only operate on electric power alone for very short distances. The Hybrid MAX throws in Sport S, Sport S+, and Custom drive mode options alongside the standard Eco, and Normal; the base engine has a regular Sport mode.

Unexpectedly poised

The Hybrid MAX engine trades economy for a nice-sized uptick in performance. Yes, the EPA numbers dip to 29 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg combined — and yes, in my highway-biased testing I still only hit 28 mpg — but the turn of speed on offer suits the Crown's burly boy styling well.

0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds isn't going to scare a sports car, or even outclass most pure EVs. Still, the way the Crown delivers its power makes it feel more spritely than it actually is. The electric shove first, followed by the gas engine rousing and joining the party, leaves the big four-door feeling nicely meaty.

Toyota's adaptive suspension helps there, too, noticeably stiffening in the Sport S and Sport S+ modes, and then softening into a welcome realm of compliance in Normal and Comfort. Both of the latter two modes left a 300+ mile road trip feeling like a doddle.

Bold on the outside, bland on the inside

A spacious and comfortable interior helped there, too, though it's not as avant-garde as the Crown's exterior. A sprinkling of bronze trim is nice, but generally, this doesn't feel all that different from what other Toyota models offer. That feels like a missed opportunity.

A brighter cabin would improve matters, with the Platinum only offered with a black leather interior with matching dashboard trim. The mid-tier Crown Limited trim has a choice of black and dark chestnut, and pale macadamia, both of which brighten things up and add visual texture. The base XLE gets black fabric and heated front seats; the Limited and Platinum step up to leather with heating and ventilation in the front, a heated steering wheel, and seat heating in the rear.

All three trims have a 12.3-inch digital driver display and a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A wireless phone charger is standard across the board, too, plus four USB-C ports (two in the front, two in the rear). Limited and Platinum trims get an 11-speaker JBL audio system with a subwoofer.

All the usual Toyota safety technology

Toyota then heaps on safety tech, starting with its Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 system which includes pre-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with serving assistance, lane tracing assist, and full-speed adaptive cruise control. Blind spot warnings and rear cross-traffic alerts are standard, plus safe exit assist and rear-seat reminders.

A 360-degree camera — with a nifty virtual Crown that turns transparent to show what's underneath you — is standard on the Platinum and optional on the Limited. All but the base trim get front and rear parking sensors with automatic braking; the Platinum adds auto-park.

While it may have hints of crossover, the Crown's trunk is hinged like that of a sedan, rather than the full rear glass lifting up. The 15.2 cu-ft on offer isn't bad, but the sloping rear really would lend itself to a more practical hatchback. A fixed panoramic glass roof is standard on all but the base trim, but no version of the Crown has a power tailgate.

Crown looks, tiara delivery

If there's a criticism the Crown earns, it's that the vehicle underneath the eye-catching styling doesn't quite live up to the overall promise. As a successor to the popular but barely-memorable Avalon, it outperforms the more traditional sedan handily. In the broader scheme of the new car market, though, the Crown is writing checks its platform can't quite cash.

If it were a plug-in hybrid — which, down the line, Toyota is planning — that would go a long way to improving things. A fully electric Crown would be mightily intriguing (I can't be the only one to see hints of Lucid Air in the rear) though then I'm not sure it could stick to its $52,350 (plus $1,095 destination) sticker in Platinum trim, never mind the $39,950 (plus destination) of the entry XLE. Toyota's general reluctance to embrace BEVs isn't exactly promising, either.

Meanwhile, that (relatively) aggressive pricing means Toyota doesn't really have the budget to elevate the Crown's interior. Again, it's not bad, it just feels like a missed opportunity. If you're going to go wacky, then you need to commit to the bit.

2023 Toyota Crown Verdict

I admire Toyota's willingness to experiment, even as it does its level best to live up to a reputation of appliance-like reliability. People buy Corollas, and RAV4s, and Camrys with their heads not their hearts, and if cars like the GR Corolla, GR Supra, and GR 86 stand out, it's in part because they're the antithesis of the automaker's best-sellers. The 2023 Crown falls somewhere in-between those extremes.

Its Hybrid MAX drivetrain is powerful, but this is still a long-distance cruiser rather than a backroad champion. The exterior style is memorable, but that personality doesn't carry over to the cabin. And, while standard all-wheel drive is nice, what isn't is having to choose between the frugality we associate with a hybrid and the performance that electrification can bring.

Despite all that, I find myself charmed by the Crown. It's weird, and genuinely different, and it acknowledges both that sedans are still relevant to many even if they also need to evolve to keep up with the industry. Here's hoping that Toyota gives it a chance to grow up a little before, like with its earlier outlandish experiments, it loses faith and pulls the plug.