Shortly after sliding into the driver's seat of the 2023 Toyota Crown, I banged my head on the roof-mounted grab handle. Getting into the passenger's seat, I hit my knee on the hard plastic center console. And while I didn't damage myself slotting into the backseat, I did smack my noggin on the way out. I may not have bled gathering impressions of the Toyota Crown, but it was one of the most painful cars I've reviewed in a long time.
I blamed the couple blows to the head for being unable to understand the Crown while I was driving it around Franklin, Tennessee. But two weeks later, as I write this, I still don't get it. Sure, the BMW X6 proved there's a market for crossover coupes, but the Crown fits that template so poorly that even the niche-busting Bavarians are going to give it the side-eye. At the same time, the spiritual successor to the Avalon lacks that sedan's best qualities while embracing its arguable worst with a polarizing design. The Crown has been around for nearly seven decades, but this non-traditional approach just doesn't suit its long-time mission.
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|2023 Toyota Crown Platinum
|Turbocharged 2.4-liter I4 w/Two Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motors
|340 Horsepower / 400 Pound-Feet
|29 City / 32 Highway / 30 Combined
|Trim Base Price:
Gallery: 2023 Toyota Crown: First Drive
Sitting in any of the Crown's five seats is like wearing shoes that are half a size too small. It didn't need to be this way, and indeed, I didn't expect such a claustrophobic experience at first glance. The Crown is four inches taller than the Avalon but the ground clearance is only half an inch above its predecessor – one might think there's at most 3.5 inches of extra headroom here, right?
Instead, the Crown improves on its predecessor by less than an inch in front, at 38.2 versus 37.4, while there's no change in second-row headroom. But for the life of me, I have no idea how Toyota got those measurements. The driver's seat sits on what I can only describe as stilts, which rob the taller cabin of its primary advantage. With the seatback at an angle that allows me to comfortably reach the steering wheel and touchscreen infotainment system, my head is brushing the grab handle. If I push the angle back to increase headroom, I'm compromised on legroom to maintain a comfortable grip on the wheel.
If Toyota would simply lower the overall seating position and increase the vertical adjustment range, the Crown would make enough sense for taller drivers. As built, though, it simply doesn't feel like a product designed to accommodate a driver over 5-foot-8, let alone folks north of 6 feet like yours truly. And that's true elsewhere, as well.
The front passenger's seat has more vertical travel and a lower overall H-point, thank goodness, but the wide transmission tunnel intrudes on the passenger footwell, leaving it uncomfortably narrow. At the same time, the plastics on the sides of the tunnel are hard and make for a poor place to lean gangly limbs against. The backseats have enough legroom and the bench itself is as padded and supportive as the front chairs, but there's no getting around the fact that there's less space in almost every way relative to the Avalon. Notably, Toyota isn't publishing total passenger volume.
|38.2 / 37.5 Inches
|42.1 / 38.9 Inches
|15.2 Cubic Feet
|2022 Avalon Hybrid
|37.4 / 37.5 Inches
|42.1 / 40.3 Inches
|102.9 Cubic Feet
|16.1 Cubic Feet
Toyota is selling the Crown in three different trims, but it's hard to spot the differences from a peek in the cabin, not only because the basic tech suites are the same from A to B to C, but because there isn't a noticeable change in material choices, trim finishes, or upholstery options.
All trims come with a 12.3-inch touchscreen running Toyota's latest OS and a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. The touchscreen is every bit as good as what Toyota's done in the Tundra/Sequoia, with bright, crisp graphics and rapid-fire responses to inputs. The digital cluster is more of a mixed bag, though, with limited configurability and a cumbersome menu system that’s hard to navigate via the controls on the steering wheel.
But while I'm not too surprised by the standardized displays, Toyota's decision to make so few material changes is confounding. Aside from the base XLE's cloth/leatherette upholstery, there's very little to separate it from the Platinum, which adds leather. The gold trim is subtle but looks both premium and trendy – beyond that, the abundance of plastic is disappointing. It starts out soft and acceptable, but the material gets cheaper and harder the closer to the Crown's floor. The Crown needs some different textures or more elaborate splashes of color, especially on the Platinum trim.
All Hail The Hybrid
This new Crown is a hybrid-only affair for the first time, using Toyota's well-established 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder on the base XLE and volume Limited trim. Working alongside two permanent magnet synchronous motors that draw from a small nickel-metal hydride battery, the Crown's base powertrain provides on-demand all-wheel drive. Output sits a 236 horsepower, up 21 from the hybrid-powered, front-drive-only Avalon.
This powertrain's biggest liability has always been the way it sounds. It hasn't had enough power to climb steep grades or merge at highway speeds without demanding a lot of throttle, and that's come with plenty of buzzing from the 2.5-liter engine. The Crown improves somewhat – the gas engine still doesn't sound great, but on the hills around Franklin, there was enough low-end shove that I could keep the engine speed at an acceptable level. And that torque, while not stump-pulling in nature, is ample enough that the Crown feels confident in the middle of the tachometer.
The Crown's base engine feels like its natural layout, with the fantastic refinement contributing to the quiet, luxurious character. Still, its 7.6-second sprint to 60 is downright pokey in today's world. And for that reason, Toyota is rolling out the Hybrid Max on the Crown Platinum, which joins the Tundra pickup's excellent I-Force Max as the second turbocharged Toyota hybrid powertrain.
It pairs a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder with two more powerful electric motors for full-time all-wheel drive that never sends less than 30 percent of torque to the rear axle. Total system output sits at a hefty 340 hp, which is enough to scoot the 4,300-pound Crown to 60 in 5.7 seconds. That performance is adequate for a vehicle with the Platinum’s $53,000 starting price. Still, low- and mid-range torque is adequate, and while there is a turbocharger, the Crown exhibits very little lag. Moreover, this is the more refined of the two powertrains, with less engine noise even at the tippy top of the rev range.
Fuel economy is excellent with either powertrain. Look for 42 miles per gallon city, 41 highway, and 41 combined on the Crown XLE and Limited, and 29 city, 32 highway, and 30 combined for the Platinum trim with its Hybrid Max powertrain. Those are all solid figures for a vehicle of the Crown's size, although the performance/efficiency balance feels a solid decade behind a world where EVs provide rapid pace without gasoline.
Still, the powertrain makes far more sense than the suspension setup. The McPherson struts in front work with a new multi-link design at the back, while the Platinum trim adds adaptive dampers. The package will change direction eagerly, helped along by a 13.8:1 steering ratio. But after the initial bite from the front end, the Crown feels more top-heavy than anything else, rolling hard for every degree of steering angle. The quick responses from the front end are fun, but the experience dulls quickly.
Fortunately, I doubt most Crown customers will be blasting around hilly country roads. On the highways between Franklin and downtown Nashville, the Crown acquitted itself far better, despite a more aggressive wheel/tire package. The XLE and Limited wear 19-inch alloys with a 225/55 tire, while the Platinum comes with standard 21-inchers on 225/45 rubber. It's stable at highway speeds, with expansion joints and other surface changes rarely registering in the cabin, but Tennessee's roads are too smooth to really assess a car's ride quality.
King In The Castle
The 2023 Crown starts at $41,045, including a $1,095 destination charge, and extends on up to $53,445 for the Crown Platinum. The smart money goes for the $46,645 Limited, which costs just $1,400 more than an Avalon Hybrid Limited, which is roomier, but is arguably a more polarizing design and is only available with front-wheel drive.
But more than simply cross-shopping old and new, the Crown Limited is far and away the most balanced member of the Crown lineup. It comes standard with leather upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats, a JBL audio system, a fixed glass roof, and LED headlights. The Platinum, meanwhile, only adds the Hybrid Max powertrain, adaptive dampers, 21-inch wheels (optional on the Limited), automatic parking, and two-tone paint to that roster.
But among the broader industry, I have no idea what the Crown is supposed to compete with. And as it turns out, neither does Toyota. The automaker acknowledged that this car has no natural competitors, and it listed vehicles as varied as the Nissan Maxima, Kia Stinger, and Acura TLX as potential cross-shops. Lacking direct competition is usually a good thing, but when the indirect competition includes two products that have already been canceled, I wonder if that white space is there for a reason.
The Crown feels like a car in search of a market. Middling performance and excellent fuel economy, a cramped cabin in a huge body, and standard all-wheel drive with a lack of ground clearance – the Crown tries too hard to cover too many bases. As a result, I’m just not sure who Toyota built this car for or why they'd buy it over a vehicle with a more single-minded focus like the Highlander or similarly priced Lexus ES. The Crown drives as well as any other large mainstream sedan, but it falls short in all the ways that's made Toyota a standout in the segment for decades.
Crown Competitor Reviews:
2023 Toyota Crown Platinum