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The 2023 Toyota Crown Wants to Be a Sports Sedan

2023 toyota crown platinum
The 2023 Toyota Crown Wants to Be a Sports SedanToyota

Since the introduction of the first-generation Prius in 1997, Toyota has lead the global hybrid market. As the industry at large begins its rapid move toward pure electric power, Toyota is still all in on these combination powertrains. With the debut of the all-new range-topping 2023 Toyota Crown sedan, the automaker has rolled out its first performance-minded hybrid system known as Hybrid Max, which promises to deliver big-motor entertainment. R&T recently joined Toyota in Nashville to experience the capabilities of this new performance-minded hybrid system, and to figure out exactly who this new high-riding sedan offering is for. I left the drive more confused than when I arrived.

This isn’t the first Toyota Crown nameplate offered here in the United States, though an absence from the U.S. market since 1972 could explain the misconception. Regardless, the Crown has long been a luxury sedan icon in the JDM world, bested only by the flagship Century in Toyota’s own lineup. You’d also be forgiven for mistaking this fresh U.S.-bound model for a compact crossover, as the car’s jacked-up appearance is hard to place into a single segment. At 60.6-inches tall, the Crown sits four inches higher than a Camry. At 194-inches long, the Crown is also just an inch shorter than the family-ready Highlander SUV. The massive 21-inch wheels on the Crown Platinum model doesn’t help in narrowing down the car's segment straddling either. Even Toyota is aware that there might be some confusion about the styling, though it maintains that this new Crown represents a redefinition of the sedan segment itself. According to chief engineer Akihiro Sarada, the entire project began with a request from none other than Akio Toyoda, who challenged the team to “do something new” with the Crown nameplate. Knowing full well that traditional sedan sales are lagging behind SUVs and crossovers here in the States, the team investigated ways to revive the sedan formula.

2023 toyota crown platinum
Lucas Bell

“Especially in Japan, comfort was one of the key factors of the Crown nameplate, one of the car’s defining factors,” Sarada told R&T. “And also the Crown through each of its phases and models, the purpose was always challenging new things and to evolve in that way. Those two factors mixed together, and for example, you get a vehicle type that getting in and out of is very easy to do. And it's comfortable, so you don’t get tired behind the wheel. And when you actually drive it, the car is fun. Of course in Japan the Crown is associated with the sedan segment. The team decided to take a look at the sedan itself and how we can create one that’s matched for the current age. All of those factors came together during development.”

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The new Crown is based on the TNGA-K platform, which also underpins the Camry, Avalon, Rav4, and Highlander. While those offerings aren’t exactly the luxury machines that Toyota hopes the Crown will represent, the TNGA-K platform was almost entirely revised for this new sedan. According to the automaker, every part of the platform from the driver’s seat back has been reworked in service of the Crown. Every Crown utilizes an independent MacPherson strut front suspension, while a multi-link setup handles duties around back. XLE and Limited models are powered by a variant of the familiar Toyota Hybrid System, which brings all-wheel drive by way of a front and rear electric motor working in conjunction with a 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. Output in THS-equipped models is rated at 263 net horsepower. The powertrain comes exclusively mated to the automaker’s CVT gearbox, which helps the sedan achieve fuel economy figures of 42 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Don’t expect to win any drag races with this setup however, as the XLE and Limited take a full 7.6 seconds to make the run up to 60 mph.

2023 toyota crown limited
Lucas Bell

Thankfully for those who are more enthusiastic with the right pedal, the range-topping Platinum model introduces the world to the new Hybrid Max powertrain. The powertrain integrates a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder with a front-mounted electric motor that helps to fill in gaps in the engine's torque curve by providing an additional 215.4 lb-ft of torque. A water-cooled e-Axle has been installed on the rear, which all-wheel drive into the equation. Altogether, the system provides 340 hp and 400 lb-ft, which is more inline with other luxury sedan offerings at the price point. Power is routed through a traditional six-speed automatic gearbox with both a wet and dry clutch system, providing a far more pleasant on-road experience than the CVT-equipped offerings. Stick your foot to the floor and the Crown Platinum can do 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds, while still returning 29 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

2023 toyota crown platinum
Lucas Bell

My first taste of the 2023 Toyota Crown came by way of a Hybrid Max-equipped Platinum model on the twisting back roads outside of Franklin, Tennessee. Despite the sedan’s somewhat ungainly proportions, it’s clear from the moment you sit inside that the Crown is not the crossover it appears to be. The seats offer a huge amount of height adjustment, which means you don’t have to sit as high in the greenhouse as you'd expect. A push-button start wakes the Crown up, placing it first in full-electric mode, with the gasoline engine only kicking on when your right foot demands more horses than the motors are willing to provide. Pulling away from the staging area, the car immediately felt like a familiar hybrid experience from Toyota. Depress the go pedal a bit harder, and the Crown pulls down the road with an authority that no Toyota hybrid has been capable of before. Torque arrives instantly, with the gearbox ripping off quick shifts. The car did notably deny downshifts on more than one occasion, particularly in low-speed corners where some additional grunt on the way out would have been appreciated. It doesn’t help that the engine doesn’t really sound like much of anything, with only the occasional turbo noises to let you know what’s going on under the hood.

Thanks to the Platinum’s full-time electronic all-wheel drive system, the high trim Crown model has a sure-footedness that’s missing from the Camry or Corolla. The system is able to modulate between a 70:30 and 20:80 front-rear power split, bringing the sensations of a traditional rear-driver into the equation. Combined with the healthy output, it’s clear this new Hybrid Max powertrain is intended to bring excitement, while sacrificing outright fuel economy.