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Auto review: The Japanese-market Toyota Crown returns to the United States

It made its debut as the Toyopet Crown in 1955, and was the first Japanese automobile to be offered in the United States, beginning in 1958. Toyota stopped selling it in the United States in 1972.

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The Toyota Crown returns to the U.S. for the new model year, but it’s quite different from the Avalon that it replaces.
Bill Leigh Brewer/Toyota/TNS
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If you’ve been a fan of the Toyota Avalon, you might be distressed to know that the car that started life with the internal corporate nickname the Fat Camry will motor into the history books come August. Initially an attempt to lure Detroit full-size sedan buyers — it even had a bench seat — the Avalon always attracted an, ahem, more mature buyer.

Of course, the name never helped. Maybe they shouldn’t have chosen a moniker that refers to the legendary island where King Arthur is buried. After all, this car has traditionally offered a similar dose of eternal ethereal serenity to a clientele about to face the same.

Of course, it’s not like Toyota didn’t try to entice younger buyers.

In effort to ditch the Avalon’s geezer pleaser image, the company offered an Avalon TRD, which stands for Toyota Racing Development. They blackened its exterior trim, added a cat-back exhaust, and filtered the engine’s sound through the vehicle’s audio system and tuned an aggressive note during acceleration. They even lowered the car’s ride height by 0.6 inch, which is anathema for those with aging joints. OK, it only had 19-inch wheels, but it was a start.

None of it worked. In an era where sedans are being given short shrift by consumers, full-sized ones are especially DOA. Yet the Avalon’s redesign did nothing to stop its flagging fortunes. In 2018, Toyota sold 33,581 Avalons. Redesigned the following year, sales sank 17.3% to 27,767 units. Last year, the company sold 19,460 units, 42% fewer than four years earlier. Some of that could be attributed to pandemic-related shortages, of course. But it’s easy to read the writing on the wall.

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So Toyota has ditched the Avalon, replacing it with the Toyota Crown, the company’s oldest nameplate. It made its debut as the Toyopet Crown in 1955, and was the first Japanese automobile to be offered in the United States, beginning in 1958. Toyota stopped selling it in the United States in 1972.

The Crown returns to the states for the new model year, but it’s quite different from the Avalon that it replaces. Certainly, the company learned from the mistake of the Avalon TRD. Instead of lowering the Crown’s height, they raised it, endowing it with the height of a contemporary crossover. Yet its design is that of a modern Toyota sedan, albeit with a slick sloping rear aspect. Its proportion is unusual, but calls to mind that of the Mercedes-Benz EQS, a vehicle that resides in a nether region that’s not as low as a car but not as tall as a true SUV.

Those with bad joints are going to love it.

Toyota will offer the car in ascending XLE, Limited and Platinum trim levels with a choice of two gas-electric hybrid powertrains. It’s built on the TNGA-K platform that underpins the current Toyota Avalon, Camry, Highlander, RAV4 and Sienna, among other Toyota and Lexus models. It uses a MacPherson front suspension and a multi-link rear.

Top-of-the-line Platinum models will be fitted with the Hybrid Max driveline, Toyota’s performance-oriented hybrid system that uses a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine, an electric motor on each axle, and a direct shift six-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain generates 340 horsepower while returning an estimated manufacturer-estimated 28 mpg. Toyota says it tuned the Hybrid Max system to deliver peak torque at 2,000-3,000 rpm to enhance its driving fun. All-wheel drive is standard, and can vary the power deliver from 70% front, 30% rear, to 20% front, 80% rear. Adjustable drive mode selection is also standard, with Normal, Eco, Sport, Sport+, Comfort and Custom driving modes.

Other models will use the more efficient, fourth generation hybrid system equipped with a normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission that returns an estimated 38 mpg. Toyota didn’t reveal any horsepower figures for this driveline, however. A drive mode selector with Normal, Eco and Sport driving modes is standard.

All Crowns have dual zone climate control, a 12.3-inch color digital instrument cluster, acoustic glass to reduce noise, and a 12.3-inch touchscreen with Toyota's new multimedia system that was developed in America that includes a cloud-based native navigation system with over-the-air updates. A six-speaker sound system is standard on the XLE, as is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and with Wi-Fi 4G connectivity for up to five smartphones,

Crown Platinum and Limited grades include a standard panoramic moonroof. A six-speaker sound system is standard on the XLE. Other trims get a JBL premium audio system with 11 speakers, including a rear subwoofer, powered by an 8-channel amplifier.

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Opting for the top-of-the-line Platinum also brings with it an adaptive variable suspension, 21-inch machined 10-spoke alloy wheels with black accents, and two-tone paint.

Certainly, it makes for a far more compelling package than the sedan it replaces. But will the 2023 Toyota Crown win back buyers who are inexplicably addicted to SUVs? That remains to be seen.

Its higher ride height will help, and the Crown seems to be a far more sensible solution than an SUV in an age where people work remotely and nearly everything can be delivered to your house.

It also seems to be a far more youthful and appealing answer to the question of how to attract younger buyers to larger cars.

2023 Toyota Crown Platinum

  • Powertrain: 2.4-liter turbocharged engine and dual electric motors
  • Horsepower: 340 horsepower
  • Fuel economy: 28 mpg combined (Toyota estimate)
  • Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
  • Length: 194 inches
  • Width: 72.4 inches
  • Height: 60.6 inches

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