Toyota is reintroducing the Crown brand to the U.S. market as it looks to boost sales of its premium Toyota-branded sedans, despite declining consumer demand for those vehicles.
Even though the market has mainly switched toward SUVs and pickups, the Japanese carmaker credits some of its position as the top-selling automaker in the U.S. from the continued sales —– and popularity — of its sedans even as GM and Ford has abandoned them.
Sure the numbers are bad; less than 22% of new car sales in 2017 were sedans, compared to more than 50% in 2009. The decline is steep enough to convince Hyundai Motor Group to stop selling a number of Hyundai and Kia sedans.
But it’s not stopping Toyota.
The new model is the beginning of a Crown premium sub-brand, of which this model is the first. In Japan, there will be four different Crown models, including this one. The U.S. gets this model for now, which was designed “mostly for this market,” according to a Toyota spokesperson.
A new look for the Crown
The new Crown doesn’t resemble any previous vehicle wearing the nameplate. Shorter yet taller than the Avalon sedan, the Crown’s proportions call to mind the Mercedes-Benz EQ line of vehicles, with a sloping rear greenhouse suggesting it’s a five-door hatchback, but it’s actually a four-door sedan with a new proportion.
Toyota officials refer to it as a lifted-up sedan, hoping to appeal to customers who want the higher ride height, easier ingress and egress of an SUV, but packaged in a sedan with the same sort of performance.
Toyota was careful to remove Crown emblems from the car that you’d see in Japan. Toyota wanted to make sure that consumers knew this was a Toyota.
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 with a MacPherson front suspension and a multi-link rear. It’s the same architecture that underpin the current Toyota Avalon, Camry, Highlander, RAV4, and Sienna among other Toyota and Lexus models.
Measuring 194 inches long on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, it’s nearly two inches shorter than the Avalon sedan it replaces, and rides on a 1-inch shorter wheelbase. But it’s more than 4 inches taller, allowing for a higher seating position, not unlike a crossover SUV. This contrasts with the outgoing Avalon, which had its ride height lowered for 2019, and further lowered on its TRD model.
While Toyota didn’t provide many specs about the new notchback, but they did say that trunk space was comparable to that of the outgoing Toyota Avalon.
Choosing the top-of-the-line Platinum brings with it a bit more bling, as can be seen here, with two-tone paint, machined 21-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels with black accents, and an adaptive variable suspension. Crown Limited trims also have 21s, while the XLE makes do with smaller 19-inch wheels.
Under the hood
The Crown will be powered by one of two hybrid powertrains.
Platinum models get Toyota’s new Hybrid Max driveline, which the company describes as a performance-focused hybrid system. It mates a 2.4-liter turbocharged engine to an electric motor at each end and a direct shift six-speed automatic transmission on the front engine. Rather than employing a torque converter, the Crown’s transmission uses a multiple blade, hydraulic wet clutch, a technology typically reserved for motorcycles to enhance performance.
The rear engine is larger, to handle the additional torque and provide power to the rear wheels. The engine produces 340 horsepower and achieves an estimated 28 mpg according to the manufacturer. To improve its fun factor, Toyota has calibrated the Hybrid Max system to produce peak torque at 2,000-to-3,000 rpm. All-wheel drive comes standard, and is able to distribute from 20% front, 80% rear to 70% front, 30% rear depending on driving conditions. The Crown also comes standard with Normal, Eco, Sport, Sport+, Comfort, and Custom driving modes.
A more efficient, fourth-generation hybrid system is standard on the XLE and Limited. It has a normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable shift-by-wire automatic transmission that produces 236 horsepower while delivering an estimated 38 mpg. Like the Hybrid Max, this model also has two engines, but one energizes the battery. The other powers the car, providing front-wheel-drive unless added traction is needed in the rear. There is a standard drive mode selector with Normal, Eco, and Sport driving modes.
All Crowns use nickel metal hydride batteries, rather than Lithium Ion batteries. The company says its partially because it works perfectly well right now, and is easier to manufacture given the current supply constraints for manufacturing lithium ion batteries
Let’s talk tech
When it comes to its tech package, Toyota makes a point of spotlighting the tech that enhances driving fun, such as Active Cornering Assist, which activates the stability control to lessen understeer during cornering. It also has Toyota’s Advanced Park System, which can spot an open parking space and parallel or perpendicular park the car for you. As you’d expect, such driver-assistance safety systems as Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Hill Start Assist are standard. For peace of mind, it’s also equipped with standard Toyota Safety Connect, which adds Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collision Notification.
Perhaps the most important piece of tech is Toyota’s new multimedia system. Developed in America – the previous one came from Japan – it includes a cloud-based 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. A premium 11-speaker JBL audio system with a rear subwoofer, and 8-channel amplifier is available.
A sedan meets its maker
The Crown arrives as Toyota discontinues the Avalon sedan after the 2022 model year. The Avalon debuted in 1994, built on the Toyota Camry’s architecture and a step above in size. Known internally as the “Fat Camry,” it was initially meant to take on such American sedan stalwarts as the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Crown Vctoria, and was originally equipped with an optional front bench seat.
Initially popular, sales declined along with the premium mainstream sedan segment in which it competed. During its lifetime, the sedan garnered an older clientele, which the company tried valiantly to change. For its latest generation, redesigned in 2019, the automaker added a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) model with a lowered ride height, blackened exterior trim and a filtered engine sound through the audio system while juicing the exhaust note.
It didn’t work. 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.
With the Crown, Toyota is looking to radically remake its premium sedan lineup.
A name most consumers won’t remember
Few Americans remember the Toyota Crown during its first run, but it was never very popular, wither.
Debuting in Japan in 1955 as Toyota’s flagship sedan, the car arrived in the United States in 1958 as the Toyopet Crown, and was the first Japanese automobile to be offered for sale in America.
But it wasn’t ready.
Toyota’s own high-speed endurance testing in Japan showed that the engine suddenly started making loud noises and output fell when the Crown was driven on a highway. Despite being deemed inadequate for sales in America, it was decided to sell it anyway in light of the Crown’s positive reputation in Japan, and its success throughout the 50,000-kilometer (31,038 mile) drive from London to Tokyo.
Performance and quality issues quickly materialized, including a lack of output at high speed, inadequate high-speed stability, extreme noise and vibration, abnormal vibration, and parts deforming and breaking.
Nevertheless, Toyota replaced it with a new model by 1961, and continued to sell it in small numbers as their flagship offering through 1972.
But Toyota is hoping for far bigger things with the 2023 Crown when it goes on sale in the fall. The company is hoping to attract a little more affluent buyer than than the Avalon, as well as one who’s younger. The automaker is hoping to attract an older Millennial or Gen X buyer, age 35 to 59 years old. The median buyer age for the Avalon is 66 years old, the oldest in the fleet. That’s one reason the Crown comes solely with a hybrid driveline.
Of course, it also depends on the prices, which Toyota will announce at a later date along with more details about the car.