The Avalon's replacement is inferior in almost every way
2023 Toyota Crown review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
What is it?
Crown may be an unfamiliar name to Americans, but the nameplate stretches back to the 1950s in the USA, before being replaced in the early 70s. However, the Crown lived on elsewhere, becoming a prestigious name in Toyota JDM lore through its receiving of twin-turbocharged 'JZ' family of engines in the 1990s. Though a name of history and prestige, it unfortunately holds little weight here in the States, where most only know the Crown as a popular period drama on Netflix. What this large sedan really does today, though, is replace the long-serving Avalon, a vehicle that saw ever-declining sales in an age where more and more are upsizing and switching over to crossovers and SUVs. Despite the slowing sales, the Avalon was possibly Toyota's most accomplished car, and the Crown that replaces it, made as a Dr. Moreau creation that bridges together the design elements of a car and crossover for compromise, is sadly almost worse in every single way.
Buy it for...
For one, the Crown is available exclusively as a hybrid, with two engine choices. Starting with the standard hybrid four-cylinder, combined output is 236 horsepower from the 2.5L Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder/3 AC motor collaboration; This is the unit that was powering my tester. However, there is an optional choice, bearing the iForce MAX nomenclature first seen on the Tundra pickup. Selecting this power unit brings output up to a perky 340 horsepower and 400lb-ft total, a startling number for a consumer Toyota sedan. I have not driven this example yet, but performance looks promising, with 0-60 MPH estimated in about 5.5 seconds, whereas the entry engine is a little short of motivation in comparison, requiring 7.3 seconds to reach 60 MPH from rest. However, while it does little to inspire confidence when passing, there is enough shove to do your daily business in ordinary fashion.
The real highlight, though, of both this basic hybrid configuration and of the Crown as a whole, is the impressive fuel economy. During my week with this bulbous AWD Crown, I averaged 39.5 MPG. To put that in perspective, I recently tested a Corolla Hybrid with AWD, a much much slower and smaller/lighter car, and you know what that achieved overall? 39 MPG. I'm not sure how, but this larger, heavier, and more powerful AWD Crown gets basically the exact same fuel economy. Job well done, Toyota. And while it is not the most refined engine type, as four-cylinders rarely are, it is less grainy and coarse than prior Toyota engines, like the one in a Corolla that does a convincing impression of a trash compactor under load.
Space is abundant inside, as it should from a vehicle measuring 196 inches long and with a 112 inch wheelbase. Adult passengers will find the rear seat to be a very livable environment for long journeys, but this was also true for the Avalon. Overall, the interior features lots of leather and other soft materials that represent a step-on from the Camry sedan that sits below it in the model hierarchy. In the center of the dash rests a modern 12 inch touchscreen that's easy to use, even if I don' the stark graphics at times. There's lots of feelings of Lexus inside, with this evident by the shift knob that actually has been lifted straight from a Lexus. All the features and amenities you could hope for are included as well, like CarPlay and active safety. This is a very comfortable car, both in ride quality, and it's quite quiet when on the move. The slightly higher 60 inch ride height makes getting in and out easier as well, bridging that compromise between sedan and crossover.
Despite flashes of quality in the cabin, there's also some mixed results, too. There still are random cheap plastics here and there, something you wouldn't find in most Lexus like the ES 300h, such as the nasty piano black buttons on the steering wheel that look and feel resolutely cheap. Further, the trunk features a horrid little plastic button to open it from the outside, and then also the trunk itself (not power by the way, disappointing on a 50 grand Toyota) made some haunted creaks from the mechanism when opening; I would take that right back to the dealer for a warranty claim. It's nice for a Toyota through and through, but I actually don't think it's any nicer than the Avalon it replaces, with some aspects falling short of the similarly priced Lexus ES 300h (which, incidentally, is an Avalon for all practical purposes) as well. You might think it's nice for a Toyota, but it's not nice enough for over $50,000. Also of note, the JBL stereo failed to impress, much like it never has in any other Toyotas I've tested with this expensive option checked.
Which brings us to the price for this top-grade Limited example: It's too expensive. Nothing about this car screams 50 grand and there are other cars in this price range that are simply nicer and more stylish. And for an immediate comparison to its predecessor, a comparable Crown is several thousand dollars more than an Avalon hybrid and even equals the sticker on Lexus' own ES 300h, which is just an even fancier Avalon. With no other way to say it, Toyota has priced the Crown too far out of sensible consideration.
Say what you want about the styling, but I was unable to gel with the controversial looks, especially the rear and its bizarre rounded outline of the rear bumper cover. The Avalon was a pretty car, and the Crown is not in my own eyes.
Gas mileage is good and noteworthy, but it's also not an improvement over past Avalon Hybrids, nor any different from the Lexus ES 300h. It's good for a big car, but it doesn't actually move the bar on any further. The MAX engine option is expected to lower overall economy by 5-10 MPG for what it's worth. I raved about the exceptional mileage earlier, but the fact is that it doesn't improve upon the car it replaces.
Handling was clearly not in the interest of the engineers during the Crown's creation, following a pattern of remote understeer during any form of relatively keen cornering. Even taking turns at 5/10ths would result in the tires, wrapped over giant 21" wheels no less, starting to yelp in pain. The steering is fine and confident for normal driving, with no wandering at speed, but this is clearly a sedan made for comfort and no curiosity in cornering. I did once induce a slip of oversteer when getting off the brake on an uphill turn, but failed to replicate this flash of fun anywhere else, with the electronic nannies choosing to limit power early via the traction control while relapsing into scrubbing understeer during any opportunity and attempt of some fun in some turns. Though the iMax engine configuration sounds fun, this floppy chassis will undoubtedly be completely overwhelmed by the increase in power and unlikely to make good use of it.
I miss the Avalon
After a week with The Crown, I miss the Avalon. Everything the Crown does well, the Avalon did the same or better. The latter drove nicer with more neutral handling, it's better looking, already had lots of interior space of its own, got similar gas mileage as a hybrid, and most importantly, was several thousand dollars cheaper. I predict the Crown will not sell for more reasons than why the Avalon didn't sell; If the Avalon had already become a niche product, the Crown is now in even a tighter niche because of a price that's just too high for a Toyota sedan. And that's the real problem with the Crown: it's just too expensive and not luxurious enough to warrant the price. And if you're looking for a well-made $50K sedan, why would you choose this over the luxurious Lexus ES 300h? Or the amazing, if relatively thirsty (no hybrid option) Genesis G80, a car that truly wows in almost every single dimension.
This is a creative attempt, but one that frankly will not translate to sales nor persuade most shoppers from just continuing to step-up into crossovers and SUVs. The only redeeming factor might be the optional 340 horsepower version, but with that bringing the comparable price up to a whopping $55,000, that is a troubling thought that will struggle to make a case for itself. Still, I will reserve final judgement until I drive one.
2023 Toyota Crown review
As-tested price: $50,648
Pros: Great economy; Spacious
Cons: Weird looks; Quality doesn't match price