By on September 2, 2013

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Toyota held an event in Ypsilanti, Michigan this week called the Toyota Hybrid World Tour, similar to the recent Nissan 360 event where the company displayed its foreign market forbidden fruit. I didn’t realize what a Big Deal the THWT was until I arrived at the hotel & conference center. I had thought that it was just some kind of ride & drive event but in fact it was a major corporate level promotion by Toyota. For the first time in history the company gathered in one place every one of its hybrid vehicles sold around the world, along with a few alternative energy prototypes and some history, including an example of the first Prius sold in the Japanese domestic market. Toyota also gathered high ranking executives like North American chief Bob Carter from California and Toyota Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso from Toyota City. Ogiso is in charge of global product development and chassis engineering for the entire company as well as being the Chief Engineer for the Prius program. Regular readers of TTAC will know just how important chief engineers are in the Toyota hierarchy and Ogiso is more or less the chief engineer for all of Toyota in addition to the Prius.  He was a member of Toyota’s G21 team, out of which developed the first Prius. Though new Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada didn’t attend, he did record remarks prepared for the journalists in attendance.

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When I asked, “why so close to Detroit?”, the lower level PR people were on message. They said that they wanted to reach out to the many automotive journalists based in the Detroit area. However, when I asked someone more senior, “Why Detroit?”, she smiled broadly and said, “Make of it what you will.” Since they called it a “tour” I asked about the next stop on the tour and was told that it might become an annual event but that there was no actual tour scheduled beyond the first stop, a stop that was located closer to Detroit than Toyota City is to Tokyo. Make of that what you will.

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The cars in attendance ranged in power from the first 1997 JDM Prius to the TS030, the prototype that raced against Audi’s diesels at LeMans earlier this summer, a hybrid that uses supercapacitors instead of batteries to store and discharge electric power.

The Toyota TS030 hybrid LeMans racer and some young Brazilian journalists flown in by Toyota to the event.

The Toyota TS030 hybrid LeMans racer and some young Brazilian journalists flown in by Toyota for the event.

They wouldn’t let us drive the TS030 but for the first two days of the event we had our pick of any hybrid currently sold by Toyota (and Lexus), along with RAV4 EVs and a couple of Highlanders converted to fuel cell hybrid vehicles, and we could drive them on either an urban or suburban route in and around Ypsilanti. The final day of the event took place at a test track owned by Aisin, about an hour west of Detroit. We had access to the track’s slalom and handling courses along with an Interstate-like oval, speed limited to about 70 mph. Apparently they were serious because when some European journalists decided to take it up to 100, we were all warned that if it happened again, they would shut down the oval, which prompted grousing from some European journalists standing near me.

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Faced with the choice of at least 20 different cars to sample on the first day, I had a dilemma. Do I act like a responsible auto journalist and drive cars on sale in North America, where most of our readers live and buy cars, so I can tell them something useful, or do play car enthusiast and drive oddball RHD JDM stuff that I’d otherwise never get to drive? I did what I suspect most of you would do. I walked past the four current Prius models and the Camry hybrid straight to the Toyota Crown Royal Saloon. I had to wait to drive it. Offhand it looked like the Crown was the vehicle in highest demand at the ride & drive. I didn’t usually have to wait for the F Sport GS450h, or the flagship Lexus 600lh, or any of the Prii, but there was almost always a wait to get behind the wheel on the right hand side of the Crown.

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The Crown Royal hybrid, which shares Toyota’s GRS rear wheel drive platform with the Lexus GS, and shares a drivetrain with the RWD IS300h hybrid, is the kind of car that an older, very successful Japanese businessman would buy. Everything about it is designed for comfort and smoothness. Even the power up and warning tones, and the female Japanese voice alerts seem crafted to comfort and sooth. You can get the Crown Royal with leather but apparently most customers opt for “premium fabric”, as luxurious as the upholstery in any great Detroit land yacht from days of yore. The carpet was sort of tiger striped, and the wood trim in the car had somewhat similar grain and stain. I can’t tell you how the infotainment system worked, it was all in Japanese, and in any case the radio stations were preset to Tokyo. I needed help getting the climate control system cold enough for the muggy late August weather. Once situated, though, it was fine. I hadn’t driven a RHD car before, so it took some time to get used to looking left for the proper mirrors and remembering to use the turn signal, not activate the windshield washers, but other than that I felt comfortable, very comfortable, and soothed too.

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On the outside, it’s a handsome, if unassuming car, that appears to be assembled very well, with considerable care. Fit, finish, interior trim and the like were the equivalent of just about any luxury car you can buy in America. Everything about the Crown Royal speaks to quality and attention to detail.

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So what’s it like behind the wheel. Some reports from the ride & drive event have characterized the Crown as being all about body roll and heaving over onto the tires’ sidewalls. I didn’t think it was nearly that bad, but then I cut my automotive teeth driving fullsize 1960s Oldsmobiles and 1970s Mercurys. Compared to the Alphard minivan I took through the handling course, it handled like a sports car (the Alphard is single worst handling vehicle I’ve ever driven, I was pressed to come up with enough synonyms for wallowing and yaw). Well, maybe not like a sports car, more like a Town Car. Even if you push it, it’s going to take some doing to get the back end to hang out, RWD or not, but then that isn’t what the Crown Royal was designed for. It was designed to isolate that hypothetical Japanese businessman from an unpleasant world. The steering has just enough feel so that you know that the front tires are doing their job, certainly more feel than the Alphard had, or the RAV4 EV, whose steering box could wear the Novacaine brand, but again, this isn’t a sporting car. The suspension is soft, very soft, but I didn’t have any trouble making it through the slalom or the handling course.

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The result is an exceptionally smooth, quiet, and comfortable car, a Japanese take on the Town Car as mentioned, or maybe a Buick from an earlier generation. One of the things that I noticed after driving many of the various Toyota hybrids and EVs was just how different each one of them felt behind the wheel, how they drove. Even the cars equipped with Toyota’s signature Hybrid Synergy Drive, first brought to market in the Prius, felt different from one another, something that I’d characterize as more or less “hybridy”, perhaps a result of different combustion engine displacements along with how regenerative braking is implemented. You could feel that more was going on than just an engine spinning. All of that went away with the Crown. If I wasn’t looking at the indicator lights on the dash I wouldn’t have known what mode the car was in. Everything felt seamless and smooth and the braking and deceleration felt the closest to normal of any of the hybrids that I drove at the event. Now and then you could tell some regeneration was going on, but other than that, it was the most normal feeling hybrid at the event (the pure electric drive cars, the RAV4 EV and the fuel cell hybrid Highlander, ironically felt the most normal). Apparently most Crown Royal buyers agree since a majority of Crowns are sold in hybrid form.

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There were Japanese market vehicles at the event, like the Alphard and Estima executive minivans, that would just not make sense if Toyota tried to market them in the U.S. but I think if Toyota brought over the Crown Royal, either as a Toyota or with a Lexus nameplate, a lot of traditional American sedan drivers would find it familiar and like it as much as I and seemingly everyone else that drove it at the Toyota Hybrid World Tour did as well.

Stereo pics here.

Toyota provided the cars, gasoline, electrons, insurance, some snacks (but no kosher pizza), a t-shirt, and a Jambox by Jawbone, which sounds pretty good considering it’s playing audibly compromised and lossy compressed MP3s.  Lodging was offered but I chose to drive to the event each day and avoid the bus ride to the trackday. That way I didn’t get motion sickness until my fifth or sixth time through the slalom and handling courses.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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32 Comments on “Capsule Review: Drive Like A Boss, A Japanese Boss.
Toyota Crown Royal Saloon, So Smooth It Should Come In A Purple Velvet Bag...”


  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    I would love to see this over here as possibly a competitor to the Chrysler 300 and Charger V6 models. Then again, I have a soft spot for Japanese gangster cars.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    Do any stateside Lexus models share parts or a platform with this car? It looks to be similar in size to an LS600, but of course it would be.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      The Crown Royal above shares its platform with the GS. The Crown Majesta shares its platform with the LS, or at least is the same size. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at things) it looks like the body panels aren’t similar enough for US Lexus owners to do simple bumper cover/lights/grille JDM conversions.

      One big difference between these Japanese market Toyotas and a US Lexus: Look at the preference for cloth.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        That’s very true. You wouldn’t *dare* sell a car like that with cloth here in the States, lest everyone gawk in horror. If it’s not leather, it’s vinyl or leatherette, especially on the German cars. As for Toyota, I don’t even think you can get the Avalon (which would rank below this) without leather. The bad thing about America’s fixation on leather and leatherette is that including these materials gives automakers carte blanche to pass off a cheap car as a premium one (see Panther platform).

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I guess the Crown Majesta doesn’t come in hybrid format. Nor the Century, for that matter. :/

  • avatar

    I’m really jealous of you Ronnie. I would have loved to have been able to go to this event.

    I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on the Hybrid Alphard. I didn’t review it while I was doing mini-vans a few weeks ago because my seat time in the Alphard amounted to just one short test drive and a couple of hours as a passenger. My overall impression was that, like most JDM vans, I was tall and narrow.

    Did you get a chance to see any little cars there?

    • 0 avatar

      The Alphard is tall, narrow, and terrible to drive. I already was getting motion sickness when I drove it, so I took my time going through the slalom and road course and it was still a pain to drive. All over the place, wallowing from side to side. You can’t see the front end and the steering has no feel, so you’re not really sure which way you’re going, while the body is listing at rather extreme angles. The executives in the back may enjoy the appointments, but I think their chauffeur will be white knuckling it. Seriously, a 20 year old Chrysler minivan is much better dynamically.

      The only little cars that I saw were an iQ EV that was part of the ride and drive, and in the parking lot for Toyota guests at the hotel there was a Honda Beat midengine Kei car with Montana license plates. I took more photos of the Beat than of the iQ EV.

  • avatar
    b787

    Nice article, but IS300h is RWD not FWD. Also did you drive any of the european hybrids like Auris or Yaris?

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry about that. The Crown Royal does share a drivetrain with a FWD car, I thought they said it was the IS, but Toyota’s alphanumerics are hard to keep straight in my mind.

      Derek asked me to review the Auris, which is the main reason I went to the track day. I drove both the hatchback and wagon versions and my review will be forthcoming.

      • 0 avatar
        b787

        As far as I know, the RWD IS300h and the FWD ES300h have the same hybrid system, but the gasoline engine in the IS is direct injected, while the one in the ES is not.

        That’s great, I’m looking forward to it.

  • avatar
    Brawndo

    My wife has a friend in Japan who has the previous generation of this car. This review is spot on, inside a feeling of “oh man is this car well made” washes over you–something I haven’t felt about a stateside Lexus since the third generation LS.

    I don’t think they could bring it over as Toyota since that kind of quality would probably cost more than the Lexus GS it’s somewhat based on. I’m guessing this Crown Royal Hybrid probably stickers in the $55-60k range. If they brought it over as a Lexus it would probably cannibalize too many LS sales, as this car does Lexus better than the current LS.

  • avatar
    08Suzuki

    It still needs to be redone in VIP style, though.

    http://jalopnik.com/your-guide-to-being-a-japanese-vip-1090579629

  • avatar
    Windy

    Youe comment about the high end fabric seating brought to my mind the 30s and 40s Packards and 40s and 50s Cads that my Grandparents drove or were driven in in the case of my get Grandfather who never learned to drive his Packard 12s.
    in the older cars leather was reserved for the driver (who had been his coachman before he was sent to Packard in about 1908 or so to be trained to drive and maintain his cars while the coach house where the coachman lived was converted to a garage with a grease pit and gasoline pump etc via drawings and specifications provided by Packard. whenhis training was completed John his driver would drive the new Packard back to the mill town in north eastern Conn. this would be repeated every 2 to 3 years for the next 50 years. send john to Packard for 2 to 4 weeks training on maintaining the mew model and have him drive it home….

    as I said leather was only in the front. the owners seating area was a grey woolen cloth that was very soft to the touch and very comfortable and wore well the carpets were also wool and thick and deep pile. the post war Cadillacs that my Grandfather favored after Packard went downmarket used this woolen cloth and carpet everywhere as of course he drove himself… I think his first car with an all leather seating provided was his 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible …

    What ever happened to those luxurious woolen cloth interiors for posh cars in this country and why did they vanish so quickly?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Those luxurious woolen cloth interiors soaked up moisture and required regular cleaning. They were a step up in comfort from the “mouse hair” of the period, but retained musty odors just as well. Chances are the chemical cleaners your great grandfather’s valet/driver used have since been banned.

      It’s just as well both have passed from the scene, or or the Boomer generation wouldn’t have experienced vinyl burn in the summers of the ’50s and ’60s. The Boomers’ grandkids are now experiencing summer leather burn, but it’s now top grain cowhide. Progress!

      • 0 avatar
        Windy

        A very good point . I can recall large cans of something called energine and bottles of carbon tetra chloride among other things not seen in the car cleaning shelves for years like kozak clothes I was quite young when my grt grandfather died in the early 50s but I still remember being taken for Sunday drives with the other grt grandchildren I think he held on to his last v12 Packard Limo just so he could fit all of us in!

        Still it was a very different take on what was a luxury car back then compared to what autos of a putatively equal level of luxury offer today with such a large part of the equation filled with all the electronic toys.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Crown Royal, finally a Toyota worth buying… but of course not available in the US.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    This Crown Royal certainly looks like something made by the same firm responsible for the 1992 Camry and the 1990 LS400 – simply impeccable craftsmanship. That’s something I can’t say for any of the American-market Toyotas.

  • avatar
    Noble713

    I’m starting to see more and more of these on the road here in Okinawa. I’m usually a fan of gigantic front grilles but something about this car just makes it hideous to me. The new 2013 Lexuses (Lexi?) are far more attractive. But I’m not the target market anyway: I’m busy shopping for deals on a 2nd Toyota Chaser Tourer V.

  • avatar
    jz78817

    “When I asked, “why so close to Detroit?”, the lower level PR people were on message. They said that they wanted to reach out to the many automotive journalists based in the Detroit area. However, when I asked someone more senior, “Why Detroit?”, she smiled broadly and said, “Make of it what you will.” Since they called it a “tour” I asked about the next stop on the tour and was told that it might become an annual event but that there was no actual tour scheduled beyond the first stop, a stop that was located closer to Detroit than Toyota City is to Tokyo. Make of that what you will.”

    All I make of it is that Toyota Technical Center is in Ann Arbor.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Even Toyota makes a better Lincoln than Lincoln.

  • avatar

    I see a lot of Toyota Crowns when I travel to Japan. Most of them are old ones used as taxis. As a taxi they are strikingly similar to Crown Victoria. I can even imagine that Crown Victoria was an original inspiration for Toyota Crown including the name. Yeah they look like typical Asian executive sedans – from anonymous to ugly depending on your taste. But I agree with most readers that even though Europeans would laugh on even the idea of selling something like that in Europe – Americans may actually fall in love with it because it brings everything good or bad about American sedan to the level of quality never seen from and not achievable by Big 3. The irony is that Japanese make the best American cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Many Toyota nameplates mean “crown”, like Corona, and Camry too ( “Camry” comes from a phonetic transcription of the Japanese word kanmuri (冠, かんむり), which means “crown,”). I’ll have to check to see when Ford and Toyota each started using the Crown nameplate. I checked. Both companies, it turns out, started using the word “crown” in 1955. Ford’s “Crown Victoria”, an upgrade to the regular Victoria, had a chrome “basket handle” running across the roof at the B pillar. I’m too lazy to look it up right now, but the “victoria” body style dates to the early days of the car industry and I’m not exactly sure what it is. How many people know the difference between a phaeton, a convertible and a roadster?

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      Lots of Toyota Crown taxis – ditto. My very first cultural misstep in Japan 14 years ago was to attempt to shut my airport taxi cab (Crown) door. Wow, my cabbie was exasperated! The other initial memory I have is the lovely white lace brocade seat covers that they all have adorning their immaculate taxi interiors. Japan’s far from perfect, but they do some things incredibly well.

      • 0 avatar

        The customer service in Japan is exemplary. After Japan Westerners seem to be crude. I do not know may be West was like this in 19 century, but not in my life time. I do not say that customer service in US is bad, as a matter of fact it is a superior to most of Europe, but it is still is not as good as in Japan. In Japan they just serve you as best as humanly possible or I would say impossible. Westerners simply do not have patience for that stuff. As an example you can rely on Japanese post office to bring your baggage to the plane right on time while you are taking comfortable ride in the hi-tech train from the future. I remember watching how cook was making cake in some average cafe at a train station. He spent like 5 minutes trying to make chocolate glaze to cover the cake perfectly and within certain specs – time and effort did not matter, perfection mattered. And Japanese cakes taste significantly better than American ones – it is like comparing 1992 Toyota Camry to its GM equivalent.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      The Crowns that are used as taxis in Japan (and other locales in Asia, such as Hong Kong and Singapore) are very different from the Crown Royal Saloon, which is the upscale Japanese executive sedan.

      The taxi variant (fleet only) is called the Crown Comfort. It’s characterized by an upright C-pillar, for rear passenger headroom, as opposed to the relatively swoopier curve of the Royal Saloon. The design is pretty old (more than 15 years old). My guess is that it also has a somewhat longer wheelbase for enhanced legroom in the rear (just a guess). Lots of them (if not most) are LPG-powered.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I recall a brief period when Toyota exported the Crown to the U.S. , in the early seventies . A sedan and wagon were exported , with a six cylinder , rare for a Japanese product in the era . Very rarely seen, even back in the day , as they were relatively expensive and didn’t get particularly good gas mileage . Easy to spot though , as they had very – ” unique ” – some might say hideous – front end styling .IIRC they were only imported to the U.S. for a couple of years .

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Not to pick on Hyundai (because we have a 2012 Sonata Limited that I love), but I think that this is what the Equus wants to be when it grows up…

  • avatar
    TonyP

    I see these quite often here in Okinawa and they’re quite unassuming but nice (in a Lincoln MKS sort of way). However, Toyota’s other JDM quasi-luxo sedan would be my first choice for US Market, the 2013 Mark X, it’s stunning. Put that in place of the Lexus GS. Done and done.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Wow Ronnie, I sure wish I had known about this! Now that I live in Ypsilanti it would have been fun to have seen these running around town!

    And to make it even worse, my house is two short blocks away from the lake that hotel is on. In fact, if I walked those two blocks, I could look straight across the lake and see the hotel!

    Oh well…

    Still, it sounds like you had a great time!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The stripey carpet reminds me of some bad guys luxurious Miami pad in an 80s movie, so that’s not so good. I like the pattern on the wood though, it looks well done. And what a huge dash screen, geez!

    The grille ornament is so broughamic and coat of arms style, I love it. I want the US to use model-specific emblems again. It makes things more interesting.


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