Remember the Toyota Crown? Before the Camry became the go-to sedan for corporate types, the Crown was the Japanese carmaker's offering for those who wanted non-European automotive pampering. Back in the mid-'90s, it was the choice of politicians and company presidents.
We became reacquainted with this majestic sedan during a test drive of Toyota's hybrid vehicles last week, held at the Spa Nishiura Motor Park in Aichi, Japan. The last Crown in our country was the eighth-generation model; Japan is now on generation 14. So our first impression upon seeing the 2013 Crown was: What happened to the nondescript car that ferried middle-aged men to golf courses?
The model we drove for two rounds on the track was a Crown Athlete G hybrid. Like current Lexus vehicles, what will draw your attention first is the bold grille. It is the shape of a fat lightning bolt--or more appropriately, a crown. From the swept headlights, the feature line arches a bit around the wheel wells, reminiscent of an 86 coupe. Needless to say, the Crown has become a more exciting car. It makes the current Camry look like the stodgy Toyotas of old. For customers longing for the staid look, there's a more traditional Crown Royal version.
Our Japanese hosts' strict adherence to the event schedule prevented us from staying too long inside the Crown beyond the quick two-lap run. But initial impressions were, er, impressive. The inside was swathed in dark leather with contrasting red stitching. As far as I could tell, the center console only had two knobs and two buttons. Everything else was accessed via touchscreen. A large GPS display dominated the dashboard. The carmaker calls this Toyota Multi-Operation Touch. Expect it to trickle down the line in the future.
According to the numbers, the combined output of the gasoline engine and the electric motor is 217hp, while the engine and the motor churn out 221Nm and 300Nm, respectively. And get this: It's rear-wheel-drive. However, it was hard to verify these figures on the track because in front of us was a race marshal driving a Prius, and his job was to set the pace for the laps. Sadly, the pace that day was to prevent enthusiastic Asian journalists from blitzing around the track too fast.
On the straight, the Crown Athlete G showed signs of being a sprinter. And on the curves, we could turn without dabbing on the brakes. The chassis and the tires handled the weight shift without losing poise. But with the Prius hovering close to us when turning--these marshals are crafty--we didn't have a chance to power out of the curve and have fun with the RWD. Of course, while restrained, we totally understand the safety measures Toyota implemented during the event. A lone mishap by an eager right foot could have ruined a fun event.
We looked at the Crown a little wistfully when it was time to move to the next test vehicle. It's not every day we get a taste of a handsome, RWD, hybrid-powered executive car. Toyota Motor Philippines, if you're reading this, we want to see more of this cool sedan on the roads of Metro Manila.
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