- We'll start with the start. The Crown Hybrid makes the friendliest, Japanese-iest sound when you turn it on. It's like a high-fructose THX movie is starting. Considering this is a premium car, we were surprised the first time we turned it on, but then had to do it again and again. Purely for journalistic video-capturing reasons, of course, so you can watch and hear it below. We wish we had better-than-cellphone microphones to capture it.
- Compared to the Lexus GS 300h, which we drove immediately afterword along with the exact same route, it is clear the Crown is an executive's car. The seats and suspension somehow made us feel privileged, not a feeling we're used to in most hybrid cars. The Crown's plush interior made everything feel comfy and quiet, and the floaty suspension in the rear-wheel-drive car handled a short stretch on Michigan's bumpy I-94 highway with ease.
- There is such a thing as too much plush, though. The leather-wrapped steering wheel felt softer than we are used to, and the squishiness all around the lumbar area of the driver's seat made the adjustable seat supports in the Lexus a welcome difference. The suspension in the GS was much tighter and the steering response was more direct, too, giving the two cars completely different feels. The Lexus has more pick-up as well. In fact, if you can't get to Japan for a test drive, the best way to imagine what it's like to pilot the Crown is to drive a Lexus on top of a cloud and still make it puffier and softer all around.
- Toyota has been selling versions of the Crown sedan in Japan since the 1955, adding a gas-electric hybrid option with the eleventh generation in the early 2000s. The current-generation Crown, the 14th, was introduced late in 2012 and the production of the new hybrid model started in early 2013. The gasoline side of the powertrain equation is a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder inline Atkinson cycle that doesn't get in the way of enjoying the quiet cabin. The juice is stored in a nickel-metal hydride battery and sent out a 105-kW electric motor. The total system provides an overall output of 217 horsepower.
- It needs that much oomph to move, since it's a big car. Still, the Crown offers decent visibility through the windows, and there are four exterior cameras to give even more information about what's going on outside.
- Our overwhelming first impression is that the dashboard has too many buttons. It took us a while to find the economy settings using all the buttons along with the Multi-Operation Touch screen because everything was in Japanese (ours isn't all that good, especially while driving) and backwards given the right-hand drive. When we did, we discovered our average fuel economy over 17.9 km (11.1 miles) was 12.8 km per liter (30.1 mpg). We'll be the first to admit that 11 miles isn't anywhere near enough to get an accurate gauge of what the Crown Hybrid actually achieves, mpg-wise, but the official number is 23.2 km/l (54.6 mpg) on the lenient home-market JC08 test cycle.
- As much as we like the idea of more and more hybrids on American roads, we understand why Toyota is not bringing the Crown Hybrid to the US. It doesn't in any way fit with the Toyota hybrid family here, which is sort of like the colorful and fun iPhone 5C compared to Crown's golden iPhone 5S elegance. Besides, our luxury hybrid slot is filled by Lexus. Toyota and Lexus offer 23 hybrid models worldwide – and have sold five million gas-electric vehicles over the past decade – and you just can't have everything everywhere. For the long-term, Toyota believes fuel cells are the future of green motoring, with hybrid technology being the bridge to get there. The Crown Hybrid helps make it a very long, comfy bridge.