Toyota Crown: The Perfect 4 Door You Never Knew About
If someone says “Toyota Crown,” what are the first thoughts that come to mind? I suspect something along the lines of “Do you mean Ford Crown Vic?” or “yeah, I’ve heard of it, it’s some boring car we never got here.” What I’ve found is that this car is Japan’s best kept secret.
The USA stopped getting the Crown over 4 decades ago, the last year being around ‘73. Since then, our car markets have grown apart more and more as time goes on. It’s quite a shame in some ways, as we normally get some of the best cars on the planet, but there will always be hidden gems like the Crown.
The Crown name is HUGE in Japan, long having been used for taxis, police cars, and a great generic upper middle class car for the family. There’s a bit of variety of trim levels, starting at the Extra and Deluxe “sedans”, moving up to the Royal Saloon, Royal Touring, and Royal Saloon G “hard top”, all the way up to the Crown Majesta. Right now, we’ll focus on my personal favorite, the JZS155: the 10th generation Crown made from 1995 through 1999, the first unibody Crown, the hardtop with frameless windows, and the best 2JZ engine platform to start off with for boost.
“But how can it be the best when it’s not even turbo? None of those Crowns came with a gasoline turbo engine!” While this is true, there’s a number of considerations that should be accounted for. Toyota debuted their VVTi system on this car, the 1995 Crown. Some may consider this a risky move, considering how high the production numbers were for this car, and debuting new technology on a platform that wasnt even the highest level on sale. Fortunately it worked flawlessly, and pretty much every engine afterwards shared the same system, and often the same parts. While VVTi is a scary term that many think causes issues with making power and tuning, this hasnt been true for over 10 years. You just have people regurgitating what they heard from someone who heard somewhere on a forum many years ago that it was a problem. Fortunately, this is all fake news, and VVTi gives you the benefit of a wider powerband, and more torque than even a 3.4 stroker gives.
Along with VVTi, this engine also got the wasted spark ignition that became standard on all 98+ JZ engines. That means 3 coils and no distributor, a simpler and more effective system. No distributor in the way means more room for a turbo and intake pipe as well. Although many people still like to go with a full sequential, individual 6 coil system, this wasted spark setup is more than capable of making plenty of power without issues. Hell, Ivan Stewart’s Iron Man winning UZ Tundra V8 truck used 7MGTE wasted spark coil packs from the 87-92 Supra turbo.
While we did get plenty of these engines in the USA from 98-05 in the GS300, IS300, and SC300 (only the 98 Supra N/A got VVTi in the USA), the Crown version has one big benefit that we never got in a VVTi 2JZ engine here: turbo rods. Normally when choosing a 2JZ, you either get the ridiculously expensive 2JZGTE to start with, or you build up a 2JZGE (which isnt that far off anyways). The two flavors of 2JZGE would be the 93-97 version with an annoying distributor, but the same connecting rods that the turbo engines got (known for being notoriously strong), or the 98-05 version with wasted spark, VVTi, and thin rods.
The benefits of the Crown 2JZ dont end there, either! Another big change in 1998 that Toyota implemented on 2JZs was switching to a hybrid throttle. It still has a cable attached, since it was their first generation drive-by-wire setup, and they were able to keep most of the throttle response of a direct cable intact since there’s still a cable attached to the throttle pedal, but it only controls the first 20-30% or so of throttle swing. Meanwhile, in 1995, you still have complete control of the throttle with no intervention from the ECU. No need to fight with an ECU and try to request your desired throttle input when you can choose instantly with your right foot! No VVTi 2JZ engine we got in the states has this option.
Even tuning is easier/better with the Japanese Crown engine. While the USA always had a MAF in the intake system on our cars, the JDM cars didnt get a MAF until 1998 or so. Toyota would end up using the air flow meter signal to help control when to shift the transmission, meaning even if you switched to a MAP based tune, if you kept your automatic transmission when boosting your car, you would have to keep the MAF still. IS300 and 2GS GS300 owners are familiar with this issue. Meanwhile, the Crown has no air flow sensor at all! In fact, you can see on our 2GS where the mounting bosses in the intake manifold are for the MAP sensor to mount, it just doesnt have one. This makes boosting that much easier and more effective, since boost/vacuum leaks wont end up causing the car to stumble or run poorly.
That’s just the engine. Even if you didnt care about the car whatsoever, you could get one just to use the engine, if you wanted to rock a boosted JZ in something and couldnt afford to start with a costly used GTE. You might rethink going through the trouble of doing all of that though, and instead, end up falling in love with the car itself too! I certainly didnt expect to.
My business partner and I both bought a few of these cars because they had just started becoming legal in late 2020 to import to the USA and drive on the roads (thanks to the wonderful NHTSA’s “25 year” law). We knew they had 2JZ engines, and the rest we would see for ourselves. Even if they werent great, we always had the volatile 2JZ market to rely on, and we could either sell the engines or use them as cores to build. It’s still a popular engine, and still one of the very best inline 6s ever made. What we didnt expect is how much we’d fall in love with the Crown.
You know what the S150 series, 10th generation Crown is? If someone says “hey, draw a car. Not a specific model, just a car.” That’s what you draw. It’s the most mundane, subtle, generic, normal looking car ever made. It kinda looks old, but not antique or dated. It uses basic geometric shapes with a bit of rounding off. It looks invisible, especially considering the vast majority were made with the 051 pearl white color, many of which being two-tone with the beige lower. It’s plain. You couldnt pick this car out of a lineup of one. If it drives by, the only reason you might be noticed is if you had the window down and someone might see you driving on the wrong side of the car. There’s nothing that stands out about it with a quick glance. If you see one drive by, by the time you turn your head back around, you’ve already forgotten what you saw.
But for some reason, we still fell in love with the looks. It’s classic Japanese. It’s not overstated. It’s not ostentatious, but it’s clearly stately and upmarket. The “hardtop” version has frameless windows, giving you maximum visibility and a tiny B pillar that barely impedes your vision. As huge fans of the Mk3 A70 Supra, we were happy to see this live on. Not too many cars used frameless windows, and certainly not many sedans. It’s elegant, but just a little bit. If it were to somehow catch your eye, only then would you see the numerous features it has.
The lower trim levels of the “sedan” had a narrower body to fit in a lower tax bracket and make the car less expensive for prospective Japanese buyers who get taxed on engine size and vehicle dimensions. The hardtop, meanwhile, got a wider body and a beautiful crease that runs the length of the car. There’s only one Toyota badge, and it’s on the trunk. The C pillars were adorned with Crown emblems, as was the front grill. The left side of the trunk has a tightly packed badge letting people know what trim level it is, but not in an overly boastful way. And once you get that close, a keen eye will notice that even though it shares the same 051 paint code with the white 2GS and countless other cars, it’s clearly not the same pearlescent white. It’s less bright. It’s the subtle off-white Patrick Bateman would sweat over. While I may normally pick the less tinted white, this is really the perfect color for this car.
Not much to say about the trunk, but it’s massive and you can have 12 CDs stored in the CD player back there, which is pretty amazing for 1995. Quick reminder that this car is 25 years old, and only the nicer cars even had an option for a CD player, let alone a stack. It has a unique bulge in the upper center, right at the Toyota emblem. One of the few distinguishing features about the whole car exterior..so of course it’s subtle
Once you get past the pedestrian exterior and sit down, you are gently hugged with a wool cloth hug from the seats. There were a few instrument cluster options, such as this classy font with nice big numbers, but what really sold me was the 80s style digi dash that was standard only on the Saloon G trim, and optional only on the Saloon 3.0. My first Crown doesnt have this, so I had to get another just to make sure I did have it.
To your left, you’ll notice something Americans only got in a few cars ever: swinging A/C vents to make the temperature even in the cabin. This is one of the biggest flag waving signs that this car is chock full of little subtleties and surprises for you to discover.
The odometer is still mechanical, which feels like a nod for those looking for a classic car that doesnt try to be overly modern, but still nostalgic.
In the rear view mirror, a set of power lace curtains, a dealer installed option. On your left, a 7 speaker sound system that has no business still being that good, GPS with voice guidance, FM radio band that only overlaps with our 88-90mhz range. Again, 1995, in a car that has 3 cars above it (Crown Majesta, Celsior, Century). Further left, you’ll see the seat controls for the passenger front seat that are easily reached by the rear passenger in the “emperor’s seat”. In fact, why dont we check out the rear seats? The left rear seat will have the most leg room and has the benefit of controlling the front seat from the rear. Also in the rear are audio controls. One trim level up with the Saloon G, and you get power reclining rear seats, plus a dedicated rear A/C system with dedicated cabin filter. That’s right, the rear passengers dont even breathe the same air as the front! Japan’s countless smokers are also appeased with each door getting its own removable lit ashtray.
Most cars of this caliber have doilies on all the seats as well; a factory option. Some cars even have full doilies that cover the whole seat. Rather indicative of a culture that values presentation and cleanliness. They also have a thing for lace, which I personally dont fully understand or know the backstory of.
Up front, you get headlights with some of the best and most crisp light output I’ve ever seen from any non-HID car, even without projectors. You get two side driving lights that, when you turn on your blinker, light up that side of the road ahead of you. You get two fender driving lights with a very retro green LED in them.
You get all of this in a car that was truly well taken care of and cared for. Japan has much more pride in their vehicles, even if they dont keep them as long due to their tax structure. This particular car had the timing belt done just 1000 miles or so before it was sold/traded in. This car also has something our 2GS doesnt have, a yellow sticker letting you know that this car has solid lifters that should be adjusted as regular maintenance. That used to be part of regular maintenance for all vehicles many years ago, before the age of hydraulic lifters. Americans got lazy and stopped caring, so why bother? Even my 07 Tacoma has solid lifters, and almost every week I have to tell people to adjust their valves to fix the “Tacoma Tick.” The 2JZ inline 6 is perfect for this car, being so naturally smooth and balanced, so any noise from the lifters would be offensive.
What really gets me about this car is the ride quality. It’s as smooth as the I6 that powers it. It’s soft, but not more than it needs to be. We’re not talking yacht club undulations and body roll. The steering is soft too, but makes it all so impressive is that it’s soft without being numb. You still get steering input, and you still feel in control when turning. The whole car doesnt twist on its axis around corners. It stays well mannered and follows right where you point it. I wouldnt call the handling of the Saloon “sporty,” perhaps the Saloon Touring that is on its way will fit that moniker. I will call it adept and capable though. It glides over bumps and transfers very little harshness through the seat. You hear bumps, but they dont intrude. And road noise is nearly nonexistent. I would swear that even newer cars from Toyota/Lexus dont have decibel levels that low. Maybe because you dont feel like you need to drive it fast. You can take your time and enjoy the ride. Your passenger will have to actively make an effort to not fall asleep with how comfortable and inviting the car is. This is a car we have shown off to our friends and family who dont even care about cars, and they still can enjoy and appreciate it.
It’s a reminder of what we dont get, that some of the best stuff is made elsewhere. It’s a car they made and sold in droves, but even in Japan, it always had this stigma as an old man car. It shares a number of parts with the Chaser/Cresta/Mark II platform, the IS300 platform, and other cars we actually got stateside, so owning and maintaining one in the states wouldnt even be a challenge or inconvenience like it is with a Skyline. It’s a regal chariot that doesnt look down on others that cant afford it. It’s the Toyota Crown, the perfect 4 door car you never knew about.