The sheer prominence of JDM vehicles in Australia is something that should really be unsurprising to most. Given the majority of cars we buy are made in Japan, the two best-selling brands in the country are Japanese, we’re in basically the same time zone which keeps import costs fairly reasonable, and we drive on the correct side of the road just like them, importing Japanese-market models as an enthusiast simply makes a much greater deal of sense here than just about anywhere.
Recent changes in Australia’s import laws have seen a greater number of JDM models now legal here – the renowned FD2 Honda Civic Type R is one such example that many had been calling for – but if there’s one particular JDM car that’s proliferated our roads as of late, it’s the Toyota Crown.
To me, this makes a great deal of sense. Having driven the current fifteenth-generation Toyota Crown in Japan not long after it launched, I was incredibly impressed by it and pondered just how good a fit it would be in a post-Aussie-manufacturing Australia. After all, it’s a big, comfortable, rear-wheel drive sedan with a relaxed yet athletic vibe just like a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon. Plus, during its history as Toyota’s longest-running nameplate, the Crown was once locally-assembled and sold here from the 1960s through to the 1980s.
With the new model still being, well, new, it’ll take a while for prices to come down and those to start crossing the auction block for pennies on the dollar en route to heading Down Under, the Crowns people are importing en masse right now are from the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth generations, which called for me to hop back behind the wheel of one to see if an older Crown can endear itself to me as much on Australian roads as the new one did on the roads of Japan.
The car I was leant the keys to for a few days is a 2010 Toyota Crown Majesta, the more luxurious V8-powered model which sat alongside the sportier but lesser V6-powered Athlete. This particular example is a Type G with the optional F Package which no doubt sounds like gibberish, but in layman’s terms, that put it at the top of the range and sold for ¥7,900,000 when new – equivalent to around AU$103,000 at the time.
As soon as you slide yourself inside it, it becomes clear just why it was so expensive for something that looks much like a Camry to the average passer-by. Lined with soft Japanese leather upholstery and a forest’s worth of wood laminate trim, the plush feel is backed up by an equipment list that rivals that of European luxobarges today.
Adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, a fully-reclinable rear seat, a fridge, a powered rear blind and manually retractable ones on the doors, and a fold-down rear entertainment screen are all present, and it’s even got some gimmicks such as speakers mounted to the seat behind the driver’s shoulders. Were it not for the clearly dated gauge cluster and displays, you’d be forgiven for thinking it had come out yesterday.
Even still, it’s ahead of its time in one regard – when it launched in 2009, the thirteenth-gen Crown Majesta became the first car in the world to feature a rear centre airbag between the rear passengers as one of its eleven in total. Many manufacturers are only just adding front centre airbags today, so it’s quite a remarkable bit of safety foresight.
Of course, there are some compromises to make given this is an import. If you don’t speak Japanese, the infotainment system will be completely unintelligible to you. That’s hardly an issue, though, when the satellite navigation is convinced it’s been fitted to a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Given the Crown Majesta all about luxury, it’s been fitted with an engine that will be music to the ears of those who love a relaxed ride. A 4.6-litre naturally aspirated V8 paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, this 1UR-FSE engine produces a healthy 287kW at 6400rpm and 500Nm at 4100rpm.
Certainly, it’s got enough get-up-and-go when you’re in the right gear, as it feels fairly potent through the top half of the rev range. In true luxobarge fashion, it progressively piles on the speed well into lose-your-license territory without ever feeling like it’ll breaking a sweat.
Being in the right gear is important, though. An eight-speed auto may sound modern enough, but it’s clearly been tuned more for comfort and economy than for performance driving, even when in Sport mode. Its shifts are smooth rather than hurried, and if you leave it in Drive it’ll simply hunt for the tallest gear it can manage.
It’s quite remarkable just how quiet it is as well. Not only is the cabin very serene as you cruise along the open road, the engine is utterly silent. With a big V8 under the bonnet, you’d perhaps expect to hear something, but even when flooring it, it only sounds as though someone’s revving a V8 off in the distance. To the Commodore crowd, this will be perhaps the greatest turn-off, but as someone who can truly love and appreciate a car that’s relaxing to drive, it doesn’t get much more relaxing than this – especially as the power is still there when you do need it.
Fitted with height-adjustable air suspension, the cabin’s quietness is perfectly complimented by its imperturbable ride. Throw it at any bump and it’ll simply shrug it off, not allowing any unpleasantness to be transferred through to the car’s occupants. After all, with a full recliner in the back, you wouldn’t want to have your nap interrupted by any onomatopoeic thunks, would you?
Of course, this means it hardly offers the last word in driver feedback – it actually remains more composed in the corners than you’d expect, but the steering is light and relatively devoid of feel.
It’s all about contextualising it, though. This car was never really meant to be hustled up a backroad, and when it needs to be, it’s still perfectly adequate at handling the task at hand. What it’s all about is getting to your destination in pure comfort, and looking dignified as you arrive – and in that regard, it couldn’t be any more fit for purpose.
Of course, this isn’t why most people import these into Australia, though. No, they buy them to put big rims on them and drop them to the ground, which is exactly what was done to this car almost as soon as I’d handed back the keys. I’d be lying right through my teeth to you if I said I didn’t love how it looked with this done, though.
Regardless of intent, picking one of these up in Australia will cost you around $20,000 at this point in time – just one-fifth of its original value – while older examples will set you back even less. No wonder there’s so many of them around here now – however you’d see it fitting into your life, stock or not, I doubt you’d be able to get more car for less.
My thanks to Tom from Frightening McQueen Photography for lending me this vehicle to test for a few days.