The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 3

The Car I Was Not Supposed To Have

So I told you at the end of our previous post on the Best Toyota Luxury Cars to import from Japan here how one day the design team leader for my 1997 S150 series, fender mirror, Crown came over to me in the company parking lot one day and asked to look inside my car. He looked closely at the dash, and under the dash, at the rear door inner panels, and then moved to the outside of the car where he checked especially under the wheel wells and looked for a while at the suspension.

His conclusion was:

“You’re not supposed to have this car. Where did you get it?”
My brilliant reply was: “Huh?”

A Lesson from a Professor of Car Design

“Who sold it to you?”
“A used car dealer in Shizuoka City. I don’t get it. Why?”
And then he gave me a nice little lesson:
“Look at the steering wheel. What do you see?”
“A steering wheel.” I was getting more and more brilliant.


“And nothing.”
“Exactly. No place for an airbag in it, is there? And no passenger side airbag either, right?”


More than once he’d been a teacher in the company’s technical college and I think that he liked teaching more than he ever realized, but I just wasn’t making any connections. Then he pointed to the rear doors.

“And the rear door locks?”
“They’re manual.”
“And the rear door windows?”
“There’re manual, too.”
“Very good. Now you see it.”
“Huh?” My vocabulary seemed to be getting more and more shrunken as my incomprehension grew.
“Look, you’ve got power locks and power windows on the front doors, but a manual system on the rear doors. This is a Crown, a luxury car. Normally such cars come pretty well loaded, no? But a Crown with unpowered rear doors locks and windows? What does that tell you?”

The Light Dawns

Then it clicked and I remembered recently having given a ride to the train station to a sports car friend of mine, the guy who spent his 30-year long service bonus from the company on a brand new Lotus Elise R. (You’ll find his car, and my Miata, here in our Japan Car Direct blog post about buying a good used sports car in winter…which is….well….now, guys.) We were a bit late going down the twisty back road to the station and I piled on a bit of speed. My buddy commented: “This car handles really well!”

“All Toyota Crowns handle decently,” I answered
“Yeah….but this one just seems really good.”

And then I remembered the time that I was driving my family to Haneda airport: One overweight mother-in-law, one overweight father-in-law, one small sister-in-law, one small wife, and multiple sets of excess luggage (which a Toyota Crown swallows with ease, however). We were certainly well loaded and when, at about 110kph, the mother-in-law blurted out: “Take this exit!” and I started the maneuver, the father-in-law shouted: “No! Not this one! It’s the next.” I start to correct back into our lane. Now the sister-in-law: “Yes, it’s this one.” She’s smarter than both the parents in law put together, but it doesn’t help because, in all the dithering, some dooffus in a Porsche had come up fast on my left, not bothering to slow to take the exit (911s don’t need to slow down to take turns), and the truck now coming on my right is denying me the lane I just left and there’s only the concrete barrier ahead as an option. That, and a hard, but controlled, foot on the brakes…….

That S150 Toyota Crown seemed to crouch down like a cat, lowered his weight into the deceleration, then, off the brake pedal and hard on the accelerator, sharp to the left again now and onto the exit ramp to safety, breathing the Porsche’s exhaust. The Crown acted like it does that all the time. No need to even break sweat.

“It tells me that this is a cop car.” (And, driving it, I’m a cool guy like the detectives in the movies!)


“That’s right. I was the design manager for the Toyota police Crown project for the S150 series Crowns. When the car goes into police service, the manual lock and manual windows on the rear doors are to be replaced by security locks and windows slaved to the officers’ controls up front. And, for various reasons, no airbags and no ABS. And we altered the suspension a bit, too: damper stiffness, spring rates, nothing too much. We just sacrificed a bit of ride comfort for better cornering in the most extreme situations.

“I’m curious, though, do you know who the previous owner was?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “some bank in Nihonbashi.”


He smiled wryly: “Yes, I guess a bank might have certain….needs, shall we say.”
Having finally started to work, my brain now was ticking along nicely and I wanted to impress the “professor.” I said,
“That explains the nice seats, doesn’t it?”
“Right again. These are normal Toyota Crown seats, not patrol car seats.”


“Bankers,” I observed.
“Bankers,” he replied. “Bankers like their pleasures.”
“And so do I, that’s why I’m driving a Crown.” And I asked him: “But what about the engine on this car?”
“The engine? No, that was standard. The 1G in basic trim is pretty decent for a patrol car.”


And it was pretty decent for my Toyota Crown, too, and for the other 1G Crowns I’ve driven or been a passenger in; and while their suspensions have been more compliant and relaxing than my “Cop Crown,” I’ve always found the handling (response, cornering, and road holding) to be excellent in every Crown. No exceptions.

(If you’re interested, you’ll find a photo collection of every model of the Toyota Crown, from the S130 to the S210 series, ever used in police service in Japan here.)

The Toyota Crown Line Up Continues

After my S150 series of Crowns come the last two, the S170 and S180, that we’ll look at in this series on the best Toyota Luxury cars to import from Japan. I’m talking Crowns only now, not the Crown Majesta, like this one here that we recently exported from Japan. We’ll be looking at that muscular luxury car, too, in our next post. And we’ll also look at the Crown Athlete (here’s one we recently shipped), which deserves special consideration from guys looking for good second hand luxury muscle cars and heavy, battle cruiser, drift cars from Japan.

S170 and S180 Series

The S170 Series Crown (in production from 1999 to 2007) stands very much between the sort of classic 1990s best value, old-school sedans, and the new modern ideas of what a luxury car should be. So you’ll find that, in terms of looks, the S170, while keeping somewhat with the design cues of ’90s Toyota Crowns, is getting bigger and beefier and showing a more aerodynamic, backward tilting nose and sloped C-pillars.



The trunk is bigger, too,


and that’s always nice to have, but the S130 to S150 had big boots, too. (It’s amazing what I could stuff into the boot of my Crown!) In terms of engines, our ’90s stalwarts: the 1G-FE, 1JZ-GE, and 2JZ-GE straight sixes are still there.

The Last Hurrah of the 1G

In its final iteration, my beloved 1G gets Toyota’s VVT-i system (Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence), and compression is bumped up to 10:1. These improvements give the 1G a nice increase in power to 160ps and in torque to 20.4kg/m. Gas mileage also goes up a bit. (But don’t worry, the 1G is still designed to run on regular — cheaper! — gas.) We talked about the 1G in our earlier posts on the best Toyota luxury cars for export from Japan here, and here.

These VVT-i 1Gs can easily be recognized by the black engine cover.


The JZ Engines “Go Modern”

Of course, the 1JZ and 2JZ now benefit from VVT-i and they and are joined by the 1JZ-FSE and 2JZ-FSE. With these latter two engines the design target was improved fuel economy and they sport a higher compression ratio (11:1 in the 1JZ and 11.3 in the 2JZ), a redesigned cylinder head, variable valve timing, of course, aaaaaaaand direct injection.

Now I’m not so sure myself about direct injection on a petrol engine. As readers of this Japan Car Direct Blog will know, I’m a bit of an Old School (stick in the mud?) guy when it comes to cars and I don’t think that every modern design or engineering change is necessarily for the best, which is one reason I am more sure about selling good, older, Japanese used cars for export: I trust them more than some of the more modern iron. But we’ll leave my personal views out of it for now……..But have you guys seen the fuel line pressures that direct injection systems run at? And what about the problem of deposit build up that some people found with Mitsubishi’s direct injection on the Pajero IO?

O.K., O.K., I’ll stop.

Now what about the 1UZ-FE, the V8? Actually, with the end of the S130 Series Crowns, that engine went over into the Majesta type of Crowns, which, as I said, we’ll be looking at later. (Excellent cars by the way and I’ve got to tell you a funny story about a lady I know who had a Crown Majesta for years and years, but later.)

The 1UZ-FE is, of course, more famous for being the power behind the Lexus LS400 / Toyota Celsior. Click here to see a nice example of one which we recently exported to America under the 25 year-old used car easy import rules.) It’s a fact that many people interested in importing a used Lexus LS400 from Japan don’t know that the engine and transmission in the V8 Crown Majesta is the same as in the LS400. (Cheap luxury power, anyone?)


The S180 series of Toyota Crown is getting thoroughly modern and has lots of bells and whistles. It is bigger again and, with its rearward raked C-pillars and sloping rear window, shares design cues with contemporary European luxury sedans like Mercedes Benz.



Now when we look at S170 and S180 Series Crowns as good used luxury cars to export from Japan today (November 2020 at the time of writing), we see lots of good cars, in good condition, clean and well maintained, at amazingly good prices. And we’re even seeing some tastefully sport-modded cars, too.


These cars are old enough for easy import to the UK or to Canada, but not old enough yet for easy import to the USA or Australia. (Myself, I’d go for the older straight-six Crowns anyway for reliability and simplicity, but, yes, I’m the Stick in the Mud, Old School Block Head, I know.)

So when it comes to the Toyota Crowns that are the best cars to export now from Japan, we’ve looked in some detail at the most promising in terms of “a good deal on a used car.” Your S120 to S180 Crowns, from roughly 1985 to 2005 are in the sweet spot right now and if you get in touch with us here at Japan Car Direct we’ll help you find and import the luxury Crown that is right for you.



Till then, keep feeding your dreams of a nice used luxury car from Japan because those dreams are going to come true.

The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 2
The Best Toyota Luxury Cars, Part 4

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