The Crown Sport recently arrived as a new form of sport SUV. What changes in the carmaking genba enabled the development team to attempt something different?
The new Crown offers a lineup of four body variations. Following the Crossover, the Sport made its debut as a new form of sport SUV.
Yuji Honma, who led the development, says that he sought to create an “exhilarating car that wows customers when they see, drive, or ride in it.”
Toyota Times interviewed members of the model’s project team about the innovation and challenges undertaken in the name of making ever-better cars. For this article, we spoke with the chassis design engineers and test drivers who teamed up to produce the high-quality, thrillingly agile driving performance that gives the car its “wow” factor behind the wheel.
We also chatted with Yuji Honma, who oversaw the Crown Sport’s development work firsthand, about the changes in Toyota’s carmaking genba that he sensed during the process.
In search of the Sport’s driving feel
“We went through a lot of trial and error before settling on a direction for how the Crown Sport should drive.”
This is how Shinichiro Matsumiya of the MS Platform Design Division recalls the start of development. Matsumiya was involved in developing the Sport’s suspension and steering, as well as the rear-wheel steering system, Dynamic Rear Steering (DRS).
We repeatedly discussed and trialed ways to express that key “sport” aspect through the car’s driving, while retaining the comfort that has always been a core part of the Crown’s DNA.
We wanted this new form, which brings a sporty element to the Crown, to be about more than merely a sports-tuned stiff suspension.
What sort of sporty Crown would customers most like to see? We held countless discussions and drives with the chief engineer, the rest of the project team, and the Advanced Technical Skills Institute Division specialists, searching for the right direction, but we kept hitting dead ends.
Matsumiya and his colleagues proceeded using a preliminary development vehicle based on the Crown Crossover, with a shortened wheelbase.
Partnering with Matsumiya behind the wheel were three test drivers from the Vehicle Engineering Development Division: Masao Tsukada, Ryuhei Ito, and Aoi Yamazaki.
Tsukada is a Toyota veteran who joined the company in 1986, holds expert-level qualifications, and has also served as a driver training instructor. For their part, Ito and Yamazaki joined in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Both are still in their mid-20s, with this project being their first experience on the leading team for a new model development.
I sensed that Ito and Yamazaki were raring to dive right in, so I decided to entrust it to them. I supported them by providing guidance, but given the age gap, I felt like a father watching over them (laughs).
Since joining the company, I’ve played supporting roles in developing the Corolla Sport and Corolla Sedan, as well as the previous generation Crown, but the Crown Crossover and Sport were my first time to be involved as a main member. The fact that Mr. Tsukada entrusted us with this project was a great motivation.
I wasn’t always the best driver, and during the circuit training when I first joined the company, I couldn’t get over my fear. At times, I was on the verge of tears.
I thought the image of a woman speeding off in the driver’s seat fit the Crown Sport perfectly, so I brought a unique female perspective to testing.
The trio normally works under Group Leader Ikuo Tachi, who says he deliberately organized the team with two junior staff as main members.
While nurturing young talent was certainly part of it, I also felt that the sensibilities of their generation would surely be valuable in developing the Crown Sport as a new form of sport SUV.
Despite their youth, I knew that both were highly capable test drivers, and I looked on with great interest to see how the car would turn out.
Together with their fellow team members, the pair continued to discuss progress with Akihiro Sarada, then the chief engineer overseeing the entire Crown series, and Honma, who led the development on the ground, seeking to ensure comfort alongside the agility that would give the model its sportiness on the road.
However, a test drive session for the preliminary development vehicle, in which Toyota’s executives sought to confirm the team’s direction, slammed the brakes on proceedings.
The feedback we received from those who drove the car was that it didn’t have the quality feel of a Crown.
Looking back now, I think we were still overly focused on speed rather than the average driver.
We went on to have more discussions among those involved and concluded that a Crown must not compromise on ride quality and comfort. We set out to create a sporty car that’s not just fast, but also fun to drive.
At this point, our view that sporty is about more than stiff suspension coalesced into two keywords: “instinctive” and “fun.”