Curbside Classic: 1996 Toyota Crown (S150) Majesta V8 – Lexus De Ville

From an overseas perspective, high-end Japanese sedans of the ‘90s were fairly clear-cut. You had your Infiniti range, the Acura family and several offerings of Lexus, plus a couple of bit-player roles filled by Mazda and Mitsubishi. But on the JDM, not only did these models exist (albeit with different badges), but a great fauna of alternatives also thrived – your Laurels, Cimas, Chasers, Exivs and Emeraudes. This included more formal Town-Car-esque efforts, as well as sportier-looking pseudo hardtops. Today, we’ll inspect a mix of both: the Toyota Crown Majesta V8.

We’ve already seen the first iteration of the Crown Majesta, the S140. It was a rather rotund four-door, a tad bland and born during turbulent economic times that affected all Crown sales, so the new (sub-)nameplate did not have the most auspicious start. When time came for the second-gen S150, in mid-1995, Toyota had learned a few lessons. One was to cool it on the optional extras and model-specific gizmos; this even carried on while the S150 was in production.

Another one was to give the Majesta a better-defined visual identity, so that it could stand out from the standard Crowns at a glance. The designers’ solution lay in the vertical rear lights and, overall, a more sharply tailored suit, though the front end very much kept the Crown family look. I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a little hint of Cadillac in that hind quarter; had Toyota opted to export these back in the day, they might have dubbed it (with GM’s kind permission) the Lexus De Ville.

Of course, this analogy is tenuous at best for a wide variety of obvious reasons. But if the Lexus LS / Toyota Celsior was the Japanese S-Class (which is kinda was), this Majesta has no European equivalent. It’s much more Cadillac in spirit in terms of its pointy rear end, RWD/automatic/V8 drivetrain and position atop its maker’s range. However, the interior is not Cadillac at all…

Well, as we can see on this factory photo, the digital speedo does have a bit of an ‘80s Caddy feel to it. But the rest of the dash, the upholstery, the layout – it’s all very Toyota. But it’s also pretty damn good Toyota: nicely designed, very durable and comfortable. That’s more than can be said about the interiors of the average (and even the best) mid-’90s GM products. This higher-trim C-Type interior also features satnav – pretty sophisticated for the ‘90s.

Our particular car’s rear seat, despite a quarter century of service, looks barely broken in. The owner of this car has somehow resisted the urge to cover the whole interior in white doilies, a very common affliction in JDM luxury sedans, even to this day. The transmission hump looks huge on this car. Coupled with the lower roofline, I think it’s safe to say that this Majesta should be considered a four-seater. Definitely not taxi material, unlike lower-end Crowns

Under that hood lies the famous 1UZ 4-litre V8, providing here 265hp. Later S150s, after the 1997 mid-life facelift, received the variable valve timing (VVT-i) technology Toyota were introducing to many of their engines at the time and reached 280hp. Base model Majestas were available with a 225hp 3-litre straight-6. All these engines were mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission initially, changing to a 5-speed in 1997.

The only problem with the one I found, which was a lovely classic black and in very decent nick, was that rear shots were pretty much impossible. So here’s one courtesy of Toyota’s PR department. The front end has more of a Benz feel to it, but I maintain that the Cadillac overtones are pretty evident in this rear view. This particular shot also makes it look like the C-pillar almost has that infamous GM “formal” shape – which it doesn’t, this is just a perspective thing. The DeVille is in the details.

The question is: what would have happened had Toyota decided to slap a Lexus emblem on this Majesta and use it as the new LS 400 instead of the one they went with? After all, this would have enabled Toyota to avoid designing a new flagship from the ground up – just use the JDM one.

But they did not do that, because the Crown – even in Majesta spec – was just not up to the lofty task of topping any range, be it domestic or Lexus. But it didn’t go to waste either: the S150 Crown platform was used to devise the S160 Lexus GS, known in Japan as the Toyota Aristo. It’s a De Ville, not a Fleetwood.

Compared to the four-eyed blob that was the S160 Lexus GS / Aristo, the S150 Majesta has more substance and more commanding presence, at least in my view. And compared to their even more blob-like immediate predecessor, this generation of Majesta struck the right balance of curves and straight-cut lines. When the S170 generation came to replace it in late 1999, most of these traits (and the vertical taillights) were carried forward – a clear mark of this generation’s success. So, not remotely like the DeVille, then?


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Curbside Classic: 1993 Toyota Crown Majesta V8 (S140) – Try, Try, Again, by T87

Cohort Classic: 2001 Toyota Crown Majesta – The People’s Century, by Geraldo Solis