Payne: Toyota Crown Signia. Move over Lexus.

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 28, 2024

Charlevoix — Rather than offering one midsize crossover, Toyota is offering a shelf-full of products for different tastes: Highlander, Grand Highlander three-row, electric Bz4x, Land Cruiser off-roader.  If your taste leans to an upscale road tripper, the midsize Crown Signia fits like a favorite pair of jeans.

Roomy, good looking, durable. Slip into Signia and you forget you’re wearing it, so easy is it to drive. Well, until someone gives you a compliment.

“Wow, I like that Toyota,” said a gas station attendant in Charlevoix County as I entered his store after a long trip up north for the weekend. “It really looks nice.”

The 2025 Toyota Crown Signia is an AWD, mid-size SUV with style and good on-road manners. It’s part of an expansive Toyota SUV lineup that includes the Highlander, bZz4x EV and Land Cruiser.
Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Never heard that about the vanilla Venza that Signia replaces. Toyota has built its brand as a leader in reliability and value, but its reputation for style and technology has not come as easily. With the all-new 2024 Crown Signia, Toyota steps up its game to compete with midsize, two-row segment leaders like the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Passport, Chevy Blazer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Once the class geek, the 2024 North American Car of the Year Toyota Prius is now class prom queen, its fashionable wardrobe the halo for the brand’s model lineup. Its simple, timeless lines and slim fascia are mirrored in the Camry, Crown and Crown Signia models. Gone are the huge, sperm whale maws that looked like they could swallow an ocean of fish.

Indeed, I prefer it to the polarizing, look-at-me stylings of the Lexus RX, its luxury stablemate that costs a cool 5 grand more. The Lexus is the bell bottom pants from fashion week compared to the Signia jeans.

With a sippy 36 mpg, the 2025 Toyota Crown Signia can nealry make a round trip to Charlevoix without stopping for gas. Not had for a big ute. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The Toyota crossover is as easy to operate as it is on the eyes.

Cargo space is generous and dexterous. For my trip north, I needed the latter. I was carrying a Honda Motocompacto electric motorbike that folds up into, essentially, a 40-pound card table that has to be laid flat. I arranged a carry-on suitcase next to it, then laid flat one of the second-row seats to accommodate a long tennis bag as well.

With the second-row seats up, legroom is generous and can fit six-foot basketball players with room to spare. We were the easy choice to shuttle friends during the week on the way to large gatherings.

The 2025 Toyota Crown Signia is a comfortable place, though six-footers will find the roof a bit too shallow. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

“I have the best seat in the house,” marveled pal Kay from the backseat, lounging beneath the full-length panoramic roof and generous side windows. Though she noted the panoramic roof was an issue with my 6’5” giraffe neck stuffed into it. Anyone taller would have an issue.

Front-row seating was comfortable with lush leather appointments and trim that rivaled its Lexus peers.

I had no issue with the controls, a welcome relief as both Toyota and Lexus brands have strayed toward the unconventional in past models. Toyota has experimented with guitar-shaped consoles in the Highlander and mousepad infotainment controls in Lexus. Crown Signia, by contrast, is built for comfort. Dare I say, its ergonomics even rivaled Chevy, the segment standard.

The Toyota shares features with other automakers to provide a superb driving experience in this electronics-rich age. Like current Chevy models, Signia deploys dual digital screens set high on the dash. That made for easy operation as I cruised I-75 on a busy weekend — periodically adjusting Google Maps to check for traffic backups as well as choosing Spotify playlists.

Those latter features are courtesy of wireless Android Auto, a technology Toyota initially resisted but has nicely integrated into the midsize ute. Also nicely integrated are steering wheel-based volume and channel controls so that, as with Volkswagen products,  you can adjust your radio without your hands leaving the steering wheel

The 2025 Toyota Crown Signia comes standard with all-wheel-drive and hybrid power.
Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Toyota has evolved with monostable electronic shifters, and the Crown Signia has one of the best in the business. Compact, intuitive and shared with Lexus, it operates on a single vertical track between DRIVE and REVERSE so that I never had to look down at the shift pattern. Backing in and out of tight spaces was a cinch.

Unfortunately, Toyota does not translate this clever design into more console room like other makers. Signia offers compartments for phone charging and drink bottles, but little else.

Following Prius, Crown Signia’s drivetrain is optimized for fuel economy. Toyota, of course, was the darling of the Left back in 2003 for hybrid drivetrains but has become corporate non grata for refusing to follow the other lemmings over the all-electric cliff. You won’t see Leonardo DiCaprio driving up to the Oscars in a Crown Signia, but families will love its 475-mile range.

With a good adaptive cruise system, the 2025 Toyota Crown Signia is easy to drive long distances up north. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

I drove to Charlevoix and back with a single 5-minute stop at the gas pump to refuel — the Signia averaging 36 miles per gallon, which is not far off the 2003 Prius’s 41 mpg. It’s also a healthy 10-15 mpg north of class competitors.

Your penalty is a droning, continuously-variable transmission which Toyota has — absurdly — complemented with paddle shifters, which are destined to be the most underutilized paddles in autodom. I never touched them. Still, the powertrain was competent at propelling the big crossover about town, and its excellent, lightweight, 4,200-pound chassis responded well to my lashing through M-32’s twisties in northern Michigan.

At just 4,200-pounds, the 2025 Toyota Crown Signia is one of the lightest vehicles in class and quite tidy to drive in the twisties. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Toyota has also come a long way in the technology department. Short of ambitious self-drive systems from Tesla, GM and Ford, Hyundai’s Santa Fe has impressed with a lane-centering adaptive-cruise system that allows relaxed driving with minimal steering input on divided highways.

Crown Signia’s ACC is similarly competent, though it will nanny you every 15 seconds if you don’t have at least a finger on the wheel. More good ergonomics pepper the wheel. Want to set your speed? Just push the ACC button once. Want to return to your previous speed? Finger RESET.

It sure beats Lexus’s distracting ACC system, which is run through a head-up display. Indeed, as I cruised past a 2024 Lexus RX on I-75 on my way back to Detroit, I wondered if the luxe badge was nervous.

The 2025 Toyota Crown Signia swallows cargo with its rear seats down. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Similar infotainment system, shifter, hybrid drivetrain, interior appointments — plus better looks, better value.

If your blue jeans are comfortable, why pay the premium for a designer brand?

2025 Toyota Crown Signia

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, six- or seven-passenger SUV

Price: $44,585 base, including $1,095 destination fee ($49,085 Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder hybrid combined with nickel-metal hydride battery and electric motor

Transmission: Continuously variable

Power: 420 horsepower

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing capacity: 2,700 pounds

Weight: 4,210 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. 39 city/37 highway/38 combined

Report card

Highs: Prettier than Lexus; sippy on fuel

Lows: CVT drones; tight headroom for six-footers

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or @HenryEPayne.

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