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    Two Provocative Selections

    By Philip Ruth–

    “There’s something arresting about it,” said my pal after she exclaimed “Whoa!” at the sight of a Toyota Crown curbside. She has seen my parade of press cars. Still, she then said, “Wow.”

    “Is this … an Acura?” asked the 15th Street Chase Bank security guard when I parked. I replied it was a Toyota. I opened a door and gestured toward the dual-screen dashboard. Again, “Wow.”

    Car buyers spend big to attract this kind of attention. Compared to the appeal of the $50,648 Crown Limited, other press cars close to double its price have slipped through their weeks here like appliance-white rentals. 

    Additionally, this Crown got modern respect. At the Castro Chevron, I asked an Instagram-model-worthy woman in a luxury SUV mildly blocking the Crown’s reverse path to please mind my aim. She dipped her sunglasses and said, “That is very nice. Electric?” I replied, “Gas hybrid,” and she nodded approvingly and gave a wide berth.

    Rare for a new car these days, the Crown had something about it that elevated the people who saw it. My inner car critic saw the Crown as a built-up sedan with coexisting styling cues from Teslas and SUVs, but this Toyota demonstrably came across as so much more. 

    Visual wattage aside, the Crown could use steering that’s firmer and more communicative. Also, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine’s roar was out of place in such a large sedan, and the noise was particularly noted when accelerating from the tunnel to the newer stretch of the Bay Bridge. The experience was pretty views accompanied by grating audio. 

    So, the Toyota Crown isn’t perfect, and neither is the Mazda CX-5 we’re also discussing. The CX-5 meets the Crown’s compelling charisma with Mazda’s granular approach to building a roadgoing delight. 

    The $41,655 CX-5 is an old design, first sold in 2012 and here we still are with it after many updates and more than 3.5 million sold. For me, it remains one of the most engaging compact SUVs on the market. 

    We’re not here to disparage the Mazda CX-50 that debuted in 2021 alongside the CX-5. We won’t talk about the CX-50’s extra bulk, or its bone-stiff ride over SOMA’s rutted streets. This column focuses on the positives. 

    And so we look to the CX-5, also with a 2.5-liter four but adding a turbocharger. The result is a hoot to drive. The CX-5 is supple and nimble, and it is effortlessly flickable, as so few new cars are these days. 

    It’s likely that the CX-5’s age, in part, makes you feel like you’re interacting with a rewarding machine, rather than parsing out the Crown’s more programmed responses. I fished for feedback from the Crown, while the CX-5 was a puppy that was ready to play. 

    Conversely, the comely Crown conferred instant celebrity with a sort of pure energy from its onlookers. As we San Franciscans cope with our quality-of-life challenges, it was nice to have around this Crown’s four-wheeled beacon of good feeling. 

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant with an automotive staging service.

    Published on July 27, 2023