At a time when the Prius is still the world's number one hybrid and darling of the environmentalists everywhere, some might wonder what Toyota's playing at with this new Crown hybrid that's just going through the media mill here in Japan as we speak.

Crown blog1Prius and Lexus hybrids, OK, you can understand. But converting the Crown, Japan's long serving, conservative and rather stodgy executive saloon to earth-friendly hybrid power, is that really a plan?

The answer is, it is. Toyota has a lot of pride and history wrapped up in the Crown, which has evolved through 13 generations straight since its 1955 launch and still going strong. This latest 2008 Crown is actually not bad and light years ahead of the soft, chinzy, gadget-laden Crowns last sold in the UK back in the 1980s, which have now ironically become rather collectable.

This is not the first Crown hybrid. Toyota has done others before but this 2008 version, which gets its 3.5-litre V6 hybrid THS II system from the Lexus GS450h, is easily the best yet.

So why not just buy the Lexus instead? Because the Crown is cheaper, a known quantity and has form. Lexus is still struggling to get established here.