For decades, it has been the preferred chariot of high-ranking government officials, captains of industry, and bosses in some of the shadier corners of Japanese society. The essence of the Toyota Century is tradition, and as evidence the latest redesign is only the third in the model’s 50-year history. Only 50 will be sold each month, and it goes on sale today.
We covered what little Toyota revealed about the new Century when it was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last October. Now, Toyota has provided a few more details about its flagship sedan, starting with the design.
The Century maintains an incredibly old school design, one that modernizes the 50-year-old shape but is still instantly recognizable. According to Toyota, it “infuses tradition and dignity.” While other Toyota and Lexus models have taken to alien-mouth grilles and swooping sheetmetal flourishes, the Century carries on unperturbed by trend.
Since large chrome bumpers are passé, the Century references that part of the previous design with a 6-inch-tall strip of chrome tracing its jawline and extending around base of the body. The headlights, taillights, wheels, and overall form are evolutions of previous generations as well.
“The outline reflects the Japanese aesthetic of passive symmetry,” says Toyota. “The silhouette is easily recognizable as a chauffeur model. By straightening the slope of the C pillar, the design focus of the cabin shifts to the rear, heightening the importance of the rear in appearance.”
If you’ve visited Japanese castles, some of the design elements may seem familiar to you. Unlike European houses of royalty there’s a definite “less is more” theme to their designs, where a simple line can represent a lot. As such, designers have woven that ancient concept into the Century’s flanks.
“The side design achieves a beautiful curvature to the doors enhanced by a surface treatment used in Heian period (794-1185 C.E.) room partitions on the character line of the shoulder portion,” Toyota explains. “Two distinguishing lines have been polished at an angle with only a slim space between them so that they appear as a single, prominent line, lending the body an air of dignity and excellence.”
As with many aspects of Japanese craftsmanship, there are painstaking details that casual observers may not notice. The Century’s phoenix emblem, inspired by the Kinkaku temple in Kyoto, is hand-carved by a master craftsman over a six-week period. A new “infinite loop crown pattern,” a traditional Japanese design symbolizing “harmony, prosperity, and flourishing posterity” is embedded in the grille.
The Century comes in four colors, including silver, blue, and burgundy, but we all know the proper color is black. The newest iteration of that is what Toyota calls an “eternal black” named Kamui. Though it appears as simply black to the untrained eye, it’s actually a seven-stage paint job, and even the clearcoat contains actual black pigment “to give the impression of a black lacquer finish.” Not even the finest Lexus gets a paint treatment like this.
Toyota helpfully released an accompanying video of craftsmen finishing the paint by hand. “Sanding and polishing, based on traditional Japanese lacquer craftsmanship, give the car its deep luster and shine,” Toyota says. “A wet sanding technique is carried out three times to smooth out the minute unevenness. The body then receives a mirror finish to ensure there is not the slightest cloudiness or dullness in color.”
The eye for detail continues to the inside. The wheelbase was extended by 65mm (2.5 inches) and Toyota notes that the height difference between the scuff plate and floor was reduced by 15mm (0.6 inches). This was done not only to ease entry and exit, but also — as the company’s statement was keen to point out — so that you (or your chauffeur, more likely) can lay the rear floor mats completely flat.
Rich wood trim can be found throughout, and a quilted manji lattice pattern is woven into the headliner. Naturally, it looks plusher than the actual carpets in regular cars. The ceiling itself is double-tiered, higher in the back where the VIPs are seated.
However, not all rear seats are created equal. The most important passenger is expected to occupy the left rear seat, so the chauffeur’s pesky existence doesn’t encroach on his or her legroom. That’s why only the left rear seat has a built-in massage function. Plus, assuming the front passenger seat is empty, a power folding footrest emerges from the seat back to let the boss stretch his or her legs out.
The rear seat also offers an 11.6-inch entertainment system with a 12-channel audio amp and 20 speakers. The climate and audio, as well as massage and privacy curtain functions, are controlled by a 7-inch touchscreen located in the rear center armrest.
Of course, the biggest change Toyota made to the new Century can be found under the hood. Based on JNC‘s highly scientific observations, 90 percent of all Century operation consists of idling next to a downtown tower of concrete and glass waiting for its rear-seat occupants to arrive. So, perhaps it makes sense to ditch the bespoke 5.0-liter V12 that has been in service since 1997 and return to a V8 setup like the first-gen. This time around it gets a hybrid system, basically the one found in the Lexus LS, to save even more fuel.
Toyota goes through great lengths to point out that engineers have tuned the Century’s suspension arms, mounts, and bushings with precision and care, and even developed specialized tires — the kind of stuff you’d typically see in the press release for a new sports car. However, none of it is in the service of performance. Every ounce of tuning effort goes towards optimizing one thing: ride comfort.
Body rigidity and NVH have been improved using modern techniques such as structural adhesives, and to top it all off, there’s an electronically controlled air suspension with adaptive dampers. Over Japan’s already glass-smooth roads, the Century should positively glide.
Prices start at ¥19.6 million, which translates to roughly $178,000 USD. It’s by far the most expensive Toyota passenger car sold. There are a lot of other millionaire sedans you can buy, for greater sums of money, with bigger grilles, more horsepower, or in gaudier colors. That is not the point of the Century.
The Century is the ultimate expression of old school Japan — one of smoke-filled boardrooms and dim parlors, one of dinners painstakingly prepared and served in dozens of tiny bowls and spanning three hours, one of craftsmen making the same pottery or textile or wooden cabinets over a lifetime — embodied in automotive form.
Our sources at Toyota say that at one point the powers that be were considering canceling the Century after the end of the second generation. However, the elite members of Japan’s society demanded that it continue. So, Toyota complied by designing a third generation from the ground up, all to sell 50 units a month, or roughly the number of Corollas purchased every 12.5 minutes. That, dear readers, is the kind of ceremony and tradition the Century symbolizes, and it truly has no equal in the automotive kingdom.
Some images courtesy of Toyota.