At the time Toyota was developing the original Century, the most luxurious cars available in Japan were foreign made. Kiichiro Toyoda wanted to build a Japanese car that could go head-to-head with them, but Toyota’s experience in building passenger cars was in its infancy and the brand lacked the history-laden cachet of the marques it sought to challenge. “Heritage will come later. It would be forgery to pretend it exists, when it does not,” said Kenya Nakamura, the Century’s chief engineer. “We must create a completely new type of luxury car. The Achilles heel of luxury cars today is their inability to change.” This seems to be Toyota’s way of saying they need to change with the times.
The Century SUV is certainly a sign of the times. Automakers are slaughtering sedans like they’re spreading a disease. The SUV is now the dominant automotive form, like it or not. The good news is, the traditional Century sedan will still be sold alongside the Century SUV. The bad news is, it’s the future.
When naysayers doubted Toyota’s ability to build a world-class luxury car in 1967, Toyota decided to build a new type of flagship sedan, the likes of which had never existed before. It embraced Japanese traditions and sensibilities, embodying subtlety and tranquility rather than ostentatiousness. Toyota says that the Century SUV is, likewise, a new type of luxury car, and by quoting Nakamura during the unveiling it seems they’re hinting that they won’t be held back by the Achilles heel of 50-plus years of historical convention.
The Century SUV claims to be the quietest car Toyota has ever made. Toyota says the luggage compartment is a “separate structure” with a divider between it and the cabin for utmost outside noise isolation. The sub-structure also improves torsional rigidity for the monocoque.
From the outside, the Century SUV has several nods to the craftsmanship of the Century sedan. The body lines use a kichomen chamfering technique found on Heian-period room partition posts. The paint is mirror-polished by humans and a hand-carved phoenix emblem resides in the grille. The meeting of the A pillar with the character line is said to have been formed by a combination of press and laser processing, and was inspired by the shinogi-suji line that runs between the blade and the ridge of Mikazuki Munechika, one of the Five Great Swords of Japan.
Inside, the seats are stitched with a traditional Japanese embroidery technique called suganui used to give kimonos a sense of depth. Panels of wood on the dash and door panels use real sapele mahogany like the kind found in grand pianos, with straight grain. Rear passengers are treated to reclining seats and likely a whole host of other amenities Toyota has yet to disclose.
The details are fine and dandy, but when you take a step back and look at the car as a whole, it lacks the gravitas of the Century sedan. This is especially from the side view, where the car looks rather stubby.
That might be because the Century SUV is built atop an existing platform, one that is likely shared with the Toyota Highlander. It’s powered by a transversely-mounted 2GR-FXS 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a plug-in hybrid system, similar to the new Lexus TX. In that application it makes 406 horsepower, but Toyota didn’t say what the Century SUV’s output would be. It one-ups its platform mates by offering four-wheel-steering in addition to AWD.
Toyota expects to build just 30 Century SUVs a month. They’ll start at ¥25,000,000 ($170,000 USD), which is significantly more than a Century sedan despite initial predictions. The latter starts at ¥20,080,000 ($136,400), a relative steal.
The Century SUV comes in three colors — white, gray, and black, each of which is matched with a silver lower half. Four additional colors — solid gray, solid black, black-on-gray two-tone, and red over silver — are available at additional cost in the Kiwami Line. The interior can be had in black, ivory, or tan. Customers also get to choose from two types of rear door, a traditional one with a wide 75-degree opening, or a power sliding door like a minivan’s.
Toyota says that in the future customers will be able to customize the paint, interior materials, and seat configuration to fashion bespoke creations. Toyota showed a GRMN version to match Akio Toyoda’s Century sedan, and the presentation even included a rendering of a convertible variant.
Toyota has called the Century sedan the pride of not only Toyota, but the pride of Japan. The original was unlike other luxury cars because constraints prevented Toyota from building a luxury car in the mold of the Europeans. Today, Toyota is one of the biggest carmakers in the world and has the engineering, manufacturing, and financial prowess to build anything it wants. Ironically, the Century SUV doesn’t seem all that unique, but perhaps we’ll feel differently once we see these prowling the streets of Japan alongside its sedan forebears.
Images courtesy of Toyota