Since 1967, if you’re a bigshot in Japan and you want to be driven around in a manner that’s befitting your considerable station, you really only have one choice: a Toyota Century. Now, after a 21-year reign of the outgoing model, an all-new hand-crafted Century emerges, ready for your quiet, dignified worship. And it costs about as much as two Lexus LSes.
Toyota wants to sell about 50 of these a month, and if you have 19,600,000 yen (about $178,000, or two Lexus LSes) you can roll around in serious business style, all for a hell of a lot cheaper than a Rolls-Royce.
While the redesign of the Century is entirely new, you really can’t say it’s a radical redesign, because anything “radical” is so far below the Century’s status that it’s not even worth noticing. This is a very careful and respectful evolution of the classic, traditional large, rear-passenger-focused design.
If you look at the original Century from 1967, you can see just how much this tradition has been respected:
All of the major design motifs established at the start—proportions, grille and headlamp shape, the level and type or ornamentation—are still present.
It’s worth noting that the symbol of the Century is still prominent, and, even though Toyota’s own press release refers to it as a “phoenix,” it’s actually a fenghuang and while it looks a lot like the phoenix of Western mythology, it’s a different fictional bird. So don’t be fooled.
Oh, and those fenghuang badges are engraved over a six-week period by a master craftsman.
There’s a good bit of nuance in the design that I’m not even sure I, with a bachelor’s degree in art history, am able to properly appreciate. Here’s what Toyota’s press release has to say about a character line on the doors:
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. 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.
The paint and color carry a similar gravitas, with the color being described as “an eternal black, dubbed Kamui.” The press release goes on to say that
“The rich coating consists of seven layers, including a clear coating containing black paint to give the impression of a black lacquer finish. Sanding and polishing, based on traditional Japanese lacquer craftsmanship, give the car its deep luster and shine. 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.”
If you’re wondering what that process looks like, you’re in luck:
You get a lot for your $178,000 with a Century, and most of that seems to be in the rear seat. The rear seat is the real heart of this car, an opulent and dignified cocoon to ferry Very Important Persons all over the place. As such it’s been made a bit bigger thanks to an extra 2.5 inches of wheelbase and a raised ceiling and lowered floor.
That rear seat area also has massage features, independent climate controls, and even this awesome flip-down ottoman for some truly executive-level lounging:
Also, because this is first and foremost a Japanese luxury car, it of course has a full set of lacy curtains for all the windows:
While in the past Centuries have had V12 engines, this newest one is a hybrid V8, a 4.9-liter unit that makes about 375 horsepower on its own, and 376 lb-ft of torque. Add that to the 220 hp from and 221 lb-ft from the electric motor, and you get very adequate power for fast, stately travel; Toyota lists the combined horsepower at 425 hp.
Remember, they’re only planning to sell 50 of these a month, so get your ass to Japan to get yours before your 49 rich friends do.