There’s an old Japanese proverb which, when roughly translated by Google Translate, says: “He who rises to the top will enjoy the privileges of the Century.” OK, so that’s not strictly true, but the fact remains, if you’re a top dog in Japan, the chances are you’ll be chauffeured in a Toyota Century.
All of which means the latest turn of the Century – only the third new model in a 50-year lifespan – is kind of a big deal in Japan. Within the boardrooms of Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, CEOs will be pondering their next Century, while chauffeurs will be leafing through the weighty owner’s manual, keen to gen-up on Toyota’s flagship.
The new, Japan-only Toyota Century is the king of understatement.
— ToyotaGB (@ToyotaGB) June 22, 2018
Yes, the 2018 Toyota Century is new, but the badge remains refreshingly old-money, decidedly old-school and maybe even a little old-fashioned. Where others shout, the Century whispers. Influencers and over-indulged celebrities be damned: the Century pre-dates hashtags, ‘likes’ and endorsements.
The Toyota Century has to move with the times, of course, which is why the new car features the latest Safety Sense technology, a seven-inch touchpad in the centre armrest and a rear entertainment system with an 11.3-inch monitor. Yes, Toyota calls it a monitor, not a screen.
Even the engine has moved with the times. It’s a 5.0-litre V8, but mated to an electric motor to deliver up to 38.4mpg on a combined cycle. We have the performance data to hand, but it would be too vulgar to discuss figures in the context of Toyota’s emperor.
Century began in 1967
A lot is resting on its understated and elegant shoulders. The first Century replaced the Crown Eight in 1967, its name chosen in honour of the 100th birthday of company founder Sakichi Toyoda.
It was the first Japanese car to ride on air suspension and the first to be designed with chauffeuring in mind. The V8 engine was mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, although a four-speed manual was available until the 1970s, by which time Japanese CEOs had grown tired of their drivers disturbing the sense of serenity with another botched gear change.
The Century developed over time, with Toyota adding automatic climate control, self-levelling suspension, massaging seats and the world’s first optical fibre multiplex comms system. But while the opulence increased, the Century remained understated and elegant.
An extended wheelbase version arrived in 1989 before the second Century was unveiled in 1997. This was the first comprehensive overhaul in 30 years, with Toyota marking the occasion with a complete redesign. The result was a longer and taller car, with an increased wheelbase adding more space for rear-seat passengers.
Highlights included Skyhook air suspension and, in a first for the Japanese car industry, a 5.0-litre V12 engine. Needless to say, the accommodation was about as lavish and relaxing as the Tokyo Suite at the Park Hyatt. The one advantage of the Century: if you didn’t like the view out of the window, the chauffeur would find a more desirable vista.
The new Century
Now, there’s a new Century. You know about the cutting-edge safety tech and the hybrid system, but it’s the traditional aspects of the build that are most likely to appeal to Japan’s most discerning customers.
Take the Phoenix emblem, which is handcrafted from billet alloy and takes six weeks to complete. Or the rear seats, which are finished in wool fabric to allow passengers to sink silently in first-class comfort. You have to wonder why the West is so obsessed with leather when rear seats look this comfortable.
It’s a similar story with the windows. Not for Japanese VIPs the vulgarity of paparazzi-repelling tinted windows. Instead, privacy is assured courtesy of lace net curtains. How very quaint. How very desirable.
Toyota has reduced the height between the scuff plate and floor to ensure the mats lie perfectly, while easing the process of getting in and out. That’s the level of attention to detail you’d expect from a car costing the equivalent of £135,000.
Oh, did we fail to mention the price? For that, you could build a horrendously OTT S-Class or Range Rover, or take your pick from any number of supercars or track toys. But if they hold more appeal, you’re probably missing the point of the Toyota Century.
There will be no shortage of takers in Japan, with Toyota predicting sales of up to 50 a month for its halo product. The way the industry is moving, and given the flagship’s history of lengthy production runs, this could the last Century of its kind. Enjoy it while you still can.
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