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Third-generation Toyota Century continues 50 years of tradition

by Ben Hsu

The flagship sedan has seen only three completely new designs in half a century.

For only the third time in 50 years, a completely redesigned Toyota Century has gone on sale. The third-generation of Japan's most exclusive executive sedan went on sale Friday.

The original Toyota Century debuted in 1967 and was sold only to society's elite, such as high-ranking government officials and company executives. Even if a customer had the money, they couldn't just waltz into a Toyota dealer and buy one. Meant truly as a chauffeur-driven car, it's one of the last bastions of Japan's old school traditions in automotive form.

As such, the new Century continues that tradition. The design stays true to that of the 1967 original, eschewing the large grilles and busy sheetmetal of other Toyota models. Though it has been modernized, it's still instantly recognizable as a Century.

Of course, because of its stature, there are some touches that no other Toyota (or Lexus) can boast. The phoenix emblem, for example, takes a craftsman six weeks just to carve. The black paint is a complex, seven-layer paint job and uses a special clearcoat that has black pigment infused, so the finish resembles Japan's famous black lacquer. The paint is then triple-wet sanded by hand.

Inside, the rear seat features a massage function, power footrest that folds out from the seatback of the front seat, and privacy curtains. The rear ceiling is raised to provide occupants with more headroom, and the headliner is woven with a manji lattice pattern that looks plusher than many actual carpets.

The biggest change, however, can be found under the hood. Gone is the bespoke V12 that has powered the Century since 1997. The new version uses a 5.0-liter V8 hybrid like the one found in the Lexus LS.

The Century costs ¥19.6 million, which is about $178,000. Only 50 will be built each month. By comparison, Toyota sells a Corolla every 15 seconds.