Everyone knows about the Toyota Century. Or at least everyone with a passing interest in the wonderful oasis of odd that is the JDM. The first Century was introduced back in 1967, launched to mark the centenary of the birth of Toyota’s founder, Sakichi Toyoda. The car was intended to encapsulate both Japanese tradition and innovation, and marked the firm’s arrival in the luxury segment. To say it poured its heart into the project is something of an understatement; the model’s fastidious attention to detail and timeworn sense of elegance is legendary, to the extent that Toyota very infrequently tampers with the recipe.
Until now that is. ‘A new chauffeur-driven vehicle to meet the demands of a new age’ is how Toyota describes the first-ever second variant of the hallowed nameplate, a hulking plug-in hybrid SUV. At the unveiling, Simon Humphries, a man credited with about 18 jobs including Senior General Manager of Design, credited the ‘completely new direction’ to Akio Toyoda, who felt that the famously stoic saloon needed to move with the times. The result is claimed to still be ‘very much a Century’ and worthy of standing with the saloon at the apex of Toyota’s lineup.
So what does a Japanese statesman get? Well, you can take the design in for yourself. Like its namesake, ‘stately grandeur’ is what its makers were aiming for - and that’s a famously tough nut to crack. Especially when applied to an SUV (see the Rolls-Royce Cullinan for evidence). It’s fair to say the original Century was something to be appreciated rather than adored when it came to exterior styling; the new model probably requires even more allowances for the Japanese way of doing things, but rest assured those vertical lines and enormous rear doors - that open the conventional way as standard, but to a wider 75-degree angle - are no mistake. As before, the new Century is about supreme usability as much as anything.
Accordingly, while the SUV shape is obviously intended to appeal to a world transfixed by luxury SUVs, it is the cavernous interior that is meant to mark the taller Century out from the saloon. Toyota wants its powerfully built directors to step into an oasis of calm, whether its via ease of access - the car comes with automatically retractable ‘power steps’ and easy-to-grab C pillar grips, not to mention what looks like the option of sliding rear doors - or simply by getting comfy on the fully reclinable seats behind electrochromatic glass. Apparently no effort has been spared in creating a ‘cocoon-like environment’ and that includes an audio system that ‘taps into Japan's experience in creating some of the world's finest musical instruments’.
Upfront, the dashboard appears somewhat less thrilling, although that’s by-the-by in a Century - let the chauffeur eat cake etc. At any rate, driving the new model ought to be a doddle: Toyota has invested in a newly developed 3.5-litre V6 plug-in hybrid drivetrain to power a car that weighs 200kg more than the saloon. No word on output for now, but a 'powerful and exhilarating' drive is promised. While the saloon is powered by a 5.0-litre V8 (albeit hybridised in the current version) the manufacturer insists that the familiar ‘BEV for everyday use and as an HEV for long-distance travel’ advantages of its new configuration is ideal for a chauffeur-driven vehicle.
Certainly, it’s likely to aid rolling refinement, and - as ever - that’s a core target for the Century. Not only does the car boast four-wheel steering and all-wheel drive, it also gets a ‘Rear Comfort’ mode that specifically targets the contentment of those in the back (to the extent that it assists braking control to avoid any nasty jolts when coming to a halt). Additionally, Toyota claims to developed a new ‘luggage compartment separate structure’ that includes noise-reducing clear laminated glass on the cabin side to achieve ‘astounding quietness’. If that’s true, expect the firm to easily achieve its 30-units-per-month sales target in Japan, even with a starting price of 25,000,000 yen (around £135k).
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