Tokyo 2017: The Big, Luxurious Star of Imperial Importance

Photos courtesy of the Toyota Motor Corporation

The Tokyo Motor Show used to be the hub for all things Japanese – including new production models. It seems that this recent edition of Japan's key auto show focused on concepts and technology than a new product.

There was one new product that actually sparked a lot of interest. Just one. And, it's a big one.

In Japan, the Toyota Century was the limousine of choice for the Imperial Household and the highest personage in the country's society – in government and in business. The front-engine, rear-drive sedan was made for Japanese consumption only, though some seeped their way into other countries.

The Century is indeed a special car. Made mostly by hand at a special plant since 1967, it is based on the domestic Crown model with a specific mission in mind. Earlier models had V8 power, except for the last generation's V12 engine. It was never offered with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive nor catered to a global audience beyond Japan and the few places where the Century has shown up.

At the Tokyo Motor Show, a new Toyota Century was introduced. The global headlines had the concept of its vaunted flagship sedan equalling the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Its importance in its domestic market equals to the vaunted limousine of British (and German) origin. It is also something beyond what Cadillac can do these days.

From one look, the body seems evolutionary from even the first Century limousines. This is the best approach given its status in Japanese culture. Rolls-Royce has been evolutionary in some aspects, even after its integration into the BMW Group. At least, one can take comfort that the Century's design is not derived from any Lexus product. Not that its a bad thing, but it provides the space for Toyota to fulfill the Century's mission as a stand-alone vehicle.

The Century rides on a longer wheelbase than before – 122 inches long. This is shorter than the Bentley Mulsanne and Rolls-Royce Ghost. Overall length is shy of two inches from the Ghost, yet nine inches shorter than the Mulsanne. This should give you some perspective as to the scale of the Century in comparison to itsAnglo-Teutonic "equals."

The other big news is under the hood. Instead of carrying over the V12 engine, the Century is now powered by a V8 Hybrid driveline. This was chosen to improve fuel consumption rather than pure performance. However, the driveline was originally offered in the outgoing generation Lexus LS 600h. The Century uses as Nickel-hydride battery instead of a Lithium-ion one for powering the electric motor.

The vehicle shown at the Tokyo Motor Show was upholstered in wool with lace-like curtains around the rear compartment. This is considered bespoke in Japanese culture, unlike our use of leather and other materials that could be considered somewhat vulgar by the highest levels of society in that country. Then again, that kind of luxury might be something we Westerners (plus Chinese and Middle Eastern limousine consumers) could consider utilizing.

Some elements are seen in recent limousines – including Bentley, Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz – are found in the Century's rear quarters. Rear passengers have tray tables where they can work and screens for infotainment, powered by a touchscreen tablet device set in the wide center console. Passengers also have control of audio, climate and seat adjustments. Toyota states that rear seat passengers will enjoy a taller rear compartment compared to previous Century generations.

The driver has an improved cockpit, though it remains within traditional standards to the Century. This again points to the evolutionary tract as seen on Rolls-Royce models where it combines traditional, modern and futuristic elements into the cockpit. A driver of a 1967 Century would be at home behind the wheel of the third-generation Century.

Toyota's Safety Sense P has been integrated into the new Century for better active safety protection. It is an absolute requirement for today's limousines to be safe and secure for all occupants on board. No additional new technology has been added beyond what was on the shelf as available by Toyota.

On some of the videos and articles, pricing was speculated at over 12 million Yen – or, north of $105,000. That is about how much a loaded Lexus LC 500 will cost. It is also hundreds of thousands of dollars less than its Anglo-Teutonic rivals.

The new Toyota Century may never cross the Pacific or traverse through the Suez Canal. It could after on the used “gray market” (remember that term?) at the ripe age of 25 years old. But, looking at it makes us wonder why Toyota would achieve such a superb vehicle for a few choice customers back in Japan? Ask Toyota why they make a full-sized pickup in Texas for North American consumption or continue to sell the troop carrier version of the Land Cruiser in Australia and African markets.

There is a simple logical reason why: Because Toyota can.

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