Meeting this 2000 Toyota Century was worth the wait

Toyota's otherworldly Century proves that luxury doesn't have to be loud and encrusted with shiny rocks
Toyota's otherworldly Century proves that luxury doesn't have to be loud and encrusted with shiny rocks

by Ben So and Nathan Leipsig | June 14, 2024


Growing up as a car nut in Hong Kong, I prided myself in knowing every car on the road, no matter how obscure. Being the kid who knew-it-all, at least when it came to cars, was kind of a big deal to me. So, you can imagine the shock when I found out the two best Japanese sedans I knew — the Lexus LS 400 and the Nissan President — were in fact not the best. That title goes to this 2000 Toyota Century.

In 1997, shortly after the handover of Hong Kong, I learned that the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong Special Special Administrative Region was offered a Toyota Century as our official state car. Back then, you simply would not find a Century outside of Japan; they were used exclusively by their own dignitaries and senior corporate executives. I remember how perplexed I was when I first saw the images. What on earth was so special about this incredibly boxy and boring-looking sedan?

Of course, having relied on print media and maybe a little bit of television to keep up in the 1990s, there was only so much I could look up. Even as the internet grew more popular through the early 2000s, the Century remained a well-kept secret to those outside of Japan. After I moved to Canada, I learned more about these cars as people in other countries began to import them — including Canada — but the mystique just kept growing. This supposedly ultra-luxury sedan is different in every way compared to the ultra-luxury sedans I was used to, and I knew I would need to experience one to understand.

Luckily, that opportunity arose when Alan Wu, the owner of this particular 2000 Toyota Century, graciously offered up his keys. This was a no-brainer; I was not about to pass up the chance to fill out a glaring blind-spot in the basis of my own identity. I invited Nathan along — not just because he knows his way around a camera, but he is also a fan of big, stately luxury cars.

Oh, and I needed a chauffeur so I could relax with my feet up in the back. I was not going to ask Alan to do that.

When we pulled up and met this slice of forbidden fruit that piqued my curiosity for decades, we were immediately drawn to its details. I was fascinated by just how many things you could adjust from the back seat, and how all of these buttons and controls can neatly disappear when you do not want them. Especially being accustomed to the supple leather, sparkly brightwork, and fancy gizmos of other luxury sedans, I knew there was going to be an obvious lack of showmanship to the Century, but I simply did not expect the sense of commanding confidence and deep relaxation.

I could feel my heart rate slow down upon settling in. We instinctively relaxed our pace and hushed our voices, and laid back on the Century’s big, wooly sofa for a good minute in silence before continuing on. This is very different from the kid-in-a-candy-store feeling upon entering a BMW 7 Series, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or even Rolls-Royce of that era. Nathan noted it was like entering a place of worship, where you just know to pipe down and show some respect without a tour guide telling you to do so.

The ride was, by design, uneventful. I reclined my seat in the back, put my feet up on the fold-down footrest made from the front passenger seat, closed the blinds, and I simply rested. I could not help but think about the kind of V.V.V.I.P. who sat in this very chair before me, and imagined what life would look like if I was them. This is exactly the kind of ride I would want, deprived of all stimulation for a reset, before needing to get going again. If that’s not the greatest form of indulgence, I don’t know what is.

Experiencing this 2000 Toyota Century up-close-and-personal reminded me that luxury does not need to be loud, encrusted with shiny rocks, and certainly does not need to be told to everyone. The Century showed me that luxury can be expressed in an understated and humble way, allowing you to garner respect rather than jealousy from others. The Century is the truest embodiment of Japanese culture that I have come to admire.


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About Ben So


Ben has been living and breathing car magazines, spec sheets, and touring auto shows for his entire life. As proud member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, he keeps a close eye on the latest-and-greatest in the auto industry. When he isn't geeking out about the coolest new cars, he's probably heading to the next hidden-gem ice cream shop with his three quickly growing kids.

Current Toys: '97 Integra Type R, '07 LS 460 RWD, '08 Corvette Z06, '18 Odyssey Touring