The 2000 Toyota Century quietly casts a spell on you

Toyota's stately and serene Century carries the solidity of a stone tomb that’s stood for thousands of years
Toyota's stately and serene Century carries the solidity of a stone tomb that’s stood for thousands of years

by Nathan Leipsig | June 14, 2024


It’s very easy to forget this, but Toyota used to be pretty weird. It wasn’t even that long ago, either. Here in Canada, they’ve built their reputation on cars that are extremely conservative, beige both in body and spirit. They’ve always been happy to let their competitors make cars that were more interesting, more modern, more innovative, all in the pursuit of making cars their own way, with proven technology and unimpeachable reliability.

Toyota in Japan is not the same. Where we’ve come to associate the brand with lovably dated trucks and spiritually beige cars, Toyota has always been quite a bit more daring on their native soil. They partnered with Yamaha in the 1960s to make one of the most exotic sports cars in the world, they made an affordable, mid-engined sports car from the 1980s through to the 2000s, and in the early 1990s, happily sold you an economy car with a five-valve head design and individual throttle bodies. But one of their most fascinating endeavors is when they channelled their efforts towards a luxury car, which I can honestly say is one of the finest vehicles I have ever encountered. That car is this 2000 Toyota Century.

The Century debuted in 1967, commemorating Sakichi Toyoda’s 100th birthday. Then, cars in Japan took a lot of influence from global designs, but they were all small cars with humble engines to reflect the small and humble nation they came from. The Century was something completely different: it was large, luxurious, and powered by one of the nation’s first-ever V8 engines. Its stately style and excellent road manners quickly made it the choice chariot of presidents of both politics and production. There were no Toyota emblems on the car, instead making do with a gold phoenix, representing the Imperial House of Japan. You did not sit in the back of a Century without wielding serious power.

The Century soldiered on, receiving only minor tweaks through it’s thirty-year production span before Toyota finally pulled the curtain off its successor. Being that it was the de-facto car of dignitaries and titans of industry in one of the most conservative cultures in the world, it’s no surprise Toyota kept the Century going for as long as they did, making sure it’s follow up was a suitable successor for the face of its country’s best and brightest. The second-generation Century was unveiled in 1997, and in true Toyota fashion, it didn’t look all that different from the original from three decades earlier. But there was a lot going on under the skin that showed how deadly serious they were about this project.

Just as the original Century was adorned with a resplendent engine for its era, so too was the second coming of the Century. In pursuit of the absolute pinnacle of quiet, smooth, and dignified motoring, Toyota developed an engine completely bespoke to the low-volume, hand-built Century. It stood in direct contrast to everything we knew about Toyota and their commitment to being economical, both to the end user and themselves on a larger scale. It was neither deployed in another car, nor even exported. They wanted the best engine possible for their best people, and this is what they arrived at: a 5.0L normally aspirated V12.

It’s not a fire-breather by any means. They chose a V12 because of its impeccable harmonics; they’re inherently velvety slick in their operation and develop seamless power, putting out 295 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque here. These numbers won’t set anybody’s hair on fire, but they were very healthy then, and hearty enough to meet the Century’s mission statement. This car is about so much more than just numbers.

At idle, this engine is almost totally imperceptible. It’s so surreally smooth that you can’t feel it idling. At all. Even popping the massive hood and looking at the engine reveals zero vibrations, with the only clue being its accessory pulleys stealthily spinning. You can barely hear it run; you have to hush yourself and anyone with you, shut everything off, and try to listen through the all-encompassing tranquility to pick up the V12 softly murmuring away. Only then can you just barely pick up its faint mechanical whisper provide the softest bass-line for the Century’s sanctuary of a cabin.

Like a grand library or a temple, the Century feels sacred. It doesn’t outwardly demand your fealty, but quietly compels it from you. In travelling to take these photos, I found myself handling the Century as though it were ancient, something to be very careful with, even if it carries all the solidity of a stone tomb that’s stood for thousands of years. I found myself opening and closing the doors delicately, revelling in their exacting action, opening its cubbies and interacting with its switchgear like an archaeologist. I was afraid of blemishing a rare artifact of a bygone era, even if that artifact was going to outlast me. I was under its spell without even knowing it, compelled to show respect.

The Century is designed to be a fortress of solitude, with a focus on serenity. That the front passenger seat is designed to contort to the whims of the captain behind it shows where this car’s priorities lay; the seat back has a recess that folds down, creating a pass-through to put your feet up. The headset folds all the way down, for an unencumbered view of the road ahead. The fender-mounted mirrors can be easily seen from the rear captain’s chair, so you have a clear view of what’s ahead and behind. If you think it’s uncouth to put your shoes up in this car, you’re right—there’s a shoehorn and a pair of slippers for exactly that.

The captain behind the commander is treated to reclining seats, a vibrating massage, seat heating, a remote control, headphones, a sleep mask, and curtains. While other luxury cars hit you in the face with tech to keep your feeble mind stimulated, the Century quietly slips you into a recliner, encourages you to meditate, and maybe have a nap. While other luxury cars are focused on how they can best keep you in a state of on, the Century encourages you to turn off. It’s for this reason that most are trimmed in wool, rather than leather. Wool is softer and silent, unlike creaky cow hides.

It goes without saying that the Century rides exceedingly well. With double-wishbone suspension and air springs that would eventually make their way into flagship Lexus vehicles, it does just as good a job making the road disappear as it does making noise disappear. Perhaps more impressively is how well it drives; the Century is nearly as much of a treat for the trusted chauffeur as it is for the captain in the back. Everything is impossibly slick, well-weighted, and carefully gauged, feeling natural so as to make it easy for you to be as smooth as the car.

There’s a distinct familial resemblance to Lexus’ finest, the closest Toyota ever came to exporting the Century. It’s neither fast nor fun, but it’s so satisfying, serene, and above all, effortless to drive. The Century noticeably quieter than any leather-lined Lexus, somehow rides even more gently, but the real star of the show is the V12. It’s so impossibly slick, about as close to electric eeriness as an archaic dino-fueld engine can be, with a shove that’s simultaneously mighty and delicate, like King Kong hoisting Ann Darrow.

Like the first-generation of Century, the second-generation cars also enjoyed a long life. They remained in production largely unchained until 2018, when a new Century for a new era demanded the V12 be retired. Every Century was assembled and painted by hand at Kanto Auto Works, where they managed to produce just shy of 10,000 examples of these 12-cylinder titans over its 20-year production run. And yes, you could get them in a colour that wasn’t black, but why would you?

I’ve always had a soft spot for big, stately luxury cars; vehicles for captains, titans of industry, leaders of nations. I’ve had the privilege of driving a lot of them, briefly basking in their magnificence. The 2000 Toyota Century stands above them all, representing the pride of a nation and existing solely to serve the royalty of said nation. It defies expectations and industry trends, choosing instead to pursue luxury in its own way, self-assured in its unparalleled excellence and quiet confidence. I’d call that — the confidence to quiet down and be with your own thoughts, rather than keep running the rat race — the greatest luxury of all.


Vehicle Specs
Engine Size
Horsepower (at RPM)
Torque (lb-ft.)
Fuel Efficiency (L/100km, City/Highway/Combined)
Observed Fuel Efficiency (L/100km)
Cargo Capacity (in L)
Base Price (CAD)
As-Tested Price (CAD)
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About Nathan Leipsig

Deputy Editor Nathan is a passionate enthusiast with a penchant for finding 80s and 90s European vehicles. He can typically be found messing about on his E28 5-series or on Kijiji looking for the next project. Current Toys: '23 Miata Club 6MT, '86 535i, '99 Beetle TDI 5MT