Cars

Toyota Once Made a V12 Luxury Sedan, and It Wasn’t a Lexus

In the US, Lexus has always been the place for Toyota’s most high-end cars. That’s been the case ever since the LS400 made massive waves in the luxury segment. But the brand doesn’t just do reliable luxury. The Lexus LFA, although overshadowed by contemporary supercars, had one of the best naturally-aspirated engines put in a road car. The Yamaha-developed 4.8-liter V10 revved to 9000 RPM, but so far, it’s been Toyota’s only V10. However, it’s not the Japanese automaker’s biggest-ever engine. Toyota once offered a 5.0-liter V12—in a luxury sedan. And Doug Demuro got to drive it.

How the Toyota Century sedan got a V12

1992 Lexus LS400
1992 Lexus LS400 | Bring a Trailer

Said V12 was used for the 2nd-gen Toyota Century luxury sedan. And while the Lexus LS400 was sold as a Toyota in Japan, the Century wasn’t really sold outside of Japan at all.

The Toyota Century sedan is the result of a competition between Nissan and Toyota, Motor Trend reports. Both automakers were competing to make a car worthy of Japan’s Imperial Household. Toyota won, with a sedan based on its V8-powered Crown 8, which was inspired by American cars of the time. Eventually, though, the Century became available to other Japanese VIPs, such as CEOs and diplomats.

1990 Toyota Century
1990 Toyota Century | Bring a Trailer

The 1st-gen model was sold from 1967-1997, and originally came with a 3.0-liter V8 engine, MT reports. By the 80s, this had been replaced with a 4.0-liter V8, making 190 hp and 238 lb-ft. However, for the 2nd-gen Toyota Century sedan debuting in 1997, the company thought this V8 wasn’t smooth enough for its clientele. So the 2nd-gen car got a 5.0-liter V12.

And that’s just the start of the Toyota Century’s quirks and features.

V12 Toyota Century sedan features and driving experience

1962 Ferrari 250 GTE police car
1962 Ferrari 250 GTE police car | Girardo & Co.

The V12 in the Toyota Century sedan isn’t particularly powerful. It only makes 280 hp and 335 lb-ft, The Drive reports. That’s only 43 hp more than the 3.0-liter V12 in the Ferrari 250 put out 30 years prior. However, as Demuro explains, the Century isn’t about speed and performance. Its goal is serene, refined luxury.

For one, although the Century was available with leather upholstery, wool is the standard material. That’s because the wool breathes and absorbs moisture better than leather—and Japanese summers are both hot and humid. Also, the wool cloth is quieter to move around on.

Because the Century was intended to be used by executives and world leaders, the back seat has a number of useful features. The rear center console has a built-in TV with remote control. The center armrest holds stereo controls, a cassette player/recorder, and controls for the power-adjustable seats and headrests. The rear seats are also heated, and come with massaging functions and one of the earliest rear-mounted side airbags.

2000 Toyota Century V12 sedan interior
2000 Toyota Century V12 sedan interior | Bring a Trailer

And, if a rear passenger is tired, there’s a kind of pass-through built into the front passenger seat. When it’s down, the rear passenger can stretch their legs and take a nap.

Later 2nd-gen Toyota Century sedans added even more features. The 2nd-gen car was sold until 2017, with the 3rd-gen debuting in 2018. During that time, Toyota changed the transmission and added air suspension. Interestingly, though, the Century still uses the same kind of key as a Lexus.

Behind the wheel, Demuro reports the transmission and engine are “remarkably quiet” and extremely smooth. The former is likely due to Toyota giving the sedan 5 mufflers. The Toyota Century doesn’t have quite as smooth of a ride as a Rolls-Royce, but it is still very comfortable. Also, Demuro remarks that he prefers the fender-mounted mirrors over conventional door-mounted ones. In addition, despite its age, the Toyota sedan’s owners report the car’s been “dead reliable.”

Is it available in the US?

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Unfortunately, the 2nd-gen Toyota Century sedan is still too new to be imported into the US. The example Demuro drove appears to be the only one here. However, in 2022, the V12-powered sedan will be legal to import.

The 2nd-gen models don’t appear to be significantly more expensive than the 1st-gen ones. As of this writing, there are several available for $10,000-$20,000 from Virginia-based Duncan Imports. But, if you’re willing to spend a bit more, there’s a specialist in Japan that makes custom exhausts for cars like the Century. Ones that, as the video below shows, show how special Toyota’s V12 can really be.

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