Because the Lexus IS300/Toyota Altezza and its high roofline don’t scream sports car, some might not consider it a platform for a track build. However, there are plenty of reasons to try one. The price is appealing, as are the double wishbones at both ends, and the interchangeability of parts makes this smallish sedan surprisingly swift.
True, it has a few shortcomings including wonky geometry and a high center of gravity, but for a casual track toy with Toyota reliability and plenty of aftermarket support, it’s not a bad choice. Plus, it’s capable of carrying all the necessary tools, tires, and friends to an event, and it can just barely qualify as a family car if your significant other isn’t fond of two-door vehicles.
The other interesting thing about this car is the variety of Toyota parts easily swapped into it. Take this example’s swapped motor: a 1JZ-GTE VVT-i. Thanks to variable valve timing, this 2.5-liter straight-six boasts a torque curve of a 5.0-liter V8. It also sings a beautiful song, makes impressive power with minimal modification, and still remains economical for everyday driving. It’s also plentiful since it came in a variety of cars, so it’s been easy to find, and, until recently, fairly affordable.
[Editor’s note: US models came with the even more attractive 3.0L 2JZ when the IS300 debuted for the 2001 model year (XE10) and was used until 2006 when the second generation (XE20) was introduced. For more on tuning the 1JZ’s larger sibling, the 2JZ, you can read the full feature here.]
The 1JZ’s easy installation only sweetens the pot, and the fact that a few minor modifications can produce nearly 400 horsepower makes this motor one which cannot be overlooked. Mark Shaw’s car, as seen above, has been modified with a Link G4 ECU and an upgraded compressor wheel in the factory CT15B turbocharger for higher boost pressure. With a tune, the result is 330 horsepower at the rear wheels and over 300 lb-ft of torque—the second figure available at 3,000 rpm. Therefore, even if the five-speed R154 gearbox’s ratios don’t suit the track, the broad powerband compensates.
An Encouraging Character
The only other modifications are a set of supportive Bride seats, BC Racing coilovers, and 225-section Nitto NT01 tires at all four corners. As we can see, the immediate response of the factory turbo and V8 torque make the rightmost pedal one to treat with some caution. This combo makes for fun times leaving Taupo’s slower bends, and unless the straight is absurdly long, the motor just keeps pushing. At New Zealand’s Taupo Motorsports Park, this mildly modded 1JZ in a 3,200-pound package works wonderfully.
Even with four doors, the engineers at Toyota knew that keeping the wheelbase and the overhangs reasonably short would help this sedan remain lively and engaging. Note the manageable amount of trail-braking-induced oversteer at 4:43. Fortunately, this willingness to oversteer gently happens at the right times and doesn’t become dangerous. While Shaw’s balancing the car through faster corners on light throttle, the car exhibits a safe, reassuring amount of push. This benign balance, when complemented by that wide wave of accessible torque, goads the driver to push and makes them feel like a superhero.
Jonesin’ for More
As potent as a near-stock 1JZ-GTE is, the aftermarket support makes it easy to extract more power. Since Shaw had already modified the ECU, he had a stout foundation for more; all he needed was a different turbocharger and a little more fuel.
While the factory CT15B turbo runs out of puff at around 5,500 rpm, the bolt-on Tomei M8280 turbocharger pulls all the way to its 7,000-rpm redline. True, it exchanges the immediate turbo response for a stronger top-end, but that’s often seen as an advantage with these high-revving engines. Additionally, this turbocharger bolts onto the factory manifold. For that reason, you can have Supra performance at a reduced price.
With a pair of HKS 264° camshafts to help open up the mid-range, the usable powerband is still fairly broad; starting at around 3,000 rpm and pushing relentlessly to the 7,000-rpm redline. Shaw’s simple setup produces 380 horsepower in a silky-smooth wave, though as much as 500 is within reach with these parts and the right fuel.
The IS300/Altezza might be a bit too common for some to justify dumping $10,000 into, but with the prices of attractive JDM cars skyrocketing and most MKIV Supras well out of reach of the average enthusiast, this understated sedan might be the budget alternative of the day. If its low weight and lower cost of entry aren’t appealing enough, just remember that this car can make frightening amounts of thrust and run reliably. Plus, it will appease the wife. It’s important to pick your battles, isn’t it?