Back in the late 1990s, Toyota produced a luxury car that catered to a younger audience with the first generation Lexus IS sedan that took over the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in Japan, ISIS was called Toyota Altezza, bringing sportiness to the RS200 sports sedan. Want to know why? Read on to find out.
8 Engineered by the creator of AE86
We all know the Toyota Corolla AE86 is an iconic JDM legend not only because of the initial manga and anime series, but because of its fun car characteristics that bring the best out of its driver. Part of that is due to the engineering genius of one Nobuaki Katayama.
It turns out Katayama still had a magical touch when he co-designed Altezza. He used the suspension of the larger mid-size Lexus GS, which gave the Altezza a wide stance and powerful platform, just as BMW did with the M2 years later.
7 beam engine
Quite simply, that’s why we wanted to get the Altezza RS200 outside of Japan. Only offered in the RS200, the 3S-GE is the fifth and final version of Toyota’s legendary 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Enthusiasts also call it BEAMS Blacktop. For those wondering what BEAMS stands for, it is an acronym for Breakthrough Engine with Advanced Mechanism System. The naturally aspirated high-revving unit had 207 hp at 7600 rpm and 160 lb-ft of torque at 6400 rpm, which meant you actually had to start the engine to start it. And when you do, the Altezza RS200 comes to life in a way that neither the Lexus IS200 nor the IS300 can.
6 Iconic taillights
JDM culture early in the 2000s saw Japanese cars hit the mainstream with custom body kits, sound systems and neon lights. Some of them are equipped with transparent backlights that look really cool in the daytime. Want to know what car first appeared in this mode? This is correct. Tza.
Not many people generally agreed with this design, but we can’t deny the fact that the so-called “Altezza lights” eventually made their way into the aftermarket scene on improved Honda Civics and other cars from the tuner import era. Later, this became standard equipment on cars such as the Subaru Impreza and Toyota GT86.
5 chronograph scale
Like the Lexus IS, the Altezza RS200 was also equipped with an impressive chronograph gauge cluster, with the exception of a few differences. Thanks to its high-speed engine, the RS200’s massive tachometer is positioned directly in the middle of the instrument cluster, reaching speeds of 9000 rpm.
There was also a digital readout of the speedometer on the side of the Altezza’s gauge cluster, while all vital signs such as water temperature, oil temperature and battery voltage were placed inside the chronograph.
4 Balanced handling
It is safe to say that the Altezza RS200 demonstrated the true expression of the sporty nature of the first generation Lexus IS sedan. It was still a relatively comfortable sedan, but it became lighter and more noisy with its great engine and six-speed manual transmission.
According to SpeedAcademy, the Altezza RS200 actually had a perfect 50/50 weight distribution, which was credited to its balanced handling. With its front-engine and rear-wheel drive design, it’s safe to say that the RS200 bridged the generational gap between the AE86 and the GT86.
3 Award winning car
The Toyota Altezza received critical acclaim for its styling again when it was launched in 1998 and even won the 1998-99 Japan Car of the Year award.
Sticking to Toyota’s “Kaizen” philosophy of continuous improvement, designer Nobuaki Katayama still feels the Altezza RS200 could have been improved even further. This came to fruition when the second generation of IS appeared, especially in IS F.
2 Appearing in a video game
The Toyota Altezza RS200 had its most notable appearance in the popular PlayStation video game Gran Turismo. It has appeared in every Gran Turismo game so far since Gran Turismo 2, with the exception of Gran Turismo Sport.
In the in-game description, the RS200 has been dubbed the “real sports saloon”, and featured in the A-level license test of Gran Turismo 2 practicing L-shaped cornering.
1 racing version
Racing versions of the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS were used in many touring car races around the world at the time, most notably in the British Touring Car Championship. In Japan, there was even a one-model race that distinguished the race, and an entire factory prepared for Toyota Altezza RS200s in the early 2000s.
HKS even chose the Altezza as the base car for the TRB-01, which set a time record at the famous Tsukuba circuit.
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