Lexus IS 300. Built for Business. Dubai, UAE

A Lexus IS 300 with added boost on the streets of Dubai, UAE.

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Forget for a moment all the fuss being made about the Toyobaru FRSGT86BRZ as we travel back in time to the late 1990s when Toyota made a genuinely awesome car then failed to capitalize on its awesomeness. The car in question was the XE10 and it is an underrated gem in the Toyota back catalogue.

The Ueno Yoshio Kanto design was super-sharp with lots of unique styling pointers – yes, this is where the Lexus light cluster originated – and still looks fresh today. However, the exciting thing about it was that Nobuaki Katayama was the chief engineer on the project and Katayama-san has always had the Midas touch.

A former racing driver and a European executive in Toyota’s Motorsports division, Katayama-san had been involved in everything from Toyota’s WRC involvement to Le Mans racing. He was also an engineer on the AE86 and chief engineer of the Mark IV Supra. Let’s just say that the dude was qualified to take on the project.

Katayama-san delivered the goods, just as his curriculum vitae would have suggested, and another win was chalked up. The XE10 was a finely balanced front-engined, rear-wheel drive hoon machine that put the spirited Toyotaku back behind the wheel of a proper driver’s car. Except, everything didn’t exactly go to Katayama-san’s plan.

For export markets, the production model was badged as a Lexus IS 200, an entry-level luxury car to compete with European marques and, although it was extremely successful, it never lived up to the die-hard Toyotaku’s expectations. The Lexus luxuries of quality cow-hides and trimmings added unnecessary weight but the main beef with the IS 200 was the engine choice.

The 2-litre, straight-6 ‘G-Series’ engine began life back in 1979 and even the 1G-FE variant that found its home under the IS 200 bonnet was a slightly tweaked ten year old design. Chosen for its reliability and smooth power delivery, it just seemed a little lackluster pumping out its smooth and reliable 160hp in 1998 when the Lexus IS 200 debuted. A move in the right direction was made for the IS 300 with a 2JZ-GE taking over proceedings with an output of 220hp seeming rather more healthy. However, the model we all lusted after back in the day was the Toyota Altezza RS200.

The Japanese Domestic Market only RS200 just seemed closer to Katayama-san’s original vision. Lighter and less draped in luxuries than its Lexus export equivalent, it also came equipped with the Yamaha-tuned ‘Black Top’ BEAMS 3S-GE engine which was a screaming 4-pot delivering 210hp. For Katayama-san, the RS200 still fell short of the mark so he did what any self-respecting engineer in his position would do. He strapped on a supercharger and upgraded the suspension on his own personal Altezza.

Categories: Road


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