Lexus Altezza JDM Car

The manufacturer’s views on car personality and driver needs sometimes diverge. This difference is not rare, especially when selling a sporty car. “Sports” is a term with different interpretations for vehicles, from high-spec models in racing sports, to casual cruising through the city or urban runabouts.

The 1998 Lexus Alteza is a clear case of this split between manufacturer and driver. The car was originally planned to be a high-end brand overseas, as a compact body sedan, with the Lexus IS build. Its competition was the BMW 3 Series. Planned as a 4-door sedan with an overall car length of 4.5 meters and a FR car structure with 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder inline engines, this vehicle would be innovative and was ready to win.

The vehicle’s construction and materials were also the real thing, sharing a refined 4-wheel double wishbone suspension with the small luxury car, Progress, careful front and rear weight distribution, front and rear overhang propulsion, and 215/45R tires with the larger car. In fact, the 1999 Lexus IS’s inline-six engine lineup was popular overseas, wherever it was sold. However, introduced in the Japanese market as the Altezza, despite winning Japan’s Car of the Year, it received unfavorable reviews as it differed too much from expectations.

1998, when the Altezza made its appearance, was a time when the FR vehicle, with its accessible size and performance, was in danger of extinction. The economic bubble dragged on, and young people who bought sports cars dropped out of the market. High performance FR coupes like the Silvia were also at risk. Second-hand Mark IIs were popular with their drifter-style turned-twin turbo engines, but the new models were a difficult sell and the larger sizes would not work with Japan’s mountain passes.

Meanwhile, news surfaced that Toyota will, surprisingly, make a compact sports sedan to rival the BMW 3 Series. The Lexus brand was not fully developed in the Japanese market at that time. The name of the car was announced “Alteza” and quickly generated buzz in car magazines, which was considered to be a high-functioning, powerful and sleek sports sedan.

The resulting BMW 3 Series model, however, differed from its innovative and high-functioning image in Japan. The high-speed cruising power fit for the Autobahn and the precise handling were not suitable for flying through the narrow mountain pass roads that people in Japan expected at the time. It was the same for the ultra-high performance M3, which was used as a base in touring car races. The Altezza was benchmarked with similar stability-oriented features.

The 4-cylinder 2L 3S-GE-type engine built specifically for Japan used titanium F1 valves for tuning, which reflected its 210PS high performance. A 6-speed MT similar to the Mazda Roadster was also produced, which makes transporting luggage a pleasure while enjoying a high class drive. This resulted in the disappointment of sports car fans expecting the Alteza to be an extremely sporty model.

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