Toyota Altezza RS200 – Buyer’s Guide – 146
Japan’s '1999 Car of the Year’ should be high on your list if you’re in the market for a medium-sized sedan but don’t want to go down the turbocharged route. We’re talking about Toyota’s answer to the E46 BMW 3-Series, the Altezza, and in particular the RS200 edition, which offers up the best balance of performance and style of all models in the range.
The Altezza is the Japanese domestic market (JDM) version of the luxury Lexus IS200. The two cars share many similarities but there are enough differences to set them apart.
On the same platform, Altezzas were built in two basic rear-wheel-drive guises from 1998 to 2005: AS200 and RS200. The AS200 featured the 1G-FE six-cylinder 2.0-litre engine, while the RS200 got the peaky 3S-GE four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine. Both came in a choice of auto or 6-speed manual transmissions. An Altezza wagon known as a Gita was also sold in AS200 guise only, but with the choice of the 1G-FE engine or a naturally aspirated six-cylinder 3.0-litre 2JZ-GE.
The RS200 edition was marketed in three basic versions: RS200, RS200 Z edition and RS200 L edition. Essentially, the Z added a few performance and styling upgrades that we’ll touch on, and the L had all that plus half-leather seats. Using a stock standard RS200 as a guide, here’s all you need to know about this popular model.
The Altezza RS200 uses the performance-orientated 3S-GE BEAMS (breakthrough engine with advanced mechanism system) four-pot with 11.5:1 compression. The generation four — version two model, and final derivative of Toyota’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre DOHC 16V mill, includes Dual VVTi and an extractor-style exhaust manifold in its specification to throw out 210ps (154kW) at 7600rpm, and 22kg/m (216Nm) of torque at 6400rpm in the 6-speed manual model. A little less power is achieved in the auto version (see spec, p74).
The RS200 Altezza was sold new with two transmission options: a 6-speed manual, and a 5-speed automatic Toyota dubbed the 'Super Intelligent 5SuperECT’. The automatic can be manually shifted via the gear lever or buttons on the steering wheel. The 6-speed manual, as fitted in our test car, is a great gearbox, with a very positive shifting mechanism and solid feel. TCS (traction control) and limited slip differentials were factory fitted on Z and L editions but were options on the base model.
Altezzas equipped with traction control have a TCS button on the dash, but this system can be manually overridden by simply depressing it. If the car has a factory torsion LSD installed this will be recorded on the build plate in the engine bay. On the Trans/Axle line the very last character should be 'B’, whereas models factory specified with open differentials have this character recorded as 'A’.
Even though its design is now more than a decade old, the Altezza is still a good looking car. Although there seems to be no hard and fast rule as to which RS200 got what, some were specced with large front air-dam spoilers (complete with yellow driving lights), mesh grilles, side skirts, a rear bumper spoiler and boot spoiler. Tail light covers are also quite common factory fits, but less so are the black-bodied headlights, which not only look better than the regular headlights but also tend to be less prone to yellowing. Z and L edition RS200s also came standard with dark 'privacy glass’ on the back door windows and rear screen.
Inside, the RS200 is well appointed, although perhaps a little dated. Its large instrument cluster with centrally positioned speedometer is the main offender in that respect. Other than that, though, the bronze-accented black trim looks good. Regular grade and Z edition RS200s feature dark grey cloth trim, but you’ll find half-leather equivalents on L edition cars. Driver and passenger front SRS airbags are factory fare on all models, and although side airbags were an option, they are rarely found. Z edition cars feature alloy pedals, leather-bound steering wheels and an Altezza Super Live eight-speaker audio system with boot-mounted CD changer, although like most Japanese cars, these accessories could be optioned on any model.
Rear-seat legroom is very good, even with the front seats pushed back to their maximum position.
ON THE ROAD
Perhaps the Altezza RS200’s best attribute is the way it drives. Thanks to its healthy torque curve the engine provides adequate around-town power, but to extract the utmost from it, the 3S-GE needs to be revved to the redline. At around 7.5 seconds from standstill to 100kph it’s quick, not fast, but what it lacks in straight-line grunt, it more than makes up for in the handling stakes. Toyota invested heavily in this department, speccing the Altezza with a double wishbone arrangement front and rear. The drive is neutral and the steering is tight, making this a real driver’s car. Ventilated discs on the front end and solid discs at the back coupled with ABS means it stops well, too.
HOW MUCH TO PAY
The purchasing cost of a 6-speed manual RS200 will mostly depend on its manufacturing year and how many kilometres are on the odometer. Higher mileage examples in average condition start at around $11,500 in a private sale, with later model, better condition dealer examples running up to $20,000. This particular car, as supplied by Auckland car yard Wall Motors, is a 1999 model with a certified 98,000km on the clock and is priced at $13,995. Due to new registration restrictions that came into effect Jan 1 2009, early GF-SXE10 model RS200 Altezzas are now unable to be complied for use on New Zealand roads. Later model GH-SXE10 examples, however, are. But with a weak Kiwi dollar and the higher purchasing costs for later model Altezzas in Japan, it’s unlikely that large numbers of these cars will be imported.
The RS200 is a car that’s just begging to be modified, and with a good aftermarket parts support network, that’s easily achieved. Engine-wise the Gen 4 V2 3S-GE needs a kick in the pants to get it humming, and soon after it was released some of Japan’s biggest tuners came to the party with bolt-on forced induction kits that are still available today. Trust/GReddy, A’PEXi and HKS developed turbo kits, and Blitz built a turbo kit and a sweet-sounding supercharger kit.
All setups only generate relatively low boost, so don’t expect to set the world on fire. But because they do not require the engine to be pulled apart for replacement of bottom-end componentry, they’re an easy upgrade to enhance driveability. Similar results can be achieved by piecing together a turbo kit from individual parts.
For more serious engine builds a full host of forged engine internal parts are available, including a number of stroker kits that push cubic capacity out to 2.2 litres. Combined with a bigger turbo system, the 3S-GE has the potential for huge power numbers.
Driveline and suspension upgrades are easily achieved, with most aftermarket manufacturers catering to the Altezza. A 5×114.3 PCD opens up a wide selection of rear-wheel-drive wheel fitments.
Styling-wise there’s plenty on offer for the RS200, from locally produced body kits to genuine kits sourced from Japan.
Apart from the Z edition and L edition variants, Tom’s (a Toyota-supported tuner) and Toyota Netz jointly built a very special Altezza on the RS200 platform in 1999. There were reputedly only 100 Altezza 280T versions ever made, with the model’s name a direct correlation to its 280hp turbocharged engine.
The 280T was basically an RS200 with performance mods and was sold with a full factory warranty through Toyota’s Netz dealerships. According to Tom’s, all 100 cars were sold the first day they went on sale. Modifications include an IHI turbo, front-mount intercooler, Tom’s TEC engine management system, Tom’s headgasket, Tom’s 6kg flywheel, Tom’s Advox suspension and a special body kit, among other enhancements. The 280T made its 280hp (and 30kg/m of torque) on just 9psi boost.
Recognised by a Tom’s build plate in the engine bay, only a handful of genuine 280Ts are known to exist in New Zealand.
The Qualitat edition was another special Altezza. This version added a few performance, handling and styling upgrades and was available on both the RS200 and AS200 base. Little information is available on these models.
Toyota Altezza RS200 – Specifications
Engine: Toyota BEAMS 3S-GE inline-4 2.0-litre DOHC 16V, Dual VVTi, EFI, titanium valves, 11.5:1 compression ratio
Driveline: 6-speed manual gearbox (5-speed auto option), limited slip differential (option), TCS (option)
Suspension: Front/rear — double wishbone, MacPherson strut, coil springs
Brakes: Ventilated disc front, solid disc rear, ABS
Wheels/Tyres: 17-inch alloy wheels, 215/45R17 tyres
Performance: Max power — 210ps (154kW) @ 7600rpm (6MT) 200ps (145kW) @ 7000rpm (5AT), Max torque — 22kg/m (216Nm) @ 6400rpm (6MT), 22kg/m (216Nm) @ 4800rpm (5AT)