FM4 Build Battle: Lexus IS300 VS Toyota Altezza
"Wait a second, aren't these the same car?"
This is a new idea I'm trying out. The premise being that I compare two similar cars, build & tune them to similar specifications, give my opinions on how they drive, and see which car build performs the best on a hot lap of Laguna Seca Raceway.
Diving Into The Cars:
The two cars I've pitted against each other for this challenge are the 2003 Lexus IS300 and the Toyota Altezza R200. I can hear you saying, "well, that's quite a pointless comparison..." but it isn't, trust me. I'm sure we're all familiar (at least at a surface level) with how cars can change based on the market they are sold in. The IS300 was made primarily for the American market, while the Altezza was made to satisfy Toyota's native Japanese market. Now it's no secret that us Americans love rather large, torquey engines. Bearing this in mind, the Lexus has a 3.0 Liter 2JZ-GE (No Supra fanboys, that's not a typo...) inline-6. Without getting too technical, it's a naturally aspirated Supra engine. Toyota did things rather different than Lexus. Large engines (or infact large cars as a whole) are not as common in Japan due to large engines being heavily taxed. This meant Toyota had to downsize for the Altezza's engine, however this wasn't a bad thing in the slightest. The Altezza was fitted with Toyota's amazing 2.0 Liter 3S-GE inline-4, a naturally aspirated 7700 RPM screamer with 5 valves per cylinder and BEAMS variable valve timing for intake as well as exhaust. Toyota was really keeping Honda on their toes with this engine...
Pre-Build Driving Impressions:
I'll start by saying the Lexus IS300 feels faster than the Altezza. Even without turbocharging, the 2JZ has some pull. The power is very manageable overall, but there's still enough of it for things to go wrong. It's not slow enough to be idiot-proof. The IS300 also feels a little front-heavy, but not enough to make it un-enjoyable or tricky to drive. The Altezza is noticeably lighter on it's feet than the IS300, however it's not enough to offset the IS300's advantage in the straights. Revving out the Altezza's Engine is delightful but it's simply slower. I think both cars have plenty of potential.
Starting with similarities: Both cars are built to the top of A Class. Both cars have race tire compound with maximum possible width on front and rear. Both cars have all race handling upgrades with the exception of a roll cage. Both cars have been fitted with turbochargers. Both cars have all race transmission upgrades. And, both cars have the same aftermarket hood (if that counts for anything...)
The differences include the individual tune setup of each car. I set the tunes differently to benefit the different traits of the cars. The engine builds have subtle differences; the IS300 has upgraded, more aggressive camshaft(s) the Altezza has a bigger turbo capable of 11psi while the IS300's is only capable of 9.5psi. Lastly, the Altezza is also fitted with a lighter set of wheels than the IS300.
The Hot Laps:
The Laguna Seca laps with the finished builds surprised me a lot. The IS300 actually has thicker tires than the Altezza, so the handling went from alright in stock form to great in finished form. The two cars switched driving characteristics in many areas. The cumbersome IS300 became very confidence-inspiring in the twisty bits while remaining fast in the straights. And, the nimble and controllable Altezza became well... very un-controllable. I blame a lot of this on the skinnier tires, but the laggy turbo was definitely to blame as well. I gave the Altezza shorter gearing in an effort to keep the turbo spooled up more. Despite being a handful to drive, the Altezza was blisteringly quick. Good throttle control was required for non-sideways cornering, and strategic shift points were crucial to keeping the turbo spooled. After 3 laps of Laguna Seca in each car, I thought the IS300 would reign victorious because I was much more confident driving it. However, the results were a massive surprise...