- Toyota Altezza

Fun fact: According to Collins Dictionary, Altezza means a title of respect used when addressing a person of noble rank.

As I picture all the Altezza owners I know, all I can say is....Interesting (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Love them or hate them, (though I know a lot of people prefer to choose the latter) the “Tezza” as its also known as, is an exceptional car. It is only unfortunate that in recent years it has fallen in the hands of “overly enthusiastic” owners not just from a driving perspective, but from a styling taste perspective as well.

It is a shame too because in other regions like the UK or USA, the Altezza is beloved especially if it so happens to come with the legendary 3L inline 6 2jz engine.

Lets dive into the history of this underdog shall we...

The first generation made its first appearance in its home country Japan in 1998 with the engineering work led by Nobuaki Katayama, the man you can thank for the iconic Toyota AE86. Production ran all the way up to 2005. Within this run, it was also sold as a Lexus under the “IS” name. The Altezza came with an inline 4 cylinder or a 6cylinder variant with either a 2litre or 3litre displacement. Transmissions also ranged from a 4 speed automatic, a 5 speed automatic or manual and a 6 speed manual.

First generation Altezza

First generation Altezza

Two years into the production run also saw the introduction of a hatchback/station wagon known as the Gita (AS300) in Japan and the SportCross (IS300) elsewhere. This car sported the iconic 2JZ-GE engine, (a very robust 3litre inline 6 cylinder made famous by the Toyota Supra). This could be had with either rear or all wheel drive with a 5 speed automatic gearbox.

What made this first generation appealing in a styling point of view were the distinctive rear taillights, Infact they were so fashionable that after market shops started copying the internal lamp units, covered with a clear or tinted Perspex cover design. This design was simply known as the Lexus/Altezza lights.

Altezza tailights

Altezza tailights

2005 saw the debut of the second generation “IS” with the Altezza nameplate having to be retired. This also saw the end of the station wagon variant due to poor sales abroad. As a full on Lexus, its features became more ‘Lexusy’. This meant a more upscale fit and finish with premium interior materials like maple wood trim pieces. Only one diesel inline 4 engine was offered with the rest being either 2.5litre or 3.5litre V6 engines or a 5litre V8 engine mated to a 6 speed automatic or manual, or an 8 speed automatic. 2007 saw the launch of the IS F, which was and still is the high performance version of the series.

The three generations of the Lexus IS from: Autoguide.com

The three generations of the Lexus IS from: Autoguide.com

The third and present generation came out in 2013 and its design is definitely distinct with very sharp lines particularly with the bonnet creases, headlamp design and the “Spindle Grille”, which is now the official grille for every Lexus in the Japanese automaker’s stable. The IS F models are still available with enhanced handling capabilities thanks to adaptive suspension among other goodies as the improvements of the current generation continue.

Lets look at what we have in Zimbabwe.

The first generation is by far the most popular one here. It seems as though every Tom, Dick and Harry drives one or at least knows a friend with one. The second generation can be spotted here and there but not nearly as popular.

First Gen Lexus IS

First Gen Lexus IS

If you happen to be in the market for an Altezza, you definately have quite a lot of options. Here’s what you need to know.

Apart from its tattered reputation courteousy of some of its owners, as it sits the Altezza is a very capable car if you want a sporty four door sedan like a BMW 3 series but with the assurance of cheaper maintenance, repairs and running costs. Oh did I mention how good it looks? Even in stock form, it has an aggressive stance characterized by a slightly lower front end compared to the rear which almost resembles a cat waiting to pounce. Coupled with the rear distinctive taillights, whats not to love? Well for the sake of being rational, quite a few common things actually.

For starters there are a number of owners that have experienced the ‘sticky dash’ problem where on hot days the dash material appears to be melting and sticks to your fingers when touched which sounds pretty annoying if you own one. It is very thirsty on oil too which is more apparent the older it is as well as the tendency of going through timing belts all too frequently.

Final thoughts?

Ever since I first saw the Altezza, badged as a Lexus on Need For Speed Most Wanted tacing game, I have always been a fan due to its form and function. Its easy too as the development process was essentially benchmarked on the BMW 3 series which is a praised by car enthusiasts the world over.

Well sought after first gen Altezza

Well sought after first gen Altezza

Since it is a Toyota after all, you know very well that it will last an eternity and a half. It will look fabulous too but only if you take good care of it. Its unfortunate that in Zimbabwe, it is actually difficult to find a well sought after example hence why its reputation has suffered. If you manage to get your hands on one and you give it the TLC (tender loving care) that it deserves, you will surely warm the hearts of all car lovers that will have the privilege of catching sight of it.

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