The car that spawned a thousand or more replicastyle rear lights, the Lexus IS200/IS300. If you can forgive it for that then there’s a decent RWD car waiting, albeit an overshadowed one in its class thanks to the BMW 3-Series. For UK buyers there was no really hot version, the top choices being the IS200 2ltr Sport with 153bhp and a 6-speed gearbox, or the IS300 3ltr with 211bhp and automatic boxes only. Both units are straight six engines that are decent enough, but lack the smoothness and variety of size and power that BMW provided. However, the driving dynamics of the IS200 are right up there, with poise and precision through corners to rival anything their Bavarian counterparts can offer, with the added bonus of sharp styling and Toyota/Lexus reliability.
If you look to Japanese import models, things start getting even more mouth-watering. Badged as a Toyota and called an Altezza in Japan, they had the option of an AS200 or the RS200. The AS200 was pretty much the same as the UK-spec IS200, with around 160bhp from the 2ltr inline 6-cylinder engine, while the RS200 dropped two cylinders, kept the 2ltr capacity and pushed power to 210bhp for the 6-speed manual and 200bhp for the 5-speed automatic. The RS200’s engine is, like all IS200/Altezza engines, a VVT-I design. It was developed by Beams Tuning and some reviewers claim it gave the sort of explosion of power similar to that of a Honda VTEC. The E-shift auto box used F1-style changes, which is good news if you need an auto, but it’s the well-suited 6-speed that most will go for. There’s obviously a downside, though, because while UK-spec IS200s can be picked up cheap these days, the RS200s will cost you at least twice as much. Fortunately, even if you don’t find an RS200 and opt for a 2ltr IS200 instead, there are plenty of tuning options to get over the 200bhp mark, even Toyota Team Europe offered a supercharger that could be installed in new cars without voiding the warranty.
There are turbo options as well, with conservative conversions hitting 250bhp and more extreme ones nudging 500bhp. Search the web and you’ll also find IS200s running turbocharged V8s and Supra engines with even bigger power. Only a few will go to those lengths, but it’s good to know that you can buy a well built, decent handling, classy looking saloon for not much money and have a world of tuning potential waiting should you so desire.
LEXUS IS200 1998-2005 STATS
Top speed: 134-140mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
It’s rare that a particular model can seem to be so fault free, but the IS200 is close to it. One thing to look for on the 6-speed models, though, is clutch judder – some owners have experienced this and even clutches replaced by warranty haven’t solved the issue. The standard alloys haven’t always suffered salty British winter roads well either, so you may need to factor in a refurb. Aside from that, a full service history is a good idea. Check for accident damage too, as the RWD car has caught plenty of owners unaware over the years.
LEXUS IS200 TUNING
To begin with, you’re not going to get massive gains from an exhaust and remap, but you may want that extra noise. The Sport models had lower suspension, but you might still want coilovers, depending on how hard you plan to drive it. It may be the engine you’ll want to concentrate on – the 2ltr, 6-cylinder is prime for a supercharger. This should see 200bhp easily, with pulley options to take it beyond that. There are off-the-shelf turbo kits too and either option would make for a great track or even drift car. If you like the sound of the 4-cylinder engine from the RS500, crate motors are also available should you fancy a swap and again, these are catered for with turbo kits too.
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