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Project Lexus IS 300 Part 1: Getting a Grip

Evan Griffey
Aug 8, 2002 SHARE

We are totally stoked to have a Lexus IS 300 in our stable of project vehicles. Long-time readers of Turbo know we have been ardent supporters of the Toyota Altezza, the home-market (Japan) version of the IS 300. A Trust-tuned Altezza graced the May '99 cover of Turbo, and we have published a couple of stories on other Japan-spec Altezzas. We've followed the development of the IS 300 in our "Turbo Updates" section ever since.

For those unfamiliar with the Altezza and the IS 300, the Altezza is a four-door sedan with sculpted body lines, short overhangs and narrow track. The Altezza is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder 3S-GTE engine and Japanese tuners have jumped all over the car. It was a big hit at the 1999 Tokyo Auto Salon. The car was conceptualized as a BMW 3-Series fighter and is offered in Europe with a 2.0-liter six in the engine bay.

The engine bay is where all the development for the U.S. model was centered. The rumor mill was spooled like a turbo at full song. Everyone wanted the Supra twin-turbo six. For a while, a Camry motor was the leading candidate (these were the scary dark days). Then the 245 hp VVT-i naturally aspirated six took the lead roll. The engine that made it was a 3.0-liter inline six with VVT-i that generated 215 hp at the flywheel.

The second most popular item in the rumor mill was the gearbox. Japanese version had a six speed and that's what we were pulling for. An automatic with the e-shift feature from the GS300/GS400 was the winner. A late bid by Toyota of America for a five-speed manual was approved, but there was not enough time to make the change for the 2001 model year. The car's sophomore run will have a manual transmission as standard fare. If you plan on battling BMW, you have to have a stick.

The most recognizable part of the car has to be the taillight treatment, which we nailed as a future trend in our Tokyo Auto Salon coverage. Today, reproduction Altezza taillights have been constructed to fit a number of U.S. imports, from Toyotas to Hondas. The other cool part of the car is its gauge cluster, which is designed to mimic a chronograph watch.

The Lexus rolls on attractive 17x7 five-spoke aluminum wheels and 215/45ZR17 performance rubber and is surprisingly agile. With its stiffened sport suspension and low-profile rolling stock, the 3,270 lb. sedan provides exhilarating handling, while the highly responsive chassis delivers good ride quality. The first thing we did was further capitalize on the car's handling prowess, while also enhance its looks. The goal was to get the look with as little impact on ride quality as possible. We contacted Toyota Racing Development (TRD) and asked about its coil-over suspension kit. The package uses a civilized shock/strut with four-position adjustablity over rebound and is offered without pillow ball mounts, which should minimize ride harshness. The coil-over set-up also gave us a great deal of freedom in selecting the proper ride height. We took delivery of upgraded sway bars and some trick under-chassis cross member braces as well.

Installation was handled at TRD in Tustin, Calif. where TRD technician Jimmy Mullinax worked the air tools. With the car on a lift and the front tires removed, the first order of business was removing the daylight running lamps relay box on the passenger-side upper fender. Then the 12mm upper shock bolts were taken off. Moving inside the fenderwell, the ABS line was unbolted to ensure it would not be damaged when the suspension rebounded during the procedure. It should be noted that this line is electric (providing the pulse for the ABS system) and contains no fluid.

Next, the 14mm bolts that connect the front sway bar to the mounting link are removed on both sides. This allows the bar to be pivoted out of the way. The 17mm lower shock mount bolt is removed and the assembly is turned outward for better access. Then the shock body is "shaken, rattled and rolled" to remove it from the car. The upper body support from the OE unit is retained and put on the TRD coil-over. It is positioned within the fenderwell. An upper shock tower bolt is used to secure the unit in place, while the wheel assembly is turned back to pointing forward and the lower 17mm shock mount bolt is tightened to OE spec. The ABS line is re-secured and the upper tower bolts are installed to spec. It should be noted the relay box did not re-install as before, so we postioned the box's mounting plate under the shock tower bolts. The sway bar can be re-secured unless you are upgrading them as well. The procedure is the same for the driver's side, with the exception that an igniter is positioned where the relay box was on the other side.

For the rear, the wheels are removed, as is the trunk carpet kit. The game remains the same, except that the rear dampers have two additional 12mm mounting bolts located at the mid-point of the shock body. Again, the sway bar is loosened for better access. When installing the rear coil-overs, the guys at Mullinax told us the key was to first tighten the lower bolt, the three upper bolts second and the middle bolts third. Not following this order can result in a gap at the top of the coil-over and an accompanying rattle.

On the road, there was an added feeling of connection with the car. It seemed more eager to respond to steering input and much more precise in the execution of its duties. This performance was at the shock setting as delivered (No. 2) and we expect a real party when we start twisting the dial. The Lexus is hunkered down and looking mean; we can't wait to add some 18s and play with the spring perch position. There is a slight change in ride feel as the IS transfers a little more of the milder suspension impacts, but the increase in steering feedback is exponentially greater that any impact in ride quality. You can't go wrong with this setup, as we have a softer setting and two stiffer settings to experiment with, but this coil-over package is only one of the suspension systems TRD has developed for the Lexus. If you are looking for added g-forces, give TRD a call. The accompanying gallery of photos details the TRD components and gives some visual insight to the installation procedures described in the text.

STOCK
Front 14 1/4-inch
Rear 14 1/2-inch

TRD MODIFIED
Front 13-inch
Rear 13-inch

TOTAL DROP
Front 1 1/4-inch
Rear 1 1/2-inch

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By Evan Griffey
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