So, with me trying to use this thing more often, and Kinja going away, I thought I’d try out a photo dump on my blog here. In August 2019, I made my first trip to Virginia International Raceway, to see the IMSA GT race there. I’ve only posted a handful of these to Oppo before, as I was on hiatus when I attended. I had to upload this shit one at a time, so please enjoy viewing this post more than I did making it. (Although the event itself was awesome and I definitely plan to go back when there’s not a plague around anymore.)
Among 2020’s many casualties, one of the lesser discussed was the Lexus GS. It’s a bit bittersweet for me, as the GS has always been my favorite of the
four Lexus sedans, but the writing has been on the wall for a few years now. The fourth generation was in production for eight years, with only one update in 2015. While there were supposed test mules of a fifth generation that would have turned the car into an Audi A7-like 5-door, no production model ever came to fruition. The GS went out with a whimper; there was a special “Eternal Touring” edition in Japan that added GS F bits to the regular models, but none in other countries. It had already been discontinued in Europe a year or two prior, replaced by the better-selling ES. As the owner of one, a 2004 GS300, I’m sad to see it go.
Each of the Japanese luxury manufacturers is somewhat analogous to one of the German luxury brands. Acura is obviously Audi, with its cars generally being front-wheel-drive based chassis, though with a world-class all-wheel-drive system, and often criticized, maybe overly so, for being too closely based on their respective Honda/Volkswagen bones. (I mean, let’s be real. It’s 2020 and the ILX is based on a last gen Civic, when the current Civic is five years old and due to be replaced in the next year or so.) Infiniti is BMW: rear-drive chassis with excellent driving dynamics, but a stereotype of douchebag owners. (Sorry, VQ guys, but that stereotype usually holds up. Also, your engines sound like shit.) Lexus, then, is Mercedes: great chassis dynamics typically overpowered by a bias towards comfort, with high-performance exceptions (AMG for Mercedes, and the F moniker for Lexus). Continuing this analogy, the GS is the Japanese E-Class. Yes, the four-headlight design of the 2nd generation GS does bear a resemblance to the Mercedes W210 E-Class that debuted a couple years prior, but I meant in general terms. Reviews often compared the GS to the BMW 5-series, but I always felt the E was a bit more apt.
The groundwork for the GS had been laid years prior to its 1993 debut. In fact, the car itself had been around for two years in Japan, sold under the name Toyota Aristo, a twin to the venerable Asia-only Toyota Crown. The Crown was sold internationally in the 1960s and early 1970s, but for the most part Toyota passenger cars in western markets were smaller. Before Lexus debuted in 1989, Toyota’s flagship car in the US was the Cressida sedan. The Cressida was the export market name for a car that was sold in Japan under 3 separate names: Mark II, Chaser, and Cresta. All shared a chassis, engines, and basic bodywork, but the front and rear fasciae, and interior, were all slightly different. Essentially, the Mark II was the “normal” version, the Chaser a sportier variant, and the Cresta more refined. The Cressida was most similar to the Mark II, but its upmarket image in the US added a dash of Cresta flavor. The Cressida and Lexus coexisted from 1989 to 1992. A new generation of Mark II (and variants) was released in Japan in mid-1992, and sales of the car were relegated to the home market only. There was no immediate replacement in Toyota’s international lineup, as the front-drive Avalon did not debut until 1994. The Cressida and its siblings were a slightly smaller version of the Crown’s rear-wheel-drive platform, and shared drivetrains.
A year prior to the Cressida’s demise in the west, a new generation of Crown debuted, alongside the aforementioned Aristo twin. While the Crown was styled to Japanese conventions, the Aristo had more of an international look, being designed by legendary Italian automotive stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro. While the base Crown shares a chassis with the Aristo, the latter car actually is more closely related to the Crown Majesta, a slightly larger and more luxurious variant. The top-of-the-line engine of the Crown, the 3.0 liter 2JZ-GE inline 6, was the base motor for the Majesta and Aristo. Both had an optional V8 sourced from the flagship Lexus LS/Toyota Celsior, though the Aristo did not have that available its first year and it sold very slowly when it did become available. Exclusive to the Aristo was a twin-turbocharged version of the 2JZ, the 2JZ-GTE, in the 3.0V trim (Toyota used the V designation for all of its turbo inline-6 sedans in the 90s for some reason). This engine was later used in the 4th generation Toyota Supra, which propelled it to legendary status. However, when the Aristo was adapted for western markets as the Lexus GS300 in 1993, only the naturally aspirated variant was brought with it. What I haven’t been able to figure out is whether the Aristo was supposed to be adapted into the GS when it debuted in 1991 but was delayed, or whether the decision was made sometime in the interim. I tend to lean towards the latter option because of the cautious approach Toyota took when launching Lexus, which paid off. (Scion, not so much.) The flagship LS debuted with the launch of Lexus in 1989, and was very well received, but the only other car the brand had available at launch was the ES, a literal Camry. (The ES continued to be a fancy Camry for nearly a quarter century, when it became a fancy Avalon.) A third model, the SC grand tourer, launched in 1991. Prices of the LS and SC climbed rapidly, to the point that when the GS was brought in for 1993, its MSRP was practically that of what the LS’s had been in 1989. Despite the additional offering, sales of the first-generation GS were slow, as Lexus buyers still preferred to pay that bit more for the larger LS. The 2JZ-GTE was not offered on the car outside Japan, despite the engine being used in the Supra of the same era in the same countries. I think this is because, looking at prices of the GS and LS and comparing them with those of the naturally aspirated and turbo Supras, a hypothetical GS300 Turbo would cost more than an LS, and they probably would have sold approximately 8. (Why the V8 wasn’t offered outside Japan in the first generation is a bit more questionable, but I assume they didn’t want it to cannibalize LS sales.) The GS’s only notable change in its first generation was an update to a 5-speed automatic transmission midway through its life. It carried on quietly until 1997, with sales slow as its price rose over its life. Nowadays it’s practically easier to find an imported Aristo for sale than it is a USDM 1st gen GS.
The second generation of the GS/Aristo launched in 1997, for model year 1998 in North America. While the interior was similar to, though somehow also much better than, the first generation, the exterior styling was radically different, though the shape was generally the same. In a stark contrast to the Giugiaro-penned first generation, the second was designed in-house at Toyota by a group of 150 people. (150!) As stated above, the headlights resembled those of the contemporary Mercedes E-Class, though in-house sources say the design was chosen to resemble the SC, which also had four headlights. The taillights were changed to a similar design. Both variants of the 2JZ were carried over, with the GTE remaining in Japan (with the trim now called the V300 instead of the 3.0V), but, in an interesting switch, the V8 was discontinued in Japan but became available elsewhere. It was the same 1UZ-FE that powered the LS and SC400, and GS’s equipped with it were predictably given the moniker GS400. The 5-speed automatic transmission was the same on both engines, though the JDM turbo Aristo V300 continued with the same heavy-duty 4-speed automatic from before. I have to think the transmission was never upgraded to a 5-speed because the Supra was relegated to Japan-only sales after 1998, so there was little to no demand for such an update. Sales of the second generation were much higher than that of the first, thanks to the car’s lower price point. In 2000, a Platinum Series trim became available, featuring exclusive touches including special wheels and nicer interior leather and wood. A year after that, the car received a facelift. The taillights and wheels were changed slightly, and the throttle was converted to electronically controlled. The biggest update, however, was a new engine in the V8 model, now called the GS430 thanks to its 4.3L 3UZ-FE motor. A year after that, a trim called SportDesign appeared on both the 300 and 430. Like the Platinum Series before it, it offered a higher grade of interior materials and other exclusive touches, and had enhanced suspension and ECU tuning. It lasted only two years, being dropped for 2004. In 2005, after nearly eight years of production, the car was finally due to be replaced. It still sold fairly well at the time; even in its last years its sales figures were still better than most of the first generation’s. With the introduction of Lexus to Japan in 2005, the Aristo name, along with those of the Celsior (LS), Altezza (IS), Windom (ES), and Soarer (SC), would be retired, though the Harrier (RX) would carry on. (The RX and Harrier would eventually split chassis in 2013, and the Harrier is now sold in North America as the Venza.)
The third generation of the GS was evolutionary from a styling standpoint, with the quad lights and general shape resembling its predecessor. Also carried over from the 2nd gen was the 3UZ-FE V8 in the GS430; the 6-cylinder base model that made up the bulk of sales was still called the GS300, but the engine changed to a V6. All-wheel drive became an option for the first time. The V6 was upgraded to a more powerful 3.5 liter unit for 2007, being renamed the GS350, and actually matched the V8 in performance: the GS350 was actually rated with more horsepower than the GS430 and their 0-60 times were the same. This was quickly rectified: for 2008 the V8 was changed to the newer 1UR-FE 4.6L unit producing 342 hp, with the corresponding model name becoming the GS460. (GS460s are extremely rare, among the rarest of Lexus models, and are prized by enthusiasts.) A hybrid version, the GS450h, was available, with a V6 and hybrid system combining for as much power as the GS460. For 2012, the car was replaced with a new generation.
The fourth and final generation of GS was, like the second generation, similar mechanically to its predecessor but evolutionary in the styling department. The V8 was, for the time being, dropped, with the 3.5L V6 continuing on in both regular and hybrid versions. In some markets, a smaller displacement 2.5L V6 was sold. The car received a facelift in 2015, adding the controversial Predator grille, and two new engines: a 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder base model engine, known as the GS200T (and later GS300 in markets where it wasn’t dropped) and the powerhouse 5.0L V8 in the GS F. The 200T was withdrawn from North America after 2017, leaving just the GS350 and GS F. The cars soldiered on as sales dwindled, finally being discontinued in August 2020.
I’d coveted an FR straight-6/V8 Toyota for a few years, after attempting to get a broken A70 Supra from one of my dad’s coworkers, only to find out it was already gone by the time of inquiry. Since then, prices of the Supra, and Lexus SC and IS, began climbing steadily and Cressidas got more and more scarce. That left the GS, which had grown on me, and the LS, which I didn’t find sporty enough to seriously consider, though I did window shop for them when the GS market was particularly thin. Finally, in December 2019, I pulled the trigger on a black-over-tan 2004 GS300 located a few hours north of me. Buying the car was an all-day affair thanks to Northern Virginia traffic, but in the end I came home with it. Early on I’d decided to rebadge it as an Aristo, not too difficult a task since the rear badges were already removed by the previous owner. It was just a matter of getting the parts.
When I first got my GS, it looked a bit plain. Completely stock, no wing, the base 16 inch wheels. Within the first few months of ownership I bought a few JDM bits that provided changes that, while subtle, made the car pop. The larger 17” 5-spoke chrome wheels came off an Aristo in Japan, but the GS430 used the same wheels with Lexus logos in the center caps. The JDM window visors add something a little extra. Other than that, it’s aesthetically perfect, if not physically, thanks to a dent in the rear passenger door. The previous owner said his wife backed into it at some point. I just like it. (All right, the four light setup isn’t for everyone, but I do tend to have a thing for cars that have odd styling cues.)
The interior is pretty plush. Leather and wood abound, with some plastic and a relatively soft-touch dash. All of it together combines for a pleasant cabin that’s advanced for the time. The gauges light up and the needles sweep across them when the key is inserted into the ignition. Controls are all easily accessible for the driver, though the glovebox-mounted CD changer is much more easily reached by the front passenger. The parking brake is foot-activated, a change from my other cars. A touchscreen control system was optional, though mine doesn’t have that. The rear seats have ample legroom for two adults, and a fold-out arm rest. I added a set of DRAGint floor mats to give the interior a little more character. My car’s does show its 17 years of age and 250,000 miles, with some wearing of the materials in various spots, but it’s to be expected.
What comes to your mind when you see the term 2JZ? A Supra? Perhaps a heavily modified bright orange one owned by a dead guy? Well, the first two generations of GS shared that engine, along with some other cars like the SC and IS, and are one of three Toyota sedans that can stake a claim to the title of “four-door Supra”. Yeah, without a turbo it’s not the world-beater that its reputation states, but it’s still a smooth, reliable, moderately powerful, though thirsty, power plant.
The transmission is all right. There was no manual option for the chassis, though swaps have been done. Since I’m not drifting the car, I’m fine with the 5-speed auto. The gear ratios are satisfactory, and there’s a primitive manual shift mode involving buttons on the steering wheel. It isn’t as intuitive as, say, the one in my TL, and isn’t even fully manual, but again, this car has roots in the mid-90s, when such a concept was only really being pursued by a few manufacturers. The setup is a bit odd, with two downshift buttons on the front and two upshift buttons on the rear, one on each side of the steering wheel. Going from D to manual mode, the car defaults to M5, meaning it’s still using all five gears, and you have to push the downshift button until you get to the desired maximum gear you want to be in, though the lowest you can go is M2. If you want to hold it in 1st, you have to choose L on the shifter. Power mode puts gear shifts a bit higher on the tach, so it enhances the limited manual mode. Shifts aren’t instantaneous, but again, this is a 90s Toyota we’re talking about. (I mean, the Corolla still had a 3-speed automatic when this car came out!) As previously mentioned, it’s a good transmission, but it’s a shame it can’t hold much power.
General performance of the GS300 is pretty solid. The rear-drive chassis helps, for sure. Granted, drive wheels aren’t everything, and the car isn’t as tail-happy as, say, a Toyobaru. I have suspension upgrades planned that’ll make it a bit tighter, but even in stock form the handling is pretty neutral. The 17×8 wheels wrapped in Falken Azenis FK510 summer tires (that predate my employment by Bridgestone, for the record) enhance that just a little bit further. For winter, which is slowly becoming a thing of the past in Virginia, I have the stock 16 inch wheels with some no-name all-seasons that the previous owner installed. Acceleration is smooth but merely adequate, with a 0-60 time in the low-mid 7’s. That’s a little bit slower than my Prelude, but with only slightly more horsepower carrying several hundred more pounds, in context it’s not so bad. The V8 models use the same transmission and yield a good bit more power, so acceleration on them is significantly improved. Overall it’s pretty fun to fling around twisty roads.
The car is surprisingly ahead of its time from a safety standpoint, with side curtain airbags, a rarity in the late 1990s. ABS and traction control were standard, with a system called Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) integrating them. The throttle control system has a mode for snow, which makes for an easier time driving through wintry weather, by limiting revs and shifting.
The GS may not be an LS when it comes to all-out comfort, but it’s still floaty. The seats are very cushy, though the leather itself in them is a bit more supple than that of my TL. (However, after spending some time with a Platinum Series at the junkyard, I can defintively say the leather in those is a step up.) My car has the optional heated seats. Dual-zone climate control means both front seat occupants can have their own comfort level, and the front seats are fully powered.
One reason I bought the car was because I like the sound the aforementioned 2JZ makes, especially with a modified exhaust. Even in stock form, at low RPMs, the engine has a curious hum, but as it climbs the rev range it really begins to sing. The stereo system contains a 6-disc CD changer, which is disabled in my car because it was draining the battery, a cassette player, and of course AM-FM radio. I don’t have the optional Mark Levinson sound system, but I don’t really listen to the stereo that much in this car anyway so it’s not a big deal. Even the base stereo is solid.
Reliability/cost of ownership: 9/10
My car was an absolute basket case the first 6 months I owned it, to the point that I would joke “buy a Toyota, they said. They don’t have problems like Nissans, they said.” Some of those problems I knew about going in, some were just age (the fuel pump, for example, went out in the spring, but replacing it took only about half an hour), and others were self inflicted (hooking the battery up backwards, for example), so I consider it an outlier. Overall, when it comes to reliability, well, it’s a Toyota. I hit 250,000 in it earlier this year, and it still runs perfectly fine, now that the kinks have been worked out. There are some minor issues common in the car, such as door lock actuators going bad, the infamous 2JZ VVTi gear oil leak that requires taking the timing belt off to fix, and the HVAC motors making noise, but they aren’t major. Sunroof leaks are known to happen, and difficult to fix, but thankfully I haven’t had encountered that. Once I got it all sorted, the only thing I’ve had to buy for the car is gas.
The GS is the one of a dwindling number of affordable rear-drive Toyotas that promise at least some sporting characteristics. Sure, you can find LS400s in the same price range, but they require more work to become anything other than a land yacht. Blue book on the 2nd gen GS is in the $3500-4000 range for a 300, and a bit more for the less common V8 models. For that, you get a solid all-around car: reliable, fun, comfortable, practical. While I won’t speculate on what a twin turbo 2nd gen Aristo will cost since it’s two years away from being importable to the US, you can buy a good 1st gen for a quarter of the price of an equivalent Supra, if you’re fine with RHD. I will say that if you’re concerned about cost of fuel, the car does take premium and gets fairly shit gas mileage, so be wary of that.
So yeah. I’d say overall the car meets my expectations. What’s next for it? Well, I’m planning suspension upgrades, to enhance handling a bit and make it feel a bit tighter and, dare I say, more Honda-like, then an engine swap. Factory turbo JZs have skyrocketed in price over the past year, while UZ prices have stayed fairly flat, so I’m either going to do an NA-T (naturally aspirated to turbo) build on a junkyard 2JZ-GE, or go UZ and maybe do a TRD supercharger on it, something that has been done.
So, it looks like I’ll be using this blog more since Oppositelock is going away. Of course, that depends on my having the time to write stuff out. See you soon.
Sorry for the lack of content lately. I’m really busy.
Buy a Toyota, they said. They don’t have issues like Nissans, they said.
Yeah, they do once they start coming back from the moon. As my GS300 creeps up towards 250,000 miles, it’s had a litany of little things pop up and get fixed. Granted, I bought it to be a project, and it’s gratifying to finally have the bulk of them fixed, but sometimes it’s just like, man, when is it going to end?
I bought the car in December 2019, from the second owner, who’d owned it for over a decade. It was a good solid car for him, but he had a 100+ mile daily commute and the 2JZ’s notoriously poor fuel mileage wasn’t cutting it for him, so on the market it went once he got a Civic hybrid. When I got the car, it was bone stock but had several issues of varying intensity. The biggest was a battery drain, ostensibly caused by his wife backing her car into the passenger’s side rear door. (Also at their house was a fairly new Hyundai Elantra with a destroyed front end, apparently a recent victim of a deer collision.) I later discovered, with help from a local auto shop, that the CD changer and memory fuse were also killing the battery.
The back of the car was completely debadged, so I’d decided I was going to rebadge the car as its Japanese alias, the Toyota Aristo. I bought most of the things needed for the change: exterior badges (which required a different grille for some reason), door sills, and, since the tire options were better for the 17 inch wheels that the GS430 had, a set of JDM twin turbo wheels with Toyota center caps. While I was at it I also bought a set of JDM door visors to make the car look a bit less boring.
I also got a set of checkered floor mats from DRAGint, because I absolutely love how they look.
Plans for the car include moderate suspension upgrades to improve handling, and an NA-T build on the 2JZ-GE. I’m probably going to get a spare engine from the junkyard for that. But first, I wanted to cure what ails the car. The battery drain was a nuisance, but not life-altering since the car isn’t my daily driver. A more pressing issue was that the car was running lean and stumbling under throttle. This was a combination of an exhaust leak and a hole in the air box. Both were fixed and the car is now so much happier.
Another issue popped up when I dropped the car off for inspection last month: some suspension parts were worn and needed to be replaced. Along with the other issues, the car ended up being in the shop for two weeks. (Right after that happened, my TL’s alternator died, because of course it did. This caused me to have to daily drive my Prelude for awhile.)
After getting both sedans back, I’ve been doing some longer distance drives in the Aristo to make sure the issues are gone, and they seem to be. It’s both comfortable and sexy, like a messy bun and yoga pants. I’m not quite at 250k yet, and it still has a couple more minor issues to fix, but soon.
All right, so I’ve decided to try this blogging thing again. The quote above was spoken by Super Dave Osborne to Norm MacDonald on the first episode of the latter’s now-defunct podcast, but could easily apply to yours truly, having decided to forge out on my own to WordPress instead of using other blogging templates as I have in incarnations past.
So, what is this blog about, you ask. Well, despite the terrible Animal Crossing screenshot above, it’s to integrate two of my long-time interests: cars and roads. Roads, you say. Cars, yeah, I get that, but why roads? Well, roads don’t have to be boring, and most of the ones I’m going to talk about here are going to be of the two-lane, twisty variety.
So, a bit about me. I live in Virginia, and have a stable of four cars. The first two will be the ones primarily featured on this blog.
My daily driven 2012 Acura TL, seen halfway up Afton Mountain in northwestern Virginia in June 2020.
My secondary car, a 2004 Lexus GS300, disguised as its Japanese-market twin, the Toyota Aristo. It’s my primary project car.
I have a second project car, a 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT, which is an absolute mess.
Lastly, I have a 2001 Honda Prelude, currently the only manual vehicle in my fleet, though the Fiero will eventually be manual swapped as part of the process to get it running. I pretty much only drive the Prelude to take my dog places.
I say the sedans are going to be the main focus for this blog, car-wise, partially because I drive them more, and partially because as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate practical cars with potent engines, hence the blog’s name. Now, I don’t have, or want, kids, but the prospect of a family car that can hang with your typical sports or pony car just appeals to me. I think a Chevrolet SS or a Cadillac CTS-V is just cooler than a Corvette. Sure, they’ll have a little something missing on the track, but at the end of the day they’re still awesome. I’ll also take a look at hot hatches and the practically-nonexistent-in-America hot wagons.
That last one is a Toyota Mark II Blit, a descendent of the Cressida, that won’t be legal to import to the US until at least 2027. Until then, I’ll just admire it from afar.
So, that’s it for my first post. See you soon.