I got another Aristo, a real one this time. 1992 3.0V twin turbo. It’s a blast. More to come.
Former James May impersonator
Stop giving this man clicks
The ultimate sleeper. Nobody’s going to think this random 90s Toyota sedan has a supercar engine in it. (Yeah, I said supercar. Fight me.) Although they’re going to ask why the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car.
The Toyota Aristo was introduced to Japan in 1991, at the height of the bubble economy, as a chassis twin to the also-new Crown Majesta, a slightly larger and more luxurious version of the ubiquitous Crown, itself receiving a new generation that year. Though the cars were very similar mechanically, and even shared a chassis designation, the styling of the cars was different. While the Crown and Majesta were styled with their home market in mind and had a more traditional look, the Aristo was designed by legendary Italian automotive stylist Giorgietto Giugiaro, carrying a more international flavor. The Aristo also carried an exclusive engine, a reworked and stroked version of the twin-turbo inline-6 that could be found in the 2.5 GT Twin Turbo trims of the Supra and X chassis triplets (Mark II, Chaser, and Cresta, or as we knew it, the Cressida). Known as the 2JZ-GTE, this engine would later go on to worldwide fame in the next generation Supra in 1993. The other two engine options, the 2JZ-GE naturally aspirated inline-6 and the 1UZ-FE V8, the latter added to the Aristo in 1992, were shared with the Majesta. In 1993, the Aristo was launched worldwide as the Lexus GS300, with the 2JZ-GE being the only available engine in export models.
To this day I’m still not sure whether or not the Aristo was destined for export from the outset and delayed, or if it was a decision made after the car was released in Japan. (I also haven’t figured out why Toyota chose the V designation for its turbo inline 6 sedans in the 90s. Maybe Captain Bradford will finally review one and have those questions answered.) I generally lean towards the former, because it was designed by an Italian and had an American star in some of its TV ads. However, my car’s cruise control stalk is mainly written in Japanese, while of the few other JDM Toyotas of the time that had cruise control, had the controls entirely in English. (The Aristo’s controls appear to have changed to English in 1994, by which time the car had already been sold in other markets for nearly a year.)
A second generation of Aristo was released in 1997, with the slow-selling V8 dropped for Japan but added as an option everywhere else. The 2JZ-GTE was still exclusive to Japan, and continued with the same heavy-duty 4-speed automatic instead of a 5-speed like the naturally aspirated cars had. After the Supra was discontinued in 2002, the Aristo once again was the sole carrier of the 2JZ-GTE until 2005, when it was replaced with the V6-powered 3rd generation GS and the Lexus marque was introduced to Japan. The GS would continue for two more generations before being discontinued in August 2020. The JZ engine family lasted until 2007, when the final Mark II and 170-series Crown wagons ended production, though the turbo versions were gone by 2006. (Yes, this means the 1JZ-GTE outlived the 2JZ-GTE despite being introduced earlier.)
I bought my Aristo in December 2020, having been imported by local dealer Japanese Classics earlier in the year. Originally $17,000, it sat on their lot for several months because they had brought over 3 or 4 other silver/white/grey Aristos all at the same time. By the time I jumped on it, the price had been reduced all the way to $12,495. For comparison, at the time I made this review, a blacktop (non-VVTi) 2JZ-GTE by itself costs almost $10,000. (You can get a VVTi GTE for “only” $6-7000, but they aren’t quite as strong as the old ones.) I had originally planned to just test drive the car, as well as a 1JZ Soarer and maybe a UZ-powered car, to see what the engines were like so I could decide once and for all which one I would swap into my GS300. However, due to Japanese Classics’ standing in the JDM scene, and because of so many time wasters and tire kickers, they require you to essentially be ready to buy the car when you come to see it. So, all those hoops jumped through, by the time I got the see the Aristo I’d decided to just buy it and sell the GS300, which ended up in the hands of my dad.
“That’s great, but what does your plate mean?”
Honestly, the styling is absolutely gorgeous. Giugiaro’s design looks timeless, if a bit understated. The only reason I’m giving it an 8 is because I factor physical condition into my exterior rating, and my car has some blemishes. The turbo models originally came with a staggered version of the OEM 7-spoke wheel: 16x7.5 in the front and 16x8 in the rear. My full-size spare is one of the former. At some point, a set of 16” second generation Aristo/GS 16” facelift wheels in the gunmetal grey used in the Sport Design trim in the US was swapped onto the car. For warmer weather, I swapped on my old 5-spoke 2nd gen Aristo turbo/GS430 17” wheels that I’d previously had on my old GS300. One notable difference between the JDM and export cars is that JDM cars, regardless of engine, have a slightly different front bumper with two slits. On the (JDM) driver’s side in the turbo models, this is a duct for the factory side-mount intercooler, while the passenger’s side is blocked off. I haven’t seen a non-turbo JDM model up close, but I assume both sides are blocked off on those cars.
It’s a bit bland inside compared to the 2nd gen, but it’s definitely grown on me. As is typical for Toyota, everything you want is easily within reach. The gauges light up when the car is turned on. The aforementioned cruise control has a maximum working speed of 110 km/h, which is less than the speed limit on many interstates. The center console has a small storage compartment, and unlike the 2nd gen, there are no cup holders in the car. Real wood adorns the door switch panels, sunroof cover handle, and shifter console, a nice contrast to the otherwise monochromatic interior pieces. The condition of the car’s interior defies its age, and is better than almost any USDM GS300 of that age left. The only real wear is on the shift lever, with surprisingly minor wear on the seats and steering wheel. Occasional blemishes are around the rest of the car, but again, it’s 30 years old. It is a very pleasant place to be. Interestingly, most of the car’s controls are in English. The only Japanese writing in the car is the aforementioned cruise stalk, the driver’s sun visor, and the shift lock button next to the shifter.
There’s a reason the 2JZ-GTE has the reputation it does. It’s capable of producing mind-numbing amounts of power, though those 1000 HP Supras take a bit of investment. Equally important is the smoothness and reliability of the engine. The sequential turbo setup enhances that smooth feeling. The first turbo comes on at 1500 RPM, and apart from the whirring there’s no real “boost just kicked in” feeling. The second turbo, which is the same size, finally gets its due at 4000 RPM, by which time the 2JZ is already in its powerband. The power feels like it’s just never going to end all the way up to the 6500 RPM redline. Officially, due to the JDM manufacturer’s gentlemen’s agreement, the car makes 275 HP, but this is known to be laughably underrated. Export market Supras were given enhancements over JDM models, including stronger turbo impellers and larger fuel injectors, accounting for a whopping 50 HP increase if we’re going by official numbers. In reality, the Aristo and JDM Supra make around 300 HP out of the box, still formidable for the time. The lighter JDM stock turbos are good for about 350 WHP before upgrading becomes a discussion, a number achievable with bolt-ons and an intercooler upgrade. Bigger power means bigger upgrades.
All right. Let’s get this out of the way now. There was only one transmission choice for the Aristo: the venerable A340E. It’s a 4-speed automatic that has roots in the middle 1980s. It’s not exactly the highlight of the car. That said, it also isn’t terrible, and each gear can be manually chosen: first and second are options on the selector, while to not shift from 3rd to 4th, you can push the Overdrive Off button on the side of the gear lever. Paddle shifters weren’t really a thing in 1992, so I can’t really fault Toyota for not having them here. 3rd gear is direct drive, and 4th gear is overdrive. There were two rear gear options: 4.08 or 3.76, respectively noted by the terms A01 or A02 on the vehicle’s information plate. Those two numbers are followed by either A or B; A notes an open differential while B is a limited slip. My car’s rear end is an A01B, so I have a 4.08 final drive with the LSD. As with all JDM cars, there’s a 180 km/h (112 mph) electronic restrictor, but the top speed of the car with the speed restrictor removed is about 170 MPH. The version of the A340E in the turbo Aristo, and later the automatic Supra, was beefed up a bit to handle the extra power of the 2JZ-GTE, and can hold up to around 500 HP out of the box. There is a sport mode switch on the center console that makes the shifts higher, which is actually cool for something this old, but in normal mode the car wants to stay at low RPMs. Manual downshifts are recommended when warranted.
That said, overall the car is an excellent perfomer. Power delivery is smooth and linear, a byproduct of the sequential turbo setup. 0-60 is about 5.5 seconds, more or less the same as an automatic Supra Turbo, impressive given the length of the car’s gears and its weight. It’s also sneaky power, as you can drop a gear, hit the accelerator a bit, and not even feel like you’re going 75 MPH down this random back road. Handling is good, but not Supra or GT-R precise, due to the car’s softer setup. Still, its FR layout and, in my car, the factory limited-slip differential, along with aid from the Falken Azenis FK510 summer tires, keep it at least neutral, though confident and stable, through corners. Body roll is present, and at 3700 pounds it’s not exactly svelte (though surprisingly that’s only 300 pounds more than the AWD R34 Skyline GT-R), but it’s still impressive.
It has an airbag. One. That’s nothing to sneeze at for early 90s Japan, where even driver’s side airbags weren’t mandatory until 1998. ABS and traction control were standard. If you want to go full gymkhana in your midsize 90s sedan, the traction control can be disabled at the push of a button.
I raved about the comfort in my 2nd generation GS300. The 1st gen is a little more primitive, but it’s still plush. The seats are comfortable, though the switch blanks where seat heater controls should be will forever taunt me. (I probably got the only leather seat Aristo in existence that didn’t have seat heaters.) There is an air purifier, which is between the rear seats, with the controls on a dial on the center console, but I’m not entirely sure how it works. The climate control has a set of three dials, which you push in and out to choose your mode, temperature (shown in Celsius in half-degree increments), and fan speed. The suspension is typical Toyota, though noticeably tighter than my second gen GS300 was (though that may just be due to lower mileage). It’s a fantastic road trip car; I could drive it all day.
The 2JZ-GTE, in stock form, is actually a pretty quiet engine until well over 2000 RPM. Until then, the whirring of the first turbo is louder than the engine itself. At higher RPM, the engine starts to have a snarl that turns into an all-out roar as it peaks. I have a Fujitsubo Sedalis exhaust ready to go onto the car, which is a bit louder but still quiet enough that it meets Japan’s JASMA street-legal approval standards. The stereo in my particular car is a vintage double din Panasonic unit, with single CD player, cassette player, and Japanese frequency radio. The only FM channels I can get on the radio are very low frequency, but I’m a CD guy anyway. The car originally came with a CD changer, the husk of which is in the trunk, but apparently it wasn’t compatible with the Panasonic unit. I may or may not change to a more modern unit in the future, but for Radwood cred I may just keep the Panasonic around until it breaks. The speakers themselves are fine. There are several, including one in the middle of the dash. The factory sound system is mostly housed between the back seats and the trunk, eliminating any possibility of a pass-through at this time.
Reliability/cost of ownership 10/10
It’s a 90s Toyota. Need I say more?
“Hold on a second,” you’re probably thinking. “This is a 30-year-old, automatic Toyota sedan that has a five-figure cost of entry, and you’re giving it 10 in the Value category?” Yep. That’s just how nuts the JDM market is right now. Depending on mileage, the Aristo, Soarer, and JZX90 are all in the same general price range, though the Aristo is typically a little bit cheaper than the other two due to it being less popular with drifters. Still, that makes it arguably the performance bargain of the JDM scene. You get the Supra drivetrain, albeit lacking the famous V160 transmission unless you find a manual swapped one, for a third of the price and maybe 10% of the attention. Unfortunately people who know what it is will still ask you “iS tHaT a SuPrA?!” And you will be asked about the steering wheel being on the other side of the car.
Engine: 3.0L 2JZ-GTE sequential twin turbo inline-6
Transmission: A340E 4-speed automatic with optional Torsen LSD, 3.76 or 4.08 final drives available
Power/torque: 275 (lol) HP/320 lbft
0-100 km/h: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: electronically limited to 180 km/h (112 mph), unrestricted top speed approximately 170 mph
Still getting used to this thing, but enjoying every moment of it.
2020 was a mixed bag for me. Obviously I was affected by the pandemic like everyone else, but I managed to make it through all right on a personal level. I definitely managed to put on a bunch of weight that I’d like to get rid of in 2021. Aside from buying my new 1992 Toyota Aristo, I managed to land a job in the automotive industry, leaving the retail job I’d had for nearly 15 years before. Here’s hoping 2021 is better for us all.
Probably will be the last time for awhile as we’re supposed to get some nasty weather over the next week or two, and I don’t want to put it on messy, salty roads. Last week VDOT was dumping all the road salt they’ve apparently been saving for the past three years for a storm that ended up being only rain, and I imagine this week’s won’t be much different.
@samv8 there is a hybrid one (the second one he looks at), but the first one he looked at was a gasoline 1.5.
How about a pic, non-IG?
Sorry, was in a rush to get ready for work when I posted this, seems like it’s been taken care of.
Interesting that the grille is quite different than that of the upcoming Civic.