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Used Toyota Soarer & Lexus SC300/SC400 review: 1991-2000

Much to the disappointment of many local buyers Toyota Australia chose not to import the stylish Soarer GT coupe or its Lexus SC300/400 cousin, but those who still desired the sleek Japanese coupe could still own one thanks to the specialist importers who took on local compliance of the cars.

Presumably Toyota believed it couldn’t sell enough of them to turn a profit on the Soarer/Lexus if it brought it in, but that simply left the door open for the importers to fill the void and satisfy the demand from local buyers. Judging by the number on the road that demand has been quite strong.

Buying a so-called ‘grey’ import can be a harrowing experience, but shouldn’t be if you do your homework and err on the side of caution when you set out to buy.

Recent changes to the import rules have made buying a second hand import a much safer proposition, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

It pays to buy from a recognised specialist in these cars, one that has been doing it for some time and has a solid reputation with the people who buy and drive them. To find out about who is reliable go to the clubs and talk to members about their experiences with the car, and with the importers and dealers.

MODEL WATCH

Toyota launched the Soarer and its Lexus equivalent in the early 1990s. It was designed in America and aimed at affluent Americans who wanted a stylish well built and fully equipped coupe.

In the Japanese market it was badged a Toyota, the Soarer to be precise, and was conceived as a sporty model, but on the other side of the Pacific it carried the Lexus badges of Toyota’s premium brand and was a luxury model.

The cars that come here are Japanese Soarers, but some have been rebadged as the Lexus SC300/400.

Whichever way you look at the two-door four-seater Soarer/Lexus coupe it’s elegant. Its lines are long and languid its proportions are perfect.

Apart from some minor styling changes during the model’s 10-year life span there is little to tell one model from another.

The choice of powertrains offered either heady sports performance of a turbo six or the more laid-back effortless performance of a V8.

The ST-T was the tearaway of the Toyota bunch, its 2.5-litre twin turbocharged double overhead camshaft, 24-valve straight six pumping out 157 kW at 6200 revs.

When asked the 1560 kg rear-wheel drive coupe will reach 100 km/h in a little over six seconds, but will continue to pull hard well beyond that, reaching 250-plus km/h in no time at all.

The progress of the normally aspirated 3.0-litre straight six GT is more sedate, it will require almost 17 seconds to cover the standing 400-metre sprint, which is some four seconds more than the turbo requires.

The quad-cam 4.0-litre V8 is the same engine as sold here in the Lexus so it should be familiar to local buyers. It’s a silky smooth unit that is equally at home cruising around clogged city streets as it is at speed on the open road.

Most have a four-speed electronic automatic gearbox, but the 2.5 GT-T is also available for a five-speed manual gearbox.

Independent suspension was under both ends, with coil springs on earlier cars and airbags on later ones.

Variable ratio rack and pinion steering ensured handling precision; the sportier twin turbo Soarer was the most precise. The luxurious Lexus rolled a little more in the interests of overall ride comfort, but none-the-less still handled with assurance.

All Soarers were well equipped with a range of features, from air-conditioning, anti-skid brakes, traction control (optional), tele-tilt steering column, power windows and mirrors and a rear window demister.

All had a driver’s airbag; some also had a passenger airbag, which came as part of the option pack that included traction control.

IN THE SHOP

The first thing to consider is that these cars are brought here as second hand cars, some of them now with high mileage on their odometers. The digital odometer is relatively easy to alter and without a previous history it’s hard to pick, so be careful and make sure the car looks like it’s done the mileage shown on the odometer.

An old car with a low odometer reading should be regarded with suspicion unless the owner can provide evidence of its authenticity. A 1991 model car would normally have in excess of 200,000 km on the clock, a 2000 model around 100,000.

Many were landed in the 1990s and have been here for some time, which makes it hard to establish their early history before their arrival. That makes it imperative that you buy from someone you trust.

They also have plenty of zip and being relatively inexpensive many have been within the reach of younger drivers who have used up all of that awesome performance potential.

While the Toyota mechanical package is pretty robust it’s well worth having a check carried out by an expert to determine the state of play inside the engine in particular.

All engines require high octane unleaded and the consumption can be quite high, especially if driven enthusiastically. Driven carefully you could get 12.0 L/100 km, but don’t be surprised if it’s more like 14-15 L/100 km.

Water pumps can be a problem at high mileage and they’re expensive to replace.

Power steering pumps can be a problem as well, so have a good look for oil leaks in the vicinity of the pump.

Electrics can also be a problem. The headlamps suffer from condensation build-up, the central locking often gives up the ghost, and the EMV screen is another item that often stops working and is expensive to repair.

It’s a good idea to check the operation of all the accessories to ensure they actually work.

The leather can be a problem where fitted. It’s basically through a lack of maintenance in the car’s early life, probably because the Japanese know they’ll be getting out of their cars after a relatively short period of ownership so they don’t bother looking after them.

IN A CRASH

The mix of high performance and youthful exuberance is a potent one with the Soarer/ Lexus, but thankfully it has a very competent chassis with powerful brakes and anti-skid brakes to help avoid a collision.

All have at least one airbag, for the driver, and some have dual airbags providing the front seat passenger with some protection in the event of a crash.

OWNERS SAY

Peter Smith was looking for something different in a motor car in 1988 and settled for the Soarer due to the classic looks and exhilarating performance. He says the car is a dream to drive in and around the city, but what a difference when you put your foot down. It is a no frills, economical black beauty with 110,000 km on the clock. He has done 85,000 km in it and has had no trouble whatsoever.

Frank Pettiford currently has a 1991 Soarer TT manual. It just turned over 145,000 km and is running perfectly. He has the oil and filter changed religiously every 5-6000 km and uses mineral based oil. He says he has had no problems in three and a half years, and says it offers excellent value for money in that it still appears stylish, gives 8.5L /100 km on the highway and is extremely reliable.

LOOK FOR

• elegant coupe styling

• altered odometers on high mileage cars

• accessories that don’t work

• signs of hard use

• mechanically robust and reliable

THE BOTTOM LINE

A good looking coupe that still turns heads, but age is catching up with them now that the oldest is 14 years old.

RATING

60/100

Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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