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Toyota Soarer Twin-Turbo

Evaluating the 206kW Soarer twin-turbo - in both auto and rare 5-speed manual form...

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images


When the ZZ-series of Toyota Soarers was released in Japan during 1991, there were two engine configurations available - a 4.0-litre V8 making 194kW and a 2.5-litre twin-turbo six with 206kW. The auto-only V8 Soarer was promoted as Toyota's flagship luxury coupe, while the twin-turbo generally came with less equipment as more a 'sports machine'. We've already tested a V8 Soarer ["Pre-Owned Performance - Lexus SC400/Soarer V8"], as well as the later-model 3.0-litre atmo version ["Soarer 3-litre"] - this time we'll take a look at the go-fast JZZ30 twin-turbo...

A 1600kg 2.5-litre Luxury Sports Car?

The Soarer TT comes powered by a 1JZ-GTE 2.5-litre DOHC, 24-valve twin-turbo intercooled straight six. Running on high-octane unleaded fuel, it delivers the Japanese output regulation 206kW (at 6200 rpm) and a sizeable 363Nm (at 4800 rpm).

Very impressive for a 2.5-litre engine.

On paper, it appears that the Soarer twin-turbo motor almost equals the awesome 3.0-litre twin-turbo six in the RZ Supra - but it's nothing like that when you hit the road. You see, the Supra's engine has a 0.5-litre swept capacity advantage and it also relies on just one of its sequential twin-turbos to give a massive whack of boost (and therefore torque) at low rpm and load. The second turbo then comes on to maintain torque in mid-to-high rpm and load ranges. Put simply, this two-stage turbo system gives a tremendous dollop of torque everywhere in the rev range.

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The Soarer - most unfortunately - doesn't have a sequential turbo set-up. The gasses exiting its 1JZ-GTE head are constantly divided into two simultaneously operating turbos; this means boost response and low-rpm torque are both a fair way behind the sequentially-turbo'd RZ Supra. You really notice this bottom-end 'hole' when punching the 1600kg Soarer off the line - it feels quite doughy until just before 3000 rpm. Even though it doesn't have the urgency of the Supra down low, however, the Soarer always remains beautifully tractable and smooth - signs of Toyota's extensive ECU mapping. On-boost torque builds progressively, though keep the throttle wide-open and it starts to die-off - while the engine also sounds a bit thrashy above about 6000 rpm.

Automatic or Manual?

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Due to the engine's lack of low-down torque, we found the Soarer more enjoyable to drive when fitted with the 4-speed automatic transmission. That's because the converter multiplies low-rpm torque going to the rear wheels as well as allowing engine revs flare (often by up to 800 rpm). Under increasing engine loads (such as when climbing a gradual incline) the transmission is also very willing to slide back a gear or two, helping to keep the engine on song. The engine and trans is obviously a very well calibrated pair.

Having said that, the automatic did make fast cornering a little un-nerving - the torque converter flare and eagerness to change down made throttle control very imprecise.

With a small amount of stall applied, our automatic test car ran from standstill to 100 km/h in around 6.9 seconds (on a fairly cold night). We agreed on the spot that it's a deceptively quick vehicle - it never feels like a six second car.

The rare 5-speed manual version (which some have suggested is good for 0-100 in the 5s) is not much quicker than the auto without a big clutch dump and brutal shifting. Only under these circumstances will you extract any worthwhile acceleration advantage over the auto. In gears, we also noted that there's bugger-all separating the performance of the two cars fitted with the different transmissions.

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What we most dislike about the manual Soarer is that it emphasises the engine's bottom-end torque shortcoming; stomp your foot on the accelerator at low rpm and you have to wait until road speed equates to about 3000 rpm before any real urge become apparent. The gearbox shift action is also quite high-effort and long-throw - totally out of keeping with the rest of the car's light-and-luxury feel.

And that brings us to the Soarer's opulent interior.

Step Inside...

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As mentioned, the twin-turbo Soarer does not offer the ultra-high trim level of the V8 models (such as the Limited) - but it's still one of the comfiest cars around. Most Soarer TTs come with fabric seats (with a very thick flock), though you can find some models optioned with full leather trim. Regardless of covering material, up front are two giant pews offering a good mix of comfort and support. Note that - depending on spec - some Soarer TTs have electrically operated seats.

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Standard on all Soarers is the '3D' digital dash display. Road speed is indicated numerically, while rpm, temperature and fuel level are shown as bar graphs. On start-up, a panel at the base of the display reads "Systems Check", and then - hopefully - "Check Done", followed by the number of litres of fuel left in the tank. Any problems (such as low washer bottle fluid) are reported on the screen. For all its oooh-ahhh value, though, the digital display is still not as effective as a well-marked set of conevntional gauges. The brightness of the displays also varied across our two test cars - and both were unreadable whenever our sunglasses were dropped down.

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A very functional cabin feature are the two primary rotary knobs for adjusting the climate and sound system volume. Only one of our test vehicles had the factory optional CD/cassette/tuner sound system, which - using the factory tweeters, mid-rangers and rear deck subwoofer - sounds beautifully clear and well imaged. Certainly, there's no need to alter any of the factory upgrade sound system (except to be able to pick up local radio frequencies). Note, however, a 4-speaker radio/cassette is offered as base fitment to early TTs. Other standard Soarer features include power windows and mirrors, central locking, trip meter and more. Interior options include cruise, the afore-mentioned upgrade sound system, electric seats and a driver's side airbag (contained in an odd-feeling oval cross-section steering wheel). Dual airbags became standard fitment to twin-turbos after 1996.

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Despite its proportions, the Soarer still has interior space limitations. Front room is bountiful, but rear legroom - depending on the position of the front seats - can be reduced to near-zero. One of the vehicles on test also came with a factory option tilt'n'slide glass sunroof - it worked fine, but it ate into headroom dramatically. Even with the seat cushion set down and the backrest wound back as far as comfortable, my head was always rubbing against the trim blind. The only 'solution' was to have the trim blind constantly open.

Flaunt It!

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Obviously, the Soarer was based on the "biggest is grandest" theme. This can be seen in the immense size of the doors, which - due to their weight - are hung on sturdy-looking cast hinges. Incidentally, the door opening is quite narrow, giving poor access. Stylistically, the whole Soarer/Lexus SC range was aimed at the US market. So - rather try to interpret what style Americans liked - Toyota Japan had their Californian team come up with the design. "Fat" and "swoopy" are the two words most commonly used to describe the Soarer ZZ body. Front and rear spoilers were available as options. An update (involving revised taillights and a subtle frontal change) occurred in 1994, and another update (of taillights, rear bumper, skirts, front bar and more) followed in 1996.

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Interestingly, the Soarer is actually narrower and shorter in length and height than its parent Lexus LS400 . Under its skin are double wishbones and swaybars front and rear (with many forged alloy components found throughout). Our red test vehicle - the 1995 GT-T L-pack - came fitted with Toyota's Piezo Controlled suspension system. The ride in both of these cars - despite being a tad on the firm side - feels very well sorted, and NVH levels are very low. Manual vehicles came with an optional Torsen LSD, while the auto had an open-centre diff. Traction control was also offered on post-1996 models.

The Soarer's steering is generally well weighted, has a very linear response and has good sharpness for a vehicle of this type. The brake pedal is equally well weighted and stopping power is quite good. Note that ABS came as an option on early Soarer twin-turbos, but as standard fitment in later models.

Seeking a Soarer TT

The asking price of a twin-turbo Soarer depends largely on its equipment level, gearbox (auto or manual) and age. We have seen them for as low as $17k, but - as a more accurate guide - our two immaculate test cars were selling for $32,990 and $35,990 (fully complied and with a 3 year warranty) through Melbourne's Sports and Luxury Cars. The $32,990 1991 2.5GT grey 5-speed had 83,000km on the clock, while the $35,990 1995 2.5GT-T L-pack red auto had only 62,000km. Both were fitted with aftermarket 17-inch alloys, a Sports and Luxury Cars custom rear spoiler and the grey vehicle also had a styled front bar and skirts.

Certainly, a vehicle with this level of performance, sophistication, luxury and quality is something special on its own - let alone at bargain prices like this.

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Apart from ringing around for reasonable insurance premiums (prices may shock you!), there's only one other phone call we'd make before buying a Soarer - that is, to a qualified mechanic who really knows what they're doing. Get them to go over the car, looking for absolutely anything that looks amiss. We'd imagine some replacement parts would be very expensive (and labour intensive to fit). Oh, and be very wary of Soarers that blow blue smoke - it's invariably a worn turbo or two (just like the turbos used to wear out on the previous 2.0-litre 1G-GTE-engined Soarers).

If you're interested in modifications, the 1JZ will react well to just an exhaust and intake. The factory exhaust is designed for whisper quietness, so an aftermarket system will release quite a few more cfm and, of course, power. The same goes for the intake - we'd suggest a fat cold air induction pipe to ensure the engine isn't going to breathe in anything hotter than it has to.

Speaking of intake temps, our next mod would be a larger intercooler. The relatively thick standard core mounted in the left hand guard does well, but - given local low-octane fuels - we'd be keen on anything that helps prevent detonation. With an exhaust, intake and intercooler you'd be maintaining factory style reliability and enjoying around 20 percent more power.

More than enough squirt for the person who likes to drive around in big-ass comfort.

Conclusion

The Soarer really is a unique car in our market - a large and luxurious two-door which these days is an astonishing cheap machine for the quality of engineering that you're getting. We think that the automatic transmission better suits the torque and luxury characteristics of the simultaneous twin turbo engine, and the throttle response of this combo - and the weight that you're throwing around - makes the car a better cruiser than performance cornering machine. That said, the Soarer hangs on very well, has competent brakes and steering - and is able to push the blacktop backwards with surprising urgency....

Contact:

Sports and Luxury Cars
+61 3 9753 5799

www.sportsluxurycars.com.au

Confused About Soarer Chassis Codes?

Craig Dean of Melbourne's Sport and Luxury cars drew up this legend for us...

Chassis Code Vehicle Spec.
UZZ30 V8-powered model with coil spring suspension
UZZ31 V8-powered model with airbag suspension
UZZ32 V8-powered model with active 4WS and hydraulic controlled suspension
JZZ30 2.5-litre twin-turbo model
JZZ31 3.0-litre naturally aspirated model

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