There are around 3,000 or so very smug people driving around the UK in what is a relatively well kept secret... the Lexus/Toyota Soarer 2.5GT-T.
Back in the early 90's, Lexus USA designed a car to take on the powerful coupes of the day and created the SC300 and SC400 cars, being a 3.0 litre straight-six and a 4.0 litre V8 respectively. The Japanese domestic market also got a 2.5 litre six cylinder twin-turbo model which later became a single turbo VVTi unit, and it's these Japanese models that have found their way to our shores. I spent a happy year behind the wheel of a '93 model 2.5 twin turbo before spending another year at the helm of the updated 2.5 'single' which forms the basis of this review.
For its looks, the car is an elegant 2-door 4 seater coupe with very soft sweeping lines. In some respects it bears a passing resemblance to the 97-on model Nissan 200SX, although the Soarer is a good deal larger at almost 15ft long. Apart from minor syling queues, there's nothing to tell the models apart visually, or by age as the styling remained largely unchanged throughout the car's 10 year life. The 2.5 GT comes in two main trim levels, the GT-T which sports the usual extras such as climate control, electric mirrors, etc., and the more highly spec'd GT-TL which includes electric seats, cruise control and wood trim. There are in fact many other extras you'll find such as TEMS suspension and sunrrofs, but they're all fitted around the legendary build quality that sets Lexus apart. Remember, many of these cars date back to the early 90's and while having been shipped half way around the world, they still drive and ride beautifully once they make it here. Seats are adjustable for height, angle and reach, as is the steering wheel so getting comfy isn't a problem. All round visibility is excellent with large windows and small pillars, and the interior is bright and airy. There's a remote release for the fuel cap and boot lid, the latter revealing a pretty decent sized boot for a coupe.
Firing up the ignition and you'll see the holographic 3D digital dashboard for the first time. All the usual warning and indicator lights are there and you'll soon get used to seeing your speed in digits rather than at the end of a needle. It all manages to not look gimmicky, and all the other usual controls such as lights, wipers, aircon, etc. all fall easily to hand. Pick a good one and the 24-valve, 280bhp straight six will burst into life and purr quietly waiting for your next move. Now this is a car that's as happy moving slowly around town thanks to it's auto gearbox, nicely weighted steering and compliant ride as it is being whisked along motorways at alarming speed. From rest 60mph will come up in a little over six seconds, but thanks to the auto box the acceleration is almost linear up to double that, after which 160mph or so is achievable making this a seriously quick car. It's only when trying to drive quickly along twisty lanes that you'll be reminded of the cars 1600 cwt mass, although in the right hands this is never a problem. With rear wheel drive and some models being equipped with an LSD, it is a car that's meant to be driven despite being so accomplished as a Grand Tourer. At speed, road and wind noise isn't an issue and it'll make a relaxed mile-muncher. The standard 16x7 wheels will give a wonderful ride, although many cars have after market alloys which can make the ride much firmer, so satisfy yourself with a test drive where you can check out everything else you'd do on any car. A word of caution, having rear wheel drive and 280bhp on tap, even through an automatic gearbox (manual Soarers are rare) can be an enlightening experience your first time out in the wet, so go carefully until you know what you're about. These cars do have traction control, but it's no substitute for being careful.
Aside from being a bit thirsty when you decide to employ all 280 horses, it can easily return you high 20's and even low 30's on longer runs, so it's not an expensive car to own. Add to that parts and service support from Toyota main dealers as well as specialist garages and a dedicated owners club and it starts to make real sense. You can pick up a good 92 model for around £4,500 but you need to beware of dealers knocking out cheap and nasty ones. As I mentioned before, these cars enjoy the legendary Lexus build quality and reliability, but one that's been neglected will be a money pit until it's put right - and that could cost thousands. That aside, there are many good examples available, and this was a £30K car in it's day. Buy an equivalent BMW or Jaguar and you'll forever have your hand in your pocket keeping it going. What's more, they won't be nearly as exclusive as the Soarer. What's more there are plenty of insurance companies asking reasonable premiums for Soarers, e.g. less than £500 p.a. fully comp, and there's always classic car insurance available for ones over 10yrs old.
The 4.0 litre V8 model offers extra toys (leather, TV, reversing camera, etc.) as well as variants with either air or active suspension that actually works, although the dash to 60mph is fractionally slower than its 'blown' 2.5 sibling. Now no car is perfect and the Soarer does have a couple of niggles - the headlights for one thing are too weak for a car with thjis speed potential, however they are easily upgraded for the price of some PIAA bulbs. Also parking in tight spaces can be difficult, not because the car is hard to manoeuvre, but because those large doors need a few feet to open. That said, they're minor points that realistically won't present a problem.
All in all this is a unique car that offers blistering performance, gorgeous looks, superb ride comfort, reliability and modest running costs all backed up by a superb owners club and readily available parts, and so makes much more sense than an equivalently priced car of almost any other make. Travelling to the South of France and back is as easy as popping down the shops, and the car will attract admiring looks in both locations. So, don't think of this as some wierd, hard to own import, it's not. If you think you're special, then you owe yourself a special car.... and this is it!