After the successful launch of Toyota’s first-generation (S140) Aristo, the brand knew they were onto something with their original premium sedan, which was packed with plenty of amenities and a range of large engines, including the 2JZ-GTE. In 1997 Toyota released the third-generation Aristo (S160), which to this day holds the title of one of the best premium sedans to come from the brand. It also just so happens that a good friend of mine, Alastair Wootten, owned one, so I decided to take a closer look into the Aristo craze.

What makes the Aristo so good? First of all, you need to know what market the Aristo was originally built for to get the best idea. Toyota originally aimed to design a ‘deluxe saloon’, which would be aimed at customers who had an inkling to purchase European vehicles for their dose of luxury, but wanted the reliability of a Lexus/Toyota. The original Aristo came with three engine variations; the 2JZ-GE, the 2JZ-GTE, and the eight-cylinder 1UZ-FE. With the three engine variations came three significantly different vehicle weights; the 2JZ-GE model was 1570kg, the 2JZ-GTE model was 1680kg, and the 1UZ-FE model was 1740kg.

The reason the I-Four 1UZ-FE–powered model was so heavy, was because it was all-wheel drive. In fact, the all-aluminium 1UZ-FE eight-cylinder engine is significantly lighter than the six-cylinder 2JZ-GTE engine, which featured a cast-iron cylinder block. In factory form, the eight-cylinder 1UZ produced 186kW and a smooth linear power band. The pick of the six-cylinder crop was the 2JZ-GTE, which produced 206kW in factory form and even more torque than the eight-cylinder variant. Modification of the 2JZ-GTE engine was still in its infancy in the early  ’90s, but the true potential was starting to be well-known, and the 2JZ would soon hit legendary status in Japan.

With walnut trim, leather seating, an optional Nakamichi stereo system, moon-roof remote, and 12-CD auto changer, the Aristo was a huge hit worldwide, and loyal Toyota fans the world over wanted to see what Toyota had in store next — enter the JZS160, JZS161, and UZS160.

Alastair's example was the highly sought after V300 JZS161, which came factory fitted with the, now legendary, 2JZ-GTE engine. The 2JZ-GTE had been updated since the previous model too, with both the naturally aspirated version and the turbocharged version receiving VVT-i, which resulted in an increase in torque — the GTE now boasting 451Nm. The V300 also came with the option of having electronic four-wheel steering, VSC electronic stability control, and an automatic transmission with steering wheel shifter buttons, but enough of that; what was it like to drive?

Being thrown the keys to something with a turbocharged 2JZ can be fairly daunting to begin with, however the Aristo’s factory power plant is so far removed from the violent examples seen on Youtube, and delivers its torque through the four-speed automatic with complete prosperity. With the only engine modification being an upgraded panel filter, it’s otherwise completely factory. Want more power out of yours? The factory 2JZ block has been known to handle huge amounts of power, so the world's your oyster here.

As this example was to be used for daily use, it was lowered with a set of BC BR series coilovers and had a set of 18x9-inch and 18x10-inch Work Emotion XD9s installed with Nitto NT05 rubber.

Even with coilovers and larger wheels, the Aristo is an extremely comfortable car to be in, no matter the journey. The seats are like lounge suites and the stereo has bass that would make you think it had an aftermarket set-up in the boot. The ‘electroluminescent optitron’ gauges are also a nice touch and bring the car into the early 2000s.

The exterior, in my opinion, is the best Aristo shape to come from Toyota. The late-model examples are too modern and edgy for me, yet the older original shape was far too weird looking (although still have their place). I think the quad headlights and yellow spotlights really seal the deal for me with the JZS161 V300.

Would I own one? Well, why wouldn’t I? The interior was comfortable, the engine was uber powerful and the reliability with this package is second to none. Does anybody out there own an Aristo we should check out?

René Vermeer

Dutch, French, or just a Kiwi, René isn’t quite sure, but he does know he has a passion for Japanese vehicles like no other. A well-seasoned Gran Turismo player dating back to his single-digit days, René has a comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of performance vehicles and has owned more than 30 performance cars here in New Zealand, ranging from Nissans to Hondas. A lover of photography, you’ll find him either peeping under someone’s bonnet to snap a detailed shot, or on the side of the racetrack, perfecting his panning.