Car Review – Toyota “Tezz” Altezza

About a year ago, I bought my first car. For the past 12 months, it has served me well, from daily commuting to the occasional road trip adventure around the south island. Here is a brief review of the car, including an overview of the specs, the most memorable experiences and  some of the bothers of owning and running it on a daily basis.

To start off, let’s talk specs. The car I bought is a Toyota Altezza built in 1999 and nicknamed “Tezz”. This particular model is the AS200-variant, meaning that under the hood can be found 6 cylinders arranged in-line with a displacement of 1998 cubic centimetres. This variant also features entry-level interior trim, such as cloth seats. More about this later; let’s focus on the car’s mechanical features. The AS200’s inline 6 engine is codenamed 1G-FE and includes variable valve timing, double-overhead cams, a factory cold air intake and a 7,000 RPM redline. This compounds to a modest peak of 160 horsepower and 200 newton-meters of torque at 6200 and 4400 RPM respectively. This is fed to the rear wheels through an unfortunately sluggish 4-speed automatic transmission. The shifting and traction control characteristics can be adjusted via two optional modes, “ECT” and “Snow”. The former delays upshifting to benefit from the engine’s power at higher revs, while the latter takes away throttle response to increase traction over snowy surfaces (at least in theory – I haven’t tested this feature yet). An old-school rack-and-pinion steering system helps point the car in the right direction with a satisfyingly linear yet heavy feel. In fact, the steering feel is one of the major reasons I chose this Altezza over another similarly priced Mazda, as the driving experience compared to an electric rack was far superior. The suspension is also notably firm, contributing to the sporty feel of the car. However, this harshness is not always pleasant on Christchurch’s earthquake-wrecked roads.

Now on to the more subjective stuff. When evaluating – or in this case purchasing – a car, looks are my number one priority. This Altezza is no exception. Other than a few angles and lines, such as its flattened and squared-off front and rear bumpers, I am still a huge fan of the overall look of this Altezza. Tomoyasu Nishi’s design has aged incredibly well, with its sleek lines and angry front face making this an attractive vehicle 17 years on. My particular model has suffered some wear and tear over the years, with dents and scratches in various places. However, a good clean more than compensates for this! The car also looks and feels smaller than it is, thanks to a relatively short  front overhang (the distance from the front of the vehicle to the front wheel) and clever proportions. My particular model features sleek 17 inch alloy wheels, which are unfortunately marked by quite a bit of curbing and prone to brake dust. These are wrapped with low-profile Dunlop tyres. Aesthetically speaking, the feature I least like is the rear tail light design, which I find to have aged the most, no thanks to widespread imitation in the aftermarket industry. The front headlights also suffer from yellowing and micro-cracks as a consequence of its age. However, I have managed to reduce this by using specialised cleaning products (and quite a bit of elbow grease).

The interior is a nice place to sit, although it has aged both physically and aesthetically. As previously mentioned, this AS200 model is equipped with cloth seats, which are in fact preferable to the leather trim, which is more prone to wear-and-tear. The driving position is low and the seats snug, another factor in the overall sporty ‘feel’ of the car. Based on feedback from passengers, the rear seats are reasonably spacious and comfortable for two, however not well suited for three passengers. The audio system is in wont of upgrading, with incompatible FM tuning, no auxiliary cable input and an unnecessary minidisk tray (yeah, I don’t know what they are either). Hopefully, I will have a new head unit in soon, watch this space.

And now we get to the important stuff. After all, what value does a car like this have, if it isn’t it’s day-to-day practicality as well as the memories it helps create. In the 12 months I have owned this car, I have driven around 15,000 kilometres, including numerous road trips around the South Island of New Zealand. These include driving up to Abel Tasman and through Arthur’s Pass (trips which have been documented on this blog), around Banks Peninsula and a number of shorter hiking trips in Canterbury. Thanks to this car, I have formed unforgettable memories of travelling with friends and family.

Thankfully, this Altezza is also practical on a daily basis. It has had no major mechanical issues and (mostly) everything works when needed. Indeed, I no longer need to worry about windows falling down or the steering wheel being jammed, the main problems with the previous car I used. I am extremely grateful for its practicality and comfort, which make my life more pleasant every day. Nevertheless, this car isn’t perfect. The main issue is fuel consumption. On average, it manages 11 litres per hundred kilometres around the city, needing a fill every 3 to 4 weeks. As a university student with minimal income, this is a large cost to bear, made worse with rising fuel prices. However, this fuel economy is to be expected from a reasonably sporty 4-door sedan built in the late 1990’s and is a cost I chose to bear when I purchased it. The car has also had a few minor mechanical issues, such as rubber piping falling off the roof, a puncture and worn out engine belts. All in all, the cost of running this Altezza has not gone unnoticed but remains both manageable and acceptable for a car of this age and mileage.

In summary, I am extremely grateful and privileged to have been able to afford such a fine car at my age. I thoroughly enjoy the way it looks and drives and am very thankful for all the adventures it has facilitated. Despite ongoing running costs and minor issues, this Altezza has been extraordinary value for money and has aged well; I hope I can continue to look after it, so that it continues to be a reliable servant for many years to come!


Post-script: For those that know me, I apologise for rambling on about this car. What can I say; I love cars and am very grateful that I own one I love. Hopefully this post will let off some steam, and help get my mind off it for a while!

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