planetsoarer2sm.gif (4874 bytes)

High Performance Imports magazine drive the UZZ32 Soarer

February 2003

by Peter Scott

Martin Donnon is the editor of High Performance Imports and the Technical Editor of Zoom. He currently owns a 320+ rwkW Turbo manual Soarer that has been covered in Zoom. To order back issues click on the magazine pictures below.

lg31.jpg (24147 bytes)  

This is Issue 31 that features my car. Subscribe or order back issues here:

If you have any enquiries, problems or would like to order by telephone, please call 1800 801 647 (Australian residents only). Overseas customers please call +61 2 9748 0599

High Performance Imports magazie is an Australian publication catering to enthusiasts of Japanese imported vechicles.


Martin and I met up in the Adelaide Hills, he wanted to do a story on the UZZ32 Active Suspension Soarer. We also went for a drive in his custom single turbo manual Soarer.

Martin Donnan's Soarer Petersoarer.jpg (15343 bytes)

left: Martin's 300 rwkw HKS turbo JZZ30 Soarer manual    right: My 140 rwkw auto V8 UZZ32 Soarer

I rode shotgun in Martin's 300 rwkw Soarer - black manual. It's now got a single turbo, external wastegate and GTR rims - those good looking smokey brown rims (not the one's in this pic).
You can hear the quad plate clutch rattling. Drives like a regular TT down low - suspension is firmer with the coilovers, wheels are Nissen Offset - stick out a bit much and just scrape now and then.
Taking it easy you wouldn't pick it from a regular TT.
Then we go to overtake, 2nd gear the car has far too much power for the fat rear wheels and LSD. It just smokes them up and goes sideways - it all happens so fast, just cruising along and suddenly the car is screaming and going so hard and smoking the tyres as the back drifts out - it's all noise and g forces and speed.
If you point it in a straight line and get it going then it does hook up and boy does it thrust then.
I'm staring at the PowerFC hand controller logging all the maximums when the wastegate opens and it's jet fighter time!
The thrust in the seat is quite amazing - it just goes and goes and goes, the thrust, the wastegate roar, the g force pressing you in the seat is quite something else.
We had just finished a photo shoot of my UZZ32 Active for the magazine - I think the article will be called "The Best Handling Soarer bar none" or something similar proud.gif (926 bytes) (well
Martin used to think I was a driving genius after following me through the hills - the way I punted my '32 Soarer nice and quick - but after driving the Active through the hills himself he reckons I'm not so good after all! - it's all the car!

Anywhere here is what Martin said about the UZZ32 Soarer with Active suspension - don't forget to get an extra copy of HPI with the colour photos for your mum!

The photos in HPI are terrific - maybe I'm biased because it's my car! Here is what it looks like inside and the text from the article. Get the mag for the cool photos and the blurbs - only $9 !

HPINo31pg46.jpg (33300 bytes) HPINo31pg48.jpg (28769 bytes)

We all got rules. Rules we live by. One of mine is never to mention the two words ‘Soarer’ and ‘Handling’ in the same sentence. At least with positive connotations. Think about it for a minute, a portly Japanese luxury coupe, with only mildly sporting pretensions, is never going to be a sharp edged knife through the twisties. Doesn’t matter how much you hone it. Even my own overpowered screamer has its limits.

Push hard in your normal Airbag Soarer and it’s a grimace inducing rather than rapid experience. They howl like a freshly whooped puppy, kneel on their outside hind like a sprinter in the blocks, and push in a determined fashion towards the tumbleweeds on the verge. Keep handfuls of the over assisted steering in place, care little for the shoulders of the tyres, and ride out the tack. You will get where you are going. Maybe a little battered and bruised, but you will get there.

That’s where I figured my own Soarer had it down pat. I never said it actually ‘handled’ (didn’t want to break a rule) but when it came to desiccating a twisty my JZZ30 rewrote the rulebook. Neutral, flat, steady state cornering, tail out power on oversteer, and nothing in the way of surprises, even for the less than sensitive steerer. Drive it over a typical street though and the darned thing tries to induce internal bleeding. It rides like a buckboard, with even minute bumps in the road jarring and smashing at your vertebrate, trying to free your kidneys from captivity. Its not much fun.

Travelling that same pockmarked and potholed suburban road was what convinced me that Peter Scotts ‘Active’ Soarer was nothing more than an Airbag on Acid. It was smooth, if with somewhat sportier overtones than a windbag model, but it simply rode too well to have any ability when pointed into a corner. You know what they say about assumption being the mother of all……That was my first mistake.

Anyone that’s into Soarers in this wide brown land would have heard of Peter Scott and his beloved ‘Active’. He is an ‘activest’ in the Australian Lexus Soarer Club, ‘actively’ modifies his car, and has ‘activated’ one of the most comprehensive Soarer websites on the planet. In fact its called ‘Planet Soarer’, from a previous ‘Soarer Diehard’, and can be found at

Peter encouraged me to push on, towards the foot of the mountains, assuring me I was in for a big surprise. I didn’t want to disappoint him with my initial impressions and headed off for what I figured was going to be a waste of a couple of hours. Turn in to the first right hander and it sits flat goes around; nothing to it though at 30km/h. Peter urges more throttle. This time I add 20km/h to the signposted entry of the left/right flip flop and am mildly surprised when the tight controlled nature of the chassis has no problem with recovery and changing direction. Hmmm.

Pressing on, and starting to do things that would have me white knuckled in my own Soarer saw the Active completely unflapped. Never once did it give that feel of ‘catch me if you can’. Rather it replaced that insecure edge-of-a-slide feeling with a spooky sensation of being unable to ‘roll’. Didn’t matter how hard you punched the Active into the corner, or how stupidly late you apexed, there was no body roll. Not a little. No body roll at all.

My next mistake was driving the Active like a conventionally sprung car. All of a sudden the rules of braking are totally re written. Forget about a big stomp on the anchors unsettling the chassis and pitching the nose forward. Don’t worry about getting all your braking done in a straight line. This thing doesn’t dive. You can feel the suspension pushing back against you, but regardless of how contrived the braking experience feels the fact remains that other than change the traction limit of the front tyres you have done nothing to stop the car turning. If you have the grip then trail brake hard into every bend.

Its like that driving the Active. It creates a false dawn, makes you believe that the UZZ32, the heaviest of the Soarers, is actually the lightest, nimblest, and encourages you to constantly up the tempo. False or not though the fact that the Active can literally decimate the blacktop, make average drivers look brilliant, and focus the whole driving experience on the quality of the tyres, is nothing short of astounding. With around half the power of my highly tuned Soarer, the Active could, and would, easily gap it on challenging B roads. It’s a Soarer that handles, and it breaks all of my rules.

To achieve such massive stability, and almost zero roll, from a car weighing in at 1730kg is the result of massive engineering and development in a truly Active suspension system, of the same calibre as used in mid nineties Formula One. The Active Soarer has no springs, it has no shock absorbers, it has zero in the way of conventional suspension hardware. Instead it has massive hydraulic rams with computer controlled fluid bleed and height positioning on each corner that allow the chassis to be tweaked, balanced, and skewed, all at the bequest of a highly sophisticated electronic control system. Its this computer, or more to the point, the software contained within it that elevates the vehicles handling to such a transcendental plane. All of this in 1991.

As sophisticated as Nissans highly vaunted Atessa and Hicas systems? I would say the Toyota Active Suspension (TAS) system, and its associated components (A-4WS, A-SUS, ABS and TRC) place it well and truly on another plane of sophistication. You have to remember that where the Nissan four wheel drive system would look at the feedback from external sensors and them make decisions, the TAS would actually predict the type of surface and driving environment and make educated real time guesses as to the individual damping and wheel height rates. Scarily complicated, yet highly effective stuff.

The Active is also the only Soarer to be equipped with 4 wheel steering (that’s the A-4WS bit) and once more its controlled by a yaw sensor equipped independent management system that not only makes the blighter dive into corners, but also quite cleverly negates the effect of external disturbances to the vehicle. Caught in a massive crosswind requiring you make constant corrections? Not so if you are in an Active. You wouldn’t have a clue, just hold the wheel straight-ahead while the computer adjusts the wheel angles. The A-4WS also gives the Active the most delicious of steering feedback and general road feel. Very un-Soarer.

All of this whiz-bangery comes at a price though, and its unmistakeable when driving the Active that it’s a resource hungry system. It adds 90kg to the basic weight of the car, but more than that saps engine power from the piston driven hydraulic pump that sits on the front of the engine. Under initial engine acceleration when you need the grunt most there is drain from the pump to stop the rear end squatting. Active Soarers in both my and Peter Scotts book make a worthy candidate for a supercharger kit.

Reliability is right up there on these cars, with their biggest dilemma being wear to the O-ring seals in the hydraulic actuators. Much like the traditional Hispanic style hoppers it’s the seals that take the battering of constant extension and retraction. Unlike the aftermarket stuff the Toyota gear is still going strong after a decade. Peter is currently in the throes of installing some seals in his rear hydraulics, which is not a massive drama as all the parts are still readily available through specialist Toyota dealers.

Why then did Toyota only ever release this sophisticated A-SUS system in the domestic Japanese Soarer? Why haven’t they carried it on to other export Lexus models? Those are two questions we will probably never know the answer to, but you could bet your last buck that the balance sheet simply wasn’t working out, and the cars were simply too expensive to interest mainstream buyers. How expensive? How does 7.45 million yen – around $110 thousand Aussie big ones in 1991 sound? Like a lot, and sadly too much for most.

Good news for potential Active buyers though is that due to their lack of distinct external markings, and combined with a disinterested Japanese public, they can often be purchased for little more than a conventional Air Suspension model. In fact according to Peter Scott you can quite often luck onto an Active Lexus in Australia with the seller none the wiser. Compared to an Air Sus car? No Contest. Compared to any other luxury sports coupe we can think of? Active Soarer sets the standards.