So, you’ve got yourself $2000 and you want to make your IS300 faster. Let me guess – you’re thinking about the CXRacing turbo kit. You’ve read great reviews and you’re ready to “pull the trigger,” eh? Sound about right? Or maybe you think you’re smarter than the average joe – you’ll buy the kit and upgrade the most important parts. Pretty clever, huh?
Take it from me, that’s $2000 that could — and should — be put elsewhere. If you’re serious about putting down power, then you need to build a good foundation. In stock form, the IS300 is a respectably sporty car. It goes without saying that the 2jz-GE motor is a great platform to start with. However, there are certain areas of the car that you really should look to improve before you dump money into forced induction (not to mention, it’s my opinion that the CXRacing turbo kit is an example of being pennywise and pound foolish).
If forced induction is really what you want, don’t go into it with a fixed number like $2000 in your head. Yes, the IS300 can be boosted for less money than other cars (though not as cheaply as Civics and the like), but your build should not be limited by your budget. I understand that not everyone has super deep pockets, but here is an example: let’s say you picked up an almost-finished turbo setup for a steal of a deal, but it comes with an outdated management system like the Unichip. You take it over to a friend’s house for him to look it over, and he says that you should invest in a quality management unit. If your reply is, “I don’t have the money for that right now,” that’s a red flag. You don’t need every single goodie available for the car, but your budget should not limit the reliability and safety if your build. If you want forced induction, wait until you can truly afford it.
Now, just because you don’t have the money for forced induction doesn’t mean you can’t improve your car. Like I said earlier, you can and should take that $2000 you have and invest it into building a solid platform. Before you do anything, you should be sure that your maintenance is taken care of. With the mileage and years on our cars nowadays, chances are there is an area or two (if not more) that needs your attention. When you have confirmed that your car’s maintenance is up to snuff, proceed reading this article.
Without further adieu, I present to you – the four (technically five) best modifications you can do to your IS300 with a limited budget. Not only will these additions improve your smile-per-gallon ratio, but they’ll also provide you a car that is far more reliable and enjoyable once boosted.
- Quality tires. I cannot stress enough how important these are. Having quality tires will not only increase your car’s performance abilities, but it also will make your car safer. Many people have debated how important big brake kits are to a car’s stopping ability, but what is often forgotten is the grippiness of the car’s tires. Simple physics will tell you that friction is the force that stops a car. If you lock up your OEM brakes when attempting to stop, there is nothing more that a big brake kit will do to help. When your brakes are locked, it’s up to your tires to do the rest. Having poor quality tires will greatly hamper your ability to stop, possibly putting you in a dangerous situation. Again, I cannot stress that enough.
- Sway bars. Some call them anti-roll bars, but the point of them is to influence your car’s handling characteristics. Simply and generally put, the stiffer the sway bars, the more easily they will induce oversteer. What specifically does each sway bar do?
- Softer front bar: will increase front chassis roll; will increase front grip/traction, while decreasing rear grip/traction; will provide slower steering response; increases off-power steering in corner entry.
- Stiffer front bar will: decrease front chassis roll; decrease front traction while increasing the rear (aka, understeer); provide faster steering response; decrease off-power steering in corner entry.
- Softer rear bar will: increase rear chassis roll; increase rear grip, while decreasing front; decrease on-power steering.
- Stiffer rear bar will: decrease rear chassis roll; decrease rear traction, while increasing front traction (aka, oversteer); increase on-power steering.
Even a stiffer rear sway bar will noticeably increase your car’s sportiness. It might not add gobs of power, but sway bars make a huge difference on this car’s driving characteristics. Your car will feel flatter and more confident in each turn, thus allowing you to hit them harder and faster than you ever imagined (assuming, of course, you’ve taken modification 1 to heart).
3. Whether you prefer coilovers or a shock/spring combo, you’ll find yourself reaping the benefits time and time again. Upgrading to adjustable suspension will allow you to fine tune your car’s driving characteristics to suit your exact needs. Track day? Switch over to a stiffer setting to maximize traction. Daily driver? Even if you set it back a bit softer, you’ll still have better handling than stock. While this upgrade isn’t exactly necessary, it’s definitely not something you’ll regret. Upgraded suspension coupled with upgraded sway bars will give you lots of flexibility for adjustments.
4. Valve body upgrade. The “Toyomoto” style valve body rods were the first attempt at this upgrade, and they essentially remove any dampening between shifts. They do slam into each gear, and going into reverse can be rough. Since no company ever sold a stiffer spring to replace the OEM version, shimming the valve body is the best available budget-friendly option. Depending on what materials you use, the shims themselves could be free or very close to it (however, you will need to buy new transmission fluid). The shims make each shift noticeably more firm, but they preserve some of the stock dampening, so you won’t be jolted going into reverse or chirp your tires going into 3rd gear. Be sure to add a cooler when you do this mod, and you’ll have a stronger, much more capable transmission on your hands. We go into more detail of this upgrade here.
4a. For the manual guys – Figs Clutch Damper Device Delete. Essentially, it will improve the engagement of the clutch by removing the fluid restriction to the clutch slave cylinder. They go into more detail on this mod on their website, but at only $32, it’s certainly a budget-friendly mod with a lot of upside. Low risk, high reward as they say. This “mod” might not be as immediately noticeable as the valve body shims, but for the price it’s hard to beat it.
So, there you have it. Let’s say you spend $800 on a shock/spring combination, $500 on grippy summer tires, $400 on sway bars, and $40 on either the valve body upgrade or the CDD delete, and you’ve now spent less than you were going to spend on a suspect turbo kit and substantially improved your IS300.