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Trueno Torque Machine

It's not a turbocharged rear-wheel-drive but don't underestimate the supercharged Trueno!

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Factory supercharged 1.6 litre engine
  • Extremely accessible performance
  • Comfortable interior
  • Attractive and rare
  • Very underrated
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In the world of Japanese imports there are plenty of cars that are overlooked simply because they aren’t suitable for drifting. One such car is the 1989 (AE92) Toyota Sprinter Trueno GT-Z Supercharged.

Don’t bother making comparisons with 180SX/Silvia S13 turbos because, ultimately, the Nissans are quicker and have greater tuning potential. But what if you want a coupe that’s genuinely unique on Australian roads and offers effortlessly useable torque rather than a bias towards top-end horsepower? Well, the Trueno fits the description perfectly.

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The AE92 Trueno GT-Z is successor to the ever-popular AE86 series Trueno - albeit there’s not much in common. While the AE86 employed an atmo 1.6 litre engine, the AE92 steps up to supercharged grunt – the 4A-GZE. In AE92 guise, the supercharged 1.6 litre DOHC four uses an 8.9:1 static compression ratio, a vane airflow meter, direct-fire ignition and a SC12 positive displacement blower with a top-mount air-to-air intercooler. With around 8 psi pumping from the supercharger, max output is 121kW at 6400 rpm and there’s 206Nm of torque at 4400 rpm.

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Tied to a five-speed manual gearbox, the 4A-GZE is the perfect powerplant for driving in city and urban conditions. Boost pressure arrives at virtually the same time you squeeze the accelerator (as indicated by the on-dash ‘Supercharger’ LED) and there’s a fat torque output at all revs. It’s quite a novelty if you’re used to driving a turbo engine that takes a moment (or several) to climb onto boost. The Trueno’s gearing is also well matched to the free-revving nature of the engine; it’s a very sweet combo.

Putting its grunt through the front wheels, the 4A-GZE AE92 Trueno should have no problems putting down 0 – 100 km/h times in the 7/8 second range. That’s slightly behind a comparable Nissan S13 but quick enough to surge ahead of most cars and provide some real driver enjoyment.

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Despite its substantial torque output, the Trueno has no problems in the traction department. Sure, the inside front tyre will squeal when you nail the accelerator around a corner but there’s no tramp or torque-steer. It’s very civilised. With strut suspension at each corner, the AE92 delivers a comfortable ride in urban conditions although it does seem to run out of travel over big bumps; we imagine it would struggle tackling B-grade country roads. Handling is characterised with mild but controllable understeer. The brakes are four-wheel-discs (ventilated at the front) with optional ABS. These are easily capable of stopping the 1070kg AE92 in a short distance with good stability.

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The Trueno cabin is slightly more conservative and upright compared to the Nissan S13 and the advantage is easier entry and exit. Headroom is also markedly superior and, although rear passenger space is poor, it’s still better than a comparable Nissan. Top marks must be awarded to the front seats which are wonderfully comfortable and offer plenty of lateral support. The instrumentation is large and clear (with the bonus of battery voltage and oil pressure gauges) and our test car was equipped with air conditioning and a CD player. On the other hand, our car had manual wind-up windows and very basic door trims – we believe up-spec versions have electric windows and a higher trim level.

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Visually, the Trueno has an attractive appearance. There are some visual similarities with the contemporary Corolla but the Trueno’s panels are unique from bumper to bumper. Standard wheels are 14 inch alloys wearing 195/60 tyres – the rolling stock seen on this car was donated from a Mazda.

So who would we recommend buying this type of car? Well, pretty well for anyone who has an interest in high performance but doesn't required trear wheel drive. The accessibility of the 4A-GZE’s performance is extremely impressive and it’s a comfortable car to commute in. Our test AE92 Trueno – supplied by Adelaide Japanese Imports – has around 150,000km on the odometer, is in good condition and has a sticker price of AUD$8,995.

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And if the standard 121kW output doesn’t satisfy your power hunger, you can fit a high-flow cat-back exhaust or, if there’s more money available, you can install a full length high-flow exhaust along with aftermarket headers. The air intake can also be improved with a free-flow entry into the airbox and by switching to an aftermarket intercooler. As seen in this photo, the AE92 offers a huge amount of free space in the nosecone – more than enough to fit a monster ‘cooler.

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These bolt-on breathing mods will improve the efficiency of the engine without sacrificing reliability and should give around 150kW at the flywheel. The next step is to play around with supercharger pulley diameter and whack in some more boost; it’s about now we reckon you might start pushing the capabilities of the non-LSD driveline.

Don’t go overboard with modification and you’re guaranteed to have a very enjoyable time in your supercharged Trueno. You really don’t need a turbocharger and rear-wheel-drive...

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