IS F Review: Tokico HTS Dampers

IMG_9555.JPGAlthough I promised myself that I would keep my IS F as stock as possible, it was only a matter of time before I would do some mods that would be more practical rather than for just plain old looks. It is well-known that the IS F doesn’t have the plush ride everyone is accustomed to, but at the same time the IS F is not your ordinary Lexus. One could only take so much of the harsh IS F stock suspension, especially on poor and uneven California roads. The factory IS F shock setup is great to take on the track, but lacks the adjustability and comfort required for daily driving. For model year 2011, Lexus addresses the harshness with slight revisions made to the IS F suspension as it is reportedly sharper with a direct feel while improving ride quality. The factory shock absorber supplier for the IS F (and other Lexus/Toyota models) is Tokico, a division of Hitachi, Ltd. They are a respected Japanese suspension manufacturer who supplies OE shocks to many car makers around the world. Tokico also offers an array of aftermarket gas shock applications for both the street and track. Tokico is no stranger to the Lexus enthusiast community as they have offered the reliable HP (blue) series and the five way adjustable dampening Illumina (white) shocks for the first-generation IS 300 (JCE10). There are also applications for older model LS, SC and ES models. I’ve had experience with HP Tokico struts on my previous ’99 Toyota Solara and with the OE Tokico shocks on my previous ’04 Lexus IS 300.

Due to my involvement in the Lexus owners and enthusiast community, I was contacted by David Chou of Tokico USA by way of VIP Auto Salon to test fit a set of their latest line of shocks for the IS F, the Tokico HTS Damper (red) series. They wanted to confirm the cross-compatibility of their exisiting second generation Lexus IS shock application with the IS F. Sharing my existing knowledge of the 2nd gen IS platform with David, we both compared our data and decided that the existing 2nd Gen IS shocks should be similar if not the same in mounting and shape. We scheduled a time to do a test fit a set of HTS Dampers on my F. Since they were going to take out my suspension, David suggested that I could either use the existing stock spring setup with the HTS or use a set of aftermarket springs of my choice. Since the suspension has to be removed and reinstalled, I decided to do the latter since I had plans to do this anyway. Since I’ve had great experience with the Eibach Pro Kit springs on my previous Solara and IS 300, I decided to put them (Part# 8289.140) on my IS F. I am still riding on the factory 19″ BBS forged alloy wheels and did not want an extreme drop. The Pro Kit mildly lowers the front at 0.7″ and the rears at 0.3″. The HTS Dampers do not alter ride height in any way.  I wanted to retain as much of the factory look as possible without sacrificing wheel clearance.

IMG_5201.JPGI drove out to Tokico USA’s headquarters in Torrance, California where I met up with David. Their in-house installer did the install and took photos of the work. We compare both stock Lexus/Tokico made shocks and HTS Dampers. To our surprise, the stock shock casing and mount points of the HTS were exact. The only physical difference is that the factory IS F shocks have a flat black exterior with a monotube design. In contrast, the HTS has a bright red gloss exterior with twin tube, low pressure gas design. The HTS also features an infinitely adjustable dampening force setup where you can custom tailor your setup for a day at the track, or ultra cruising comfort. The beauty of the HTS Dampers for the IS F is that you can easily adjust the shocks to be a lot stiffer than stock, or a lot softer than stock. It would have been nice to have this as a standard feature on the IS F, but then Tokico would lose out on aftermarket offerings for the F! The HTS’ unique piston and valve design allows for the best flexibility of shock dampening just like a more expensive coilover setup. But unlike an expensive coilover setup which usually says “for off-road use only” on the box, the Tokico HTS Damper offers a Limited Lifetime Warranty as long as they are used for street duties. In the event of a warranty claim, you can send the faulty shock into Tokico where they can repair or replace the part at no charge (along with proof of purchase from an authorized Tokico retailer) to you. The HTS Damper is exclusively designed and manufactured at Tokico’s facilities in Japan.

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I’ve had a chance to drive my IS F with the HTS Dampers under a variety of road conditions and passenger configurations. Let me say that the HTS has made a huge difference in the comfort of my IS F. There are no clicks or detents when you turn the adjustment dampening knob, it is infinitely variable. The shocks come full stiff or full clockwise out of the box from the factory. Adjustments can be dialed in to your specifications. The softest setting can be comparable to the comfort of a regular IS 250, whereas the stiffest setting can be as stiff as drift car status. The setting just below center is what I like to call medium soft. This setup is great for daily driving around the city or long highway cruising. The midway setting is as close as you can get to the factory shock setting. If you want teeth-chattering stiff, you can do so, but I wouldn’t recommend it for long periods of time, especially if you suffer from back problems. The overall ride with these shocks are very compliant even with a full load of luggage and passengers. I was able to try out the HTS Dampers on a recent road trip to SEMA in LasIMG_5202.JPG Vegas last month. For those who have experienced driving Interstate 15 (from Los Angeles to Las Vegas), you travel on a variety of road surfaces ranging from super-smooth concrete to jagged, eroding pavement from the extreme climate of the Mojave Desert. Because the IS F is front heavy, I tend to set my front shocks stiffer than the rears. You can turn the dampening adjustment knob a total of 7.5 turns from end to end.

If you are interested in getting the HTS Dampers (Red) for your IS F, the part can be cross referenced with the existing HTS Damper (Part# HTS117) setup for the ’06-current IS 250/350. This applies to the existing Tokico HP (Blue) application as well. If you’re looking to upgrade your factory IS F suspension, but don’t want the hassle of coilovers (that would need rebuilding after a period of time), this is the best bang for the buck.  If you want the flexibility of shock dampening adjustments and cannot stand the harsh shock setup of your IS F, these Tokico HTS Dampers are for you.

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Toyota and Lexus heritage. Photo below was taken at the Tokico display during Toyotafest 2010. Photo from left to rightD1GP driver, Taka Ueno’s personal Toyota Corolla GTS and my IS F both featuring Tokico HTS Dampers.

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What is included in the HTS117 Package:

Special Thanks goes out to Clark of VIP Auto Salon and David of Tokico USA.

Discussion: Club Lexus IS F Forum – Product Review: Tokico HTS Damper – IS F

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