New Car/Review

Lexus SC300 sport coupe

by John Heilig

Lexus

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            3.0-liter 24-valve inline six
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 225 hp @6000 rpm/210 lb-ft @4800 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, 20.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         105.9 in. in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    192.5 in. in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    53.1 in. in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     70.9 in. in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3516 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     20.6 gal. gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  9.3 cu. ft.
TIRES:             225/55VR16
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette, anti-lock braking, 
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $44,000 (est.)

I have to admit that I liked the Lexus sport coupes the first time I saw them and liked them even more after I had driven them. So I didn't view it as a hardship when the schedule called for another week behind the wheel of an SC300.

The SC300 is the smaller, less expensive of Lexus' two coupes. The SC400 is the other. Powered by a 24-valve inline six engine that drives the rear wheels (just as it should in any respectable sport coupe) through a five speed manual transmission (just as it should . . .), the SC300 has very good performance. The engine is rated at 225 horsepower, which is more than enough for the 3500-pound coupe. Lexus claims a 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 146 mph. I'll agree.

Of course the SC300 is a Lexus and as such is equipped with soft leather seats that are heated for winter comfort, almost eerie silence on the highway, and power seats with a memory system, and a host of other power accessories. Both front seats were extremely comfortable and would have suited even my aching back on a long trip. There were two rear seats, too, but I wouldn't want to spend a long time back there. They're more for occasional passengers on short trips.

The instrument panel is a direct steal from the LS400 sedan, with its own unique light show when it powers up. It has a speedometer and tachometer with bright red needles on a black background, as well as fuel level and water temperature gauges.

New for 1997 is a power tilt/open moonroof that reduced headroom somewhat but gives a feeling of airiness to the coupe that isn't there when the roof is closed. Normally I'm not a fan of moonroofs because of the loss of headroom. But the roof in the Lexus doesn't seem to take as much away from the headroom as other units do. And while the weather during the week we had the SC300 was excellent, we only opened the top once or twice, preferring to keep it shut but with the shade opened.

Performance of the SC300, as I said earlier, is excellent. But the one feature that seems to detract from overall performance is the too-easy steering. Lexus has installed power steering in the SC300 and that's not bad. But the car requires so little effort to steer that it's almost too easy. And while it's a speed sensitive variable power assist, it doesn't get that much tighter at speed. So the feeling is that you're always driving with too little effort.

Part of the problem I had could have been that I also had a sport utility in the driveway that week, which had fairly heavy steering, and I had just come off some seat time in a small front-wheel drive sport coupe that had more precise steering. The problem, then, could have been with me and not the car.

I'm not saying that this perception of too light steering was in any way dangerous. It's just that I prefer a little more resistance.

On winding roads, the SC300 performs like a champ. I have changed jobs, but I had an opportunity to drive on my old commuting roads, particularly on the winding hillclimb, and the SC300 seemed as at home as any car we had driven. Both the front and rear suspensions are independent by double wishbones and coil springs, with anti-lift and anti-squat geometry. Gas-filled shock absorbers are at all four corners as well.

Both front and rear brakes were ventilated discs, with 478 square inches of swept area. So the brakes were able to stop the car as well as the engine was able to make it go. In addition, the SC300 had ABS and optional traction control.

My wife has always loved the SC300. She claims it's her favorite sports car after the Mercedes- Benz SC500, which puts the Lexus in some pretty good company. I'll rank it right up there, too, although I would like firmer steering.

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