New Car Review

1998 Lexus SC400

by Tom Hagin

lexus

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 52,700
Price As Tested                                    $ 55,897
Engine Type        VVTi* DOHC 4-valve 4.0 Liter V8 w/SMFI**
Engine Size                                 242 cid/3969 cc
Horsepower                                   290 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               300 @ 4000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.9"/70.9"/192.5"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3693 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  20.6 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P225/55R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            19/25/23
0-60 MPH                                        6.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       14.7 seconds @ 93 mph
Top speed                                           149 mph
   * Variable valve timing/intelligence
   ** Sequential multi-port fuel injection

The Lexus SC 300 and 400 are seven years old, and while they don't exactly stop traffic anymore as they did in 1991, they are still a benchmark by which other luxury coupes are measured.

The cars are identical; it's what's under the hood and on the window sticker that makes them different. This week we test the 400 version.

OUTSIDE - The SC models can best be compared to a professional athlete dressed in a tailored suit. They're elegant and fit, but really love to run. Last year, Lexus restyled the nose piece on the SC twins, installing a thin grille opening where a smooth nose had been. A painted bar now crosses the air scoop on the lower valance, and a set of round fog lights take the place of the previous model's square lamps. Long on body but short on roof, Lexus makes it easier to climb inside by utilizing four-link, double-pivoting door hinges that allow the doors to be opened very wide. Five-spoke alloy wheels with 225/55R16 tires are standard, while a set of Goodyear Eagle all-season rubber is optional. Our car came with an optional moonroof and a rear spoiler.

INSIDE - The SC interior surrounds its front seat occupants with firm comfort. Supportive bucket seats have good side bolstering and soft leather covering, but the roof line is low - especially so with the optional moonroof taking up an additional inch of headroom. The back seat is best left for short trips with adults, though the passenger seat automatically slides forward when the seatback is folded. This makes it less cumbersome to climb into the rear seat. The driving position is low, and the dashboard wraps the front seats. The car has the typical Lexus ergonomically perfect controls layout. We particularly appreciated its tilt and telescoping steering column and the bright luminescent backlighting for the instruments. Power windows, door locks, mirrors and seats, along with auto-dimming mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, speed control, rear window and outside mirror defoggers and a 170-watt stereo are standard. Our car came with a 12-disc CD changer and a set of floor mats.

ON THE ROAD - The SC 400 is powered by a 32-valve, twin-cam 4.0 liter V8 engine which now produces 290 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. An extra 30 horsepower was pulled from the original all-alloy engine by using a variable valve timing system. This system offers continuously variable timing on the camshafts to give more power, better fuel economy and reduced emissions. This is the first time the system has been installed on a production V8 engine, and the power gain is dramatic. Its 0-60 mph time is trimmed to an impressive mid-six seconds, and its off-the-line jump is much quicker than before. Mated to this is an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transmission with a "gated," or notched shift pattern to allow semi-manual shifting. Optional traction control helps reduce wheelspin on slippery surfaces, while a Sport or Normal button inside allows the driver to change the transmission's shift points for economy or performance.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The rear-wheel-drive SC 400 uses four-wheel independent suspension with forged aluminum upper and lower control arms at all four corners, along with coil springs and gas-pressurized shocks. Despite the lack of sophisticated computer-controlled suspension gadgetry, handling is very good, with lots of grip in corners and little or no rebound over undulating pavement. The ride is firm, but the suspension does a commendable job of filtering out large bumps and jolts but sounds and vibrations from patterns in the road, like alternating concrete and asphalt surfaces, find a way into the cabin. Softer tires could mute the noise, but at the expense of handling. Its power rack-and-pinion steering system is road speed-sensitive, which gives more road feel at higher speeds. Braking duties are handled by standard four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS and side-impact protection are standard; traction control is optional.

OPTIONS - Moonroof (plus an integrated garage door opener): $1,120; 12-disc CD changer: $1,050; Rear spoiler: $420; Floor mats: $112.

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