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Review - 2002 Lexus SC430

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SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyer's Guide

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The Sexy, Stylish Cruiser

by Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher

From the moment that I saw an early preview version of the SC430 at the Miami Auto Show a couple of years ago, I was seduced by its voluptuous curves and elegant refinements. It was like looking at Marilyn Monroe in a sea of today’s overly-skinny so-called supermodels: sure the other girls looked good, but Marilyn was va va va voom!

Thanks to its retractable roof, the SC430 is both a hardtop coupe and a sporty convertible. It operates like Mercedes’ retractable tops, and like the MB SL500 it is a powerful, fun-to-drive serious performance car. With a muscular V8 engine providing 300 horsepower to the rear wheels, the SC 430 is the very essence of an aggressive two-seat roadster. And by dressing her up with dazzling electronic displays, sophisticated vehicle controls, and laced with luxurious leather, wood and chrome, the SC430 is the epitome of automotive pulchritude. A standard 240-watt Mark Levinson audio system with nine custom speakers ensures that the lady sings as well as she looks and drives, whether the top is up or down.

Lexus only builds one version of the SC 430, and it only has one engine, a four-cam 4.3-liter aluminum V8, which is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with intuitive electronic controls. Optional equipment is limited to three high-tech items: The Lexus Navigation System ($2,000), run-flat tires ($400), and a thin spoiler ($440). The run-flat tires eliminate the need for hauling a spare tire and thus increases space in the trunk, and the spoiler further reduces the car's already slick aerodynamic rating from a 0.31 coefficient of drag to 0.30. Standard safety equipment includes frontal and side-impact airbags for front seats, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control (TRAC), vehicle skid control (VSC), and a tire pressure warning system (TPWS).

In creating the SC430 retractable hardtop, Lexus' designers discarded all aspects of the previous Lexus coupe. It’s composed of lightweight aluminum in two segments with a fixed glass rear window. There’s a hinge in the middle that tucks it into the trunk with a quick mechanical movement controlled by a console toggle switch.

When you slide onto driver's bucket seat you can't help but love the buttery leather and the embrace of the SC430’s lavish cockpit. Although the vehicle contains a complex array of sophisticated electronic gear and power-motivated controls for all of its mechanical equipment, it is all organized in a simple and accessible manner. The aforementioned audio system was developed exclusively for the SC 430 by the Mark Levinson company, which has a reputation for designing top-quality audio systems. It features a seven-channel amplifier, nine speakers, an eight-inch subwoofer, cassette deck and six-disc CD changer in the dash.

I had the opportunity to drive the SC430 on a few different occasions. My favorite was while at the Western Auto Journalists annual media day. Driving in, around, and through the velvety-green countryside of Northern California’s buttes was very nearly a sexual experience (as you can probably tell from the tone of this review).

While the SC430 is not cheap at about $60,000; it is downright affordable compared to the Mercedes’ great SL 500.