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Lexus SC430 (2002)

SEE ALSO: Lexus Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 58,455
     Price As Tested                                    $ 61,590
     Engine Type              DOHC 32-valve 4.3 Liter V8 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 261 cid/4293 cc
     Horsepower                                   300 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               325 @ 3400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.1"/72.0"/177.8"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     4015 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  19.8 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                              245/40R18 z-rated
     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.)                              0.32


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/23/21
     0-60 MPH                                        6.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          14.5 seconds @ 99.0 mph
     Top-speed                                (Governed) 156 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

The new Toyota SC430 replaces the SC400 and SC300, both of which first hit the streets in 1992 and continued virtually unchanged for ten years. The new convertible model is a clean-sheet design, and Lexus has pushed the styling limits with our tester this week.

OUTSIDE - Inspiration for the SC430 was born of teamwork from stylists at the company's European design center in Brussels, and in Japan, where headquarters was working on maintaining a balance between the exterior and interior. Its unique shape is highlighted by its nose, which has huge trapezoidal-shaped xenon headlights, and the simple Lexus grille, which is highly polished and very prominent. Both front and rear overhangs are short and the car's beltline is tall, while the sculpted hood, sweeping fender flares and dropped tail combine to make SC430 look like a show car. Lexus plans to produce only 12,000 of them this yearwhich guarantees that it will be a head turnerwherever it goes. A fully automatic aluminum hardtop is standard, and in 25 seconds, with the push of a switch on the center console, it folds itself in half and stows in a well in the trunk.

INSIDE - Lexus emphasizes that designers chose to use natural wood and leather for SC430's interior, rather than creating unnatural forms using molded plastic. Soft leather upholstery is standard and there's a choice of either burled walnut or bird's-eye maple wood trim across the dash, on the steering wheel and on the center console. Small patches of leather are on the steering wheel where the rim meets the spokes. There is a small seat behind the driver and front passenger, but it's better suited to hauling grocery bags than people. A memory feature remembers the settings for the driver's seat, steering wheel position and outside mirrors, while a 240-watt Mark Levinson-brand stereo system with nine speakers is standard. The dashboard gauges are conventional dial-type, overlapping and deeply recessed, and trimmed in a pewter grey color. Hiding behind a retractable cover is a DVD-based GPS system that is simple to use.

ON THE ROAD - The engine in the SC430 is a 300 horsepower, 4.3-liter V8 that uses dual overhead camshafts and 32 valves along with a continuously variable valve timing system that gives 325 pound/feet of torque for smooth power delivery across all rpms ranges. As with most Lexus models, when the engine is idling, it's sometimes necessary to check the tachometer to see if it's still running. Mated to it is an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transmission that interacts with the car's computer controls to ensure smooth, lurch-free gear changes. Standard also is a traction/stability control program designed to not only limit wheelspin under acceleration, but can assist the driver in maintaining control at speed.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Like most modern cars, the rear-wheel drive SC rides on unit body construction, although extensive chassis reinforcements have made it rock solid with the top up or down. It rides on a shortened version of the Lexus GS430 sedan platform, so both ends of the convertible use fully independent suspension, with unequal-length control arms, coil springs and gas-filled shocks. Tuned sway bars are also fitted at both ends. Big 18-inch Dunlop-brand tires deliver both a smooth ride and excellent grip, so the overall feel is that of a car which delivers responsive handling without diminished ride quality. Razor-sharp steering is delivered via power rack-and-pinion steering, while the four-wheel disc brakes are vented in front and solid in back. These use enhanced braking features such as a standard anti-lock braking system, brake assist and electronic brake distribution which provide tremendous stopping power. But for a car of this caliber, we'd expect to see vented discs at all four corners.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard and side airbags, ABS, traction control, stability control and brake assist are all standard.

OPTIONS - Run-Flat tires, $400; Navigation system, $2000; Rear spoiler, $440.