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Lexus SC 430 is a refined hardtop coupe and a sporty convertible, a leather-wrapped luxury liner and a serious performance car. The key to the SC 430's dual personality is a hard, aluminum roof that, at the touch of a toggle switch, neatly folds into trunk. There's more to this sleek new Lexus than its power retractable hardtop, however.
With a muscular, four-cam V8 delivering 300 horsepower to its rear wheels, the sleek SC 430 captures the essence of an aggressive two-seater. Yet it also elevates the concept to new heights of lavish luxury, thanks to the dazzling electronic displays and sophisticated vehicle controls that have become the hallmark of Toyota's Lexus division.
SC 430 challenges the Lexus reputation for staid styling, with its daring face, exaggerated wheel openings and eye-catching curves.
SC 430 was an all-new model in 2002. For 2003, the previously optional Lexus Navigation System has been added to the SC 430's long list of standard equipment. And the all-new Lexus Link telecommunications system is now optional.
The Lexus SC was redesigned for the 2002 model year and it's a total departure from the previous Lexus coupe. While the old (pre-2001) SC 400 was lean and well-proportioned, the SC 430 is curvaceous and daring, a dramatic, eye-catching statement that resembles nothing else on the road, least of all a Lexus.
SC 430's face is dynamic, flashing bright glints of chrome from its triangular headlamp clusters and Lexus trademark trapezoidal grille. The fluid arch of its roof leads to a rounded, suggestive rump, where integrated multi-lens taillights are sculpted as triangles skewed with curves.
Beneath its beltline the SC 430 is round and plump but pleasingly so. Its bold, squatty stance is emphasized by its long wheelbase, exaggerated wheel wells, and chrome-accented 18-inch wheels. Those wheels are pushed so far out to the corners they almost seem to stretch the sheet metal behind them.
Flip a toggle on the console, and the lightweight aluminum hardtop quickly folds itself double and tucks into the trunk. With the top concealed below the trunk lid, the SC 430 looks fluid and fast like a racy roadster.
Slide into the lavish cockpit of the Lexus SC 430. Feel the buttery-soft leather of the contoured bucket seats. Revel in the sophisticated electronic gear and high-tech controls. Thrill to what is perhaps the finest standard audio system ever to grace any production vehicle.
Glossy wood, available in either light bird's-eye maple or dark burled walnut, graces the steering wheel, gear selector, and console; and streaks across doors and dash. Wooden flap doors conceal the audio unit and navigation system. A leather-padded armrest tops the console; lifting it reveals a handy storage bin.
Despite the sheer quantity of sophisticated electronic gear and power-motivated controls, the SC 430's cockpit is commendably simple and well-organized. The driver faces a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, plus toggles for the cruise control system. Immediately ahead are three chrome-ringed binnacles housing round analog gauges, with crisp white-on-black graphics and vivid red needles. Switches for windows and door locks dot the padded armrest on the driver's door. To the right, above the console, horizontal modules hold audio and climate systems, plus a video screen for the navigation system.
The automatic climate system offers independent controls for the left and right sides of the cabin, plus its own, separate LED display for temperature and air flow. It's a "smart" system that gathers information from temperature sensors around the cabin. Lap vents automatically deploy when the top is open, to compensate for solar heating
The 240-watt stereo was developed exclusively for the SC 430 by the Connecticut-based Mark Levinson company, which has a reputation for designing top-quality sound systems. The radio, cassette deck and six-disc, dash-mounted CD changer play through a seven-channel amplifier and nine speakers, including an eight-inch subwoofer. With digital signal processing (DSP) and automatic sound leveling (ASL), this electronic wonder turns the cockpit of the SC 430 into a mobile sound studio. The most impressive aspect of the system is that it maintains full harmonic richness and high audio resolution even when you're zipping along at freeway speed with the top down.
A toggle switch beside the climate system opens the top. First, the transmission must be in the Park position. Then press the switch, and the side windows dip, a trunk flap rises, and the roof quickly folds in half and slips into the trunk. Then the flap closes and windows descend into the doors.
Lurking behind the front seats are a pair of smaller, form-fitting rear buckets rigged with integrated headrests and three-point safety belts. But don't mistake the SC 430 for a full four-seater. Those back buckets are painfully upright and large enough only for Barbie and Ken. Better to use them as a relief storage shelf for the diminutive trunk, especially when the hardtop is stowed and occupying most of the available truck space.
Skillfully, seemingly effortlessly, the Lexus SC 430 blends aggressive performance and playful agility with sophistication and supreme personal luxury. It presents multiple personalities to reflect the driver's own moods. And it does it as easily as a person might change from shorts and a sports shirt to black-tie formal wear.
With the hardtop raised and symphonic sound swirling through the leather-lined cabin, the SC 430 cruises in the insulated Lexus mode: quiet motoring supported by dazzling electronic wizardry and effortless controls.
Or stow the top, put your foot down, and feel the immediate response of 300 horses, as fresh air swirls around you. The SC 430 can rip down a straightaway at an illicit pace, or cut through off-camber mountain curves with the dexterity of an athletic sports car.
We surfed San Diego's beach boulevards in convertible mode, with the stereo cranked high and a California sun baking our skin. The only thing missing from our drop-top ride was a wind-battered hairdo. Those wizard-engineers at Lexus have managed to just about eliminate wind buffeting. Even at high speed, you feel little wind and can conduct a conversation with a seatmate without raising your voice.
Then we sealed the top for an eastward run through pine-covered mountains to speed and agility experiments in the low Anza Borrego desert. Pressed hard and fast through the wiggly routes, and then flat-out on the desert floor, the SC 430 revealed the aggressive side of its character, in spite of the luxury of its accommodations and the elite quite of its cabin.
Certainly, the SC 430 has all the right classic sports-car ingredients on board: a rigid platform with a stretched wheelbase, brief body overhangs front and rear, good weight distribution, and a front-mounted engine applying copious torque to the rear wheels.
That big engine, an aluminum quad-cam V8 measuring 4.3 liters, musters 300 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 325 pounds-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. That's sufficient motivation to hurl the SC 430 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and to send it past the quarter-mile post in 14.4 seconds. Top speed, guaranteed to peg the radar needle of any law enforcement official, is 156 mph.
All that muscle channels through the five-speed automatic transmission that shifts discreetly, with Lexus efficiency. It has three programmable shift modes (normal, sport and winter) and a gated shifter mounted on the floor console. Thanks to the C-shaped gate, the driver can accurately flick the stick through all five gears for selective control that approximates a manual. Or leave it alone to make its own intuitive shift decisions.
SC 430 carries a complete complement of electronic controls to keep the wheels safely on course. The anti-lock brakes link to traction and yaw control systems that check tire slippage both forward and laterally.
Alloy wheels of 18-inch diameter are the largest ever from Lexus, and they carry low-profile Bridgestone or Dunlop performance tires monitored by a tire pressure warning system. Optional run-flat tires eliminate the need for carrying a spare tire in the tiny trunk. Opting for them increases luggage capacity from a measly 8.8 cubic feet to a meager 9.4. Puncture a run-flat tire and you can continue driving (for up to 100 miles) until you reach a repair facility. Run-flats can improve safety by eliminating the need to stop in a dangerous or unfriendly area. Run-flat tires introduce a ride quality that's rougher and not as quiet as the Lexus standard, however.
The Lexus SC 430 is an personal luxury car with seats for two and not much storage space. But what it lacks in practicality, it makes up in sophistication, performance, technology, and upscale interior appointments.
Press a button and the SC 430 converts from an insulated hardtop coupe to a fresh-air convertible. That, combined with the SC 430's outrageous styling, gives this ultra-modern roadster a unique appeal.
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