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The Lexus SC 430 switches from a hardtop coupe to a convertible with the press of a button. It's a silky smooth sports car. Its smooth character extends from the four-cam V8 to the five-speed automatic to the supple suspension.
Its styling looks upscale and refined. Its interior is luxurious and comfortable, trimmed in leather and rich wood. Indeed, the Lexus SC 430 is a classy luxury car for two people dressed to the nines. Poise can be maintained while enjoying an evening on the town. It is, after all, the flagship luxury sports car from Lexus, the company that redefined luxury cars.
In spite of its luxurious overtones, the SC 430 delivers surprisingly good performance. With rear-wheel drive and a 4.3-liter V8 that puts out 300-horsepower, it can run with the Mercedes SL 500 and Jaguar XK8. It's stable at high speeds and, though soft, its suspension is well controlled on winding roads, on-ramps and off-ramps. Around town it's smooth and responsive.
Options include a rear spoiler ($440) and run-flat tires ($400).
Standard safety equipment includes dual frontal airbags, side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control, and traction control.
The SC 430 looks like no other Lexus. It's curvaceous and daring, a dramatic, eye-catching statement that resembles nothing else on the road.
The front styling is dynamic, with chrome-trimmed triangular headlamp clusters and the Lexus trademark trapezoidal grille. The fluid arch of the roof leads to a rounded rear, 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. The bold, squatty stance is emphasized by its long wheelbase, exaggerated wheel wells, and 18-inch wheels. Those wheels are pushed so far out to the corners they almost seem to stretch the sheet metal behind them.
Press a button 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.
The optional rear spoiler further reduces the car's slick drag coefficient of 0.31 to an even slicker 0.30. available run flat tires eliminate the need for a spare tire and thus increase space in the trunk.
The SC 430 features a lavish cockpit with contoured bucket seats swathed in buttery-soft leather trim. The seats are very comfortable and adjust every which way.
Rich, glossy wood, in light bird's-eye maple or dark burled walnut, graces the steering wheel, gear selector, and console and streaks across doors and dash. Wooden flaps conceal the audio unit and navigation system. A leather-padded armrest tops the console; lifting it reveals a handy storage bin. The cup holders work great.
The SC 430's cockpit is commendably simple and well-organized, in spite of its sophisticated electronic gear and power-motivated controls. The driver faces a steering wheel that tilts and telescopes with switches for the cruise control. Immediately ahead are three chrome-ringed binnacles housing round analog gauges, with crisp white-on-black graphics and vivid red needles. The gauges are easy to read except fuel and temperature, which compete with the gear indicators for attention. Switches for windows and door locks dot the padded armrest on the driver's door.
At the top of the center stack to the right are audio and climate controls, plus a video screen for the navigation system. The navigation system has been upgraded for 2005 with improved graphics and new functions. The automatic climate system offers independent controls for the left and right sides of the cabin. It has its own, separate LED display for temperature and air flow. It's easy to read and operate yet is quite sophisticated: lap vents deploy automatically when the top is open to compensate for solar heating.
The 240-watt Mark Levinson stereo delivers amazingly good quality sound. The radio, cassette player, and six-disc in-dash CD changer brilliantly reproduces sound through a seven-channel amplifier and nine speakers, including an eight-inch subwoofer. It maintains full harmonic richness and high audio resolution even when you're at speed with the top down. It's easy to operate in spite of its sophistication, so you don't have to study the owner's manual to figure out how to use it.
A button next to the climate system opens the top. Simply press the switch: a trunk flap rises, the roof folds and slips into the trunk, the flap closes and the windows go down.
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 four-seater. Those back buckets are painfully upright and are generally unsuitable for humans. Better to use them as a relief storage shelf for the diminutive trunk.
Like other sports cars, the SC 430 is not the best car for picking someone up at the airport as luggage space is lacking. The SC 430 offers 8.8 cubic feet of luggage space. Removing the spare tire expands it to 9.4. Dropping the top eliminates the trunk as a serious storage area. On the bright side, the Lexus offers considerably more luggage space than you'll find in the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet or Cadillac XLR and slightly more than what's provided in the Mercedes-Benz SL 500. Yet it's a bit less than what's available in the Jaguar XK8.
The Lexus SC 430 blends performance and agility with smoothness luxury. With the hardtop raised and symphonic sound swirling through the leather-lined cabin, the SC 430 isolates its occupants from noise and rough roads. Its engine and transmission are very smooth and the suspension handles bumps and road undulations superbly, far better than most cars.
Drop the top and the wind swirls above you, but even then this flagship from Lexus protects its occupants from the undesirable aspects of the environment. Wind buffeting is minimal at normal highway speeds. Even at high speeds, there's little buffeting and it's easy to conduct conversation without raising your voice.
The Lexus SC430 is not a sports car in the sense of a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet. With its soft suspension, the Lexus floats and wallows on winding, bumpy roads. Take it to the limit in a tight corner, and it understeers (the front tires lose grip before the rear tires). It offers neither the grip nor the transient response of the 911, the Mercedes-Benz SL 500, the Jaguar XK8, or the Cadillac XLR. We also noticed some susceptibility to strong crosswinds.
The SC 430 is enjoyable to drive, however. In fact, it's quite wonderful when driven at a brisk pace on winding mountain roads. Its rear-wheel-drive is the proper layout for a performance car, giving it handling balance and responsiveness that no front-drive car can match. But it is not intended to be driven like a race car. It is, after all, a Lexus, designed to excel in the areas of comfort and refinement.
Similarly, the SC 430 is quick, but not lightning quick. It's capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds. The double overhead-cam 4.3-liter all-aluminum V8 produces 300 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. The SC 430 offers acceleration performance comparable to that of the Mercedes SL 500 and Jaguar XK8, which is fast company, but it isn't as quick as the Porsche 911 or Cadillac XLR. Top speed of the SC 430 is limited to 143 mph, more than fast enough.
Around town, the Lexus is smooth, quiet and sophisticated. The four-cam V8 delivers strong torque at low rpm and has a flexible powerband, which gives it solid, smooth response around town. These are benefits of the VVT-i variable-valve timing and drive-by-wire electronic throttle control.
Adding to the smooth power delivery is a five-speed automatic transmission that shifts so smoothly it's almost seamless. It features three shift modes (Normal, Sport, Winter). Mounted on the floor console, the shifter has a C-shaped gate, allowing semi-manual shifting, though not as deftly as with a Porsche Tiptronic or similar automatic. We prefer to put it in Drive and let it do its own thing because it does it so well. The Lexus transmission is designed to be smooth, not quick, however, so it does not respond as quickly as a Mercedes or Porsche transmission, even in Sport mode. But it makes up for that in smoothness.
Active-safety features help the driver maintain control by reducing the chance of a skid. ABS prevents the brakes from locking up to help the driver maintain steering control in a panic braking situation. Electronic brake-force distribution enhances control under hard braking. Brake Assist helps maintain hard pressure on the brake pedal when the system detects the driver is not applying the maximum brake pressure. Vehicle Stability Control helps control traction by sensing the onset of a skid and adjusting throttle and brakes to help keep you on track. Traction control reduces rear wheel spin when accelerating on slippery surfaces. If all that isn't enough, the SC 430 has excellent seat belts with pretensioners and force limiters, and emergency locking retraction, so be sure and wear your seatbelt. It has side airbags in addition to the mandated dual frontal airbags.
The 18-inch alloy wheels are fitted with P245/40ZR18 Dunlop summer tires. Optional run-flat
The Lexus SC 430 is a luxurious roadster that converts to a hardtop coupe with the press of a button. It's smooth and quiet, powerful and enjoyable to drive. Its interior is beautiful, comfortable, and luxurious. It's a terrific car for a long drive assuming you pack light. Though it has a vestigial rear seat, the SC 430 is, for all practical purposes, a two-seater.