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The Lexus SC 430 switches from luxury hardtop coupe to open roadster with the press of a button. It's quiet and secure with the top up, perfect for two people dressed for an evening on the town. Dropping the power hardtop converts it into an open roadster, enjoyable on those perfect spring days.
Looking bolder and brighter for 2006, the Lexus SC 430 attracts attention wherever it goes. Its richly rounded styling is upscale and refined. Its interior, freshened for 2006, is luxurious and comfortable, trimmed in leather and a choice of rich woods.
The SC 430 performs well and boasts true sports car credentials: rear-wheel drive, a fully independent suspension, and a powerful V8 engine. It's stable at high speeds and offers excellent control on winding roads and freeway on-ramps. And it's easy to live with around town, with a smooth, relatively soft suspension, and smooth, responsive performance in stop-and-go traffic. Rough city streets are subdued yet it's delightful on country roads.
A new six-speed automatic transmission on 2006 models replaces last year's five-speed automatic, and the front and rear styling has been revised.
For the third consecutive year, Lexus is offering the SC 430 Pebble Beach Edition. Only 500 of the 2006 Pebble Beach Edition will be available in the U.S. Distinctive features for the Pebble Beach package ($2,000) include a striking combination of Tigereye exterior paint and Camel-leather interior as well as elegant Pebble Beach emblems. The 2006 edition will also be offered with a specially commissioned Lexus Tigereye luggage set.
Safety equipment for all SC 430 models includes dual frontal airbags, side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control, and traction control.
The Lexus SC 430 blends performance and agility with smoothness and luxury. With the top up 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. Wind buffeting is minimal at normal highway speeds and even at high speeds there's little buffeting. It's easy to conduct a conversation without raising your voice.
The Lexus SC 430 is not a sports car in the sense of a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet. With its soft suspension, the SC 430 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.
The SC 430 is enjoyable to drive, however. In fact it's quite wonderful 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-wheel-drive car can match. But the SC 430 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, if 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 288 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 317 pound-feet of torque at 3400 rpm. (The numbers are down slightly this year because of a change in the Society of Automotive Engineers test procedures. Power and torque are actually the same as last year, just measured differently.) 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 electronically 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 new six-speed automatic transmission, with Formula 1-style sequential manual override for when you feel like shifting for yourself.
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 full braking pressure when the system determines that the driver is responding to an emergency but relaxes pressure on the brake pedal. Vehicle Stability Control helps maintain traction and direction 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. Passive safety features include seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters and emergency locking retraction. They are excellent seatbelts, so be sure to wear them as they are your first line of defense in an accident. The SC 430 is equipped with side-impact airbags in addition to the mandated dual frontal airbags.
The new 18-inch alloy wheels are fitted with P245/40ZR18 Dunlop summer tires. Optional run-flat tires eliminate the need for carrying a spare in the tiny trunk. Puncture a run-flat tire and you can continue driving until you reach a repair facility, but you shouldn't drive over 55 mph or for more than 100 miles. Run-flats also eliminate the need to stop in a dangerous or unfriendly a
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.
This review was produced by New Car Test Drive, the editorial office of which is based in Redondo Beach, California.