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2002 Lexus SC 430 Road Test

By CharlesOfria

Category: $50,000+ Premium Luxury Convertible
Who should buy this car: A person looking for a sexy, drop-top that will get you the best parking spot at the club.
Comparable cars in this class: Jaguar XK8, Mercedes Benz CLK-430, 

Lexus has come a long way sinceits birthtwelve short years ago.  It has earned recognition as one of the most respected brands in the automotiveindustry, establishing itself asthe premier mark for customer satisfaction, reliability and quality and setting newstandards with every model it builds.  

In the past year Lexus has introduced two new cars, the completely redesignedLS430 luxury sedan, andthe all-new IS300 Compact Sports Sedan.  Now they are releasing the third new product injust eightmonths, the first ever Lexus Convertible.

This is certainly no ordinary convertible.  It has a fully automatic retractablehardtop with styling that turns heads wherever it goes.  Packinga 300 horsepower V8 engine that is coupled to a 5-speed electronically controlledautomatic transmission, this car will silently  whoosh from 0 to 60 in ablazing 5.9 seconds and keep right on going to its electronically limited topspeed of 156 mph. 

Top up or top down, this cargets you noticed.  Stop for a light and become aware of people in othercars eyeing you.  If the light just turned red, you have plenty of time to activate the top-down switchand put on a show.  If the light should turn green in less than the 25seconds it takes to complete the top-down cycle, don't worry, nobody will notice that thelight changed until you're ready to go.

I pulled up to a highschool crosswalkas school was letting out and heard the unmistakable sound of a dozen tongues simultaneouslyhitting the ground. So, I decided, while I was stopped, to put the top back up atwhich time I heard another dozen of the more jaded tongues drop.

When I pulled into a local golf course parking lot, I caused a mini golf carttraffic jam with golfers shouting out questions to me.  "What isit?",  "How much?",  "Is that the new LexusSC?", "Is it available now?"  For that last question, I hadto answer "yes and no".  You see, the SC430 hit the showrooms onMarch 15, 2001 and production plans call for 12,000 units for the first year, butas of this writing, they already had over 9,500 orders in-house, which means that if you order onenow, you probably wont see your new pride and joy for at least nine or ten months. I've been told however, that some people who have already placed orders, are selling their position in line onEbay  This is a great time to be alive, isn't it?

This car exudes quality from the tight fitting body panels to the extravagantuse of leather and wood. There are plenty of touches that are designed to makegrown men and women salivate, such as the wood grain panels that silently glideopen or closed over the sound system and the optional navigation system at thetouch of a button, or the luxurious feel of the wood and leather steering wheelin your hands.  There are plenty of small details such as the leather straps that snap in place tohold the seatbelts from flapping in the wind when they are not in use.

Then there's the sound system.  The SC430 comes standard with theexquisiteMark Levinson Audio System.  If you think that a Bose or Nakamichi systemis as good as it gets (and I did), then you haven't heard aMark Levinson system.  

If you don't know who Mark Levinson is, you're not alone.  He's the guythat designs and installs sound systems in the homes of the rich andfamous.  The average cost of one of his systems hovers around$100,000.00.  Lexus told me that he agreed to work with them because theircars were quiet enough to meet his demanding standards.

The sound is so crisp and bright, it defiesdescription.  You'll just have to hear it for yourself.  For youaudiophiles who understand these things, the amplifier is a 7-channel 240 watt (continuousaverage power with all channels driven, at 0.01% THD; 20 -20,000 Hz). There are9 speakers including: two .75-in. pure titanium tweeters located at the base ofthe windshield pillars, two 2.5-in. mid-high-range speakers in the doors, two 6x9-in. midwoofers also in the doors, two 4-in. mid-high-range speakers inthe rear quarter panels and one 8-in. low-frequency woofer.  There is alsoa 24-bit floating-point DSP processor and top-up/top-down equalization whichcompensates for higher exterior noise when the top is down.  It evenincludes a single-feed 6-disc CD changer right in the head.  Just feed theCD's into the slot one at a time.  Ok, let mestop with the radio before I lose everybody.  Did I say radio?  I'msorry, SOUND SYSTEM.  To some people, calling this system a radio is blasphemous.

Thepassenger layout for the SC430 is called 2+2, but judging by what the interior lookslike, I don't think they had  2+2 "people" in mind.  Maybe 2people plus 2poodles, or 2 people plus 2 golf bags.  You might be able to get 2 childrenback there, but if they're big enough to be out of their diapers, they willprobably complain after the novelty wears off.  If you need to carry more than 2people,leave this one in the garage and use the SUV.  The rear seat back (I use theterm "seat" loosely) is nearly vertical, so any contortionist who attempts to sitback there will not be a happy camper.  Why did Lexus bother to put seat cushions and seatbelts back there?  Apparently,the insurance rates are less for a 2+2 then they are for a true 2 seater.

As you would expect, the seats (front) are very comfortable with goodsupport, but they don't recline very far.  In fact, the most comfortabledriving position for me was to recline the drivers seat as far back as it wouldgo.  Aside fromthat, this is a relaxing car to sit in and drive.  Visibility is excellentall around with the top up or down and all controls and displays are wellpositioned and easy to use. 

The interior has a number of interesting features that come to light when youopen the door... literally.  I'm talking about the Lexus logo on the doorstep plate which illuminates to welcome you.  Seated behind the wheel, younotice the broad expanse of leather and wood that surrounds you.  Thesteering wheel and shift knob carry on the wood theme making for a warm and richlooking cockpit.  The real wood trim comes in two flavors depending on thecolor of the interior.  The white (Ecru) interior features Bird's-Eye Maplewhile the Black and Saddle Tan interiors use Burled Walnut.  

Lexus tells me that much of the flavor for this interior was inspired by homesand yachts found on the French Riviera.  An example of this is thewood panels that glide closed over the sound system and optional navigationsystem at the touch of a button.  

One disappointment for me was the absenceof the Lexus trademark electro-luminescent instrument cluster in favor of moretraditional black face gauges with white numbers and red pointers. Lexus-Link (the Lexus version of GM's OnStar) was also not available for the2002 SC430 but may show up next year.

The SC-430 was engineered from the ground up to be a convertible so you canbe sure that it will remain solid and rattle-free through the years whether thetop is up or down.  Driving this car around town on a variety of roadsconvinced me that the Lexus engineers did their jobs well.  This car may bethe quietest car I have ever driven with the top up.  There was virtuallyno wind noise right up to 100 mph and precious little road noise despite thefact that the pavement was concrete and ribbed in places.

Asgood as this car is with the top up, the real surprise comeswhen you put the top down.  Lexus devoted a considerable amount of timeshaping the wind flow to virtually eliminate wind buffeting in the cockpit.  Onthe road with the top down, you could actually carry on a conversation in anormal voice even though you might be cruising along at upwards of 70 mph. The sensation is surreal for anyone who has ever ridden in an ordinaryconvertible.   In fact, the only annoying noises you get with thetop down are from those pesky 18-wheelers that insist on sharing the road withyou.

Handling was smooth and refined.  No matter how I tossed it, I could notget this car to lose its composure.  Steering was accurate with reasonablygood feel and did not have that over-boosted quality of previous Lexus models. Cornering was flat and predictable with an excellentstability control system standing by to protect you from yourself.  The ride was supple andquiet, but some road irregularities were transmitted through the ultra-lowprofile (fora luxury car) 18" tires, more so if you opted for the stiffer Run-Flattires.  Still, the ride was much better than I would have expectedwith performance tires.

As with most Lexus models, the engine is the strong silenttype.  At idle, it is almost totally silent.  You can't even hear thestarter when you crank it up.  You know it's running because the warninglights go out and the tach needle moves away from zero.  At full throttle,the engine sounded sweet, but it seemed like you were hearing it through earmuffs. Floor the gas and you're treated to a rush of power that will bring you to 60mph in 5.9 seconds with almost imperceptible shifts from the five-speedautomatic transmission.

The transmission does not have E-shift, the manual shift featurefound in the IS300.  The reason that Lexus gave was that they wanted tohave a ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) rating for this car and that wasn'tpossible with a manual shift mode. 

Naturally, when you have a car with a retractable hardtop, trunkspace suffers when the top is down and the SC430 is no exception.  This isespecially true if you decide to not get the run-flat tires and are stuck withhaving a spare tire to deal with.  There may be room on either side of thespare for a few loose golf balls, but not much else.  If you do opt for therun-flats, the spare is gone which leaves room for a golf bag with the top down.

Even though the trunk lid opens from the front in order toswallow the top, when you just want to access the trunk for storage, it opensnormally from the rear.  A nice bit of engineering, especially consideringthe fact that Lexus always factors in their world-class reputation forreliability.

Is the SC430 just a rich person's toy?  Maybe.  But if you have the kind of disposable income that can put you in a car like this, and you already have a more practical vehicle in the garage, go for it. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, and after all, don't you deserve it?  Of course, if you can't afford one, a picture of it will make a nice addition to that illuminated poster of a garage filled with exotic cars with the caption that reads...
"Justification for a higher education."

Do you have any feedback on the Lexus SC430?  Any opinions or experiences of your own?  We would love to hear from you. 
Click here to send us your comments

Clickhere for more pictures of the SC430

How would I improve this car?

  • Make it a little longer to allow for a practical back seat.

  • Give it the instrument cluster from the GS 430.

  • Add some of the fancy options from the LS430 like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lexus-Link, Automatic Wipers and Parking Assist.

How does theSC-430 fit yourdriving style? 

Conservative drivers If you like to getnoticed, you can't do much better than this.  As smooth and quiet as itgets.  Easy to maneuver in traffic.  All the room you need for 2adults and either 2 pets or 2 golf bags.  

Sporty drivers If you're looking to throw practicality to the wind, thenthis is your car.  This is a no-compromise car when it comes to balancingride, comfort (for two), noise control, handling, acceleration andbraking.   It doesn't get any better than this.

Fast drivers will have fun exploring this car's limits.  Smooth engine, well controlled suspension, sticky tires and powerful brakes leave little to be desired.


Engine Type 4.3-liter V8, Four Cam, 32 Valve, Aluminum block and aluminum heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i).  
Horsepower 300 @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 325 @ 3,400 RPM
Fuel Recommended Premium 91 Octane Unleaded.
Transmission Five Speed Electronically Controlled Transmission with Intelligence (ECT-i)
Tires - Standard
P245/40R18   Z-speed rated performance tires
Run-Flat with same size and speed rating 
Overall Length 177.8"
Wheelbase 103.1
Width 72.0"
Turning Diameter 35.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,840
Fuel Tank 19.8 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 18, hwy 23. 
Acceleration 0 to 60 5.9 Seconds
Top Speed 156 mph - electronically limited
Base Sticker Price $58,455 plus $545 destination charge

Lexus SC-430 Rear Wheel Drive 2+2 Convertible

Standard Equipment

  • Electrically Powered Retractable Aluminum Hardtop 

  • Leather Trim in Ecru, Saddle or Black

  • Bird's-Eye Maple or Burled Walnut wood trim on center console, doors and instrument panel

  • Electrically Powered Display Doors of Maple or Walnut cover radio and optional navigation system

  • Wood and Leather Steering Wheel

  • Wood Shift Knob

  • Lexus Mark Levinson Audio System

  • Illuminated "Lexus" scuff plates

  • Automatic Headlamps with HighIntensity Discharge (HID) units and Auto Leveling Feature 

  • Automatic Dual Zone Climate control System

  • 10-Way Power Driver and Passenger Seat, each with 2 Position Memory

  • Heated Front Seats

  • Power Tilt and Telescope Steering Column with Automatic Tilt-away

  • Power Windows with Auto-Up/Down Feature

  • Four Wheel Ventilated Power Disk Brakes with ABS and Brake Assist

  • Vehicle Skid Control with Throttle Control, Individual Wheel Braking and Traction Control

  • Multi-function In-key Remote with Engine Immobilizer, Theft-deterrent System and Remote Window "down" Feature

  • Electronic Throttle Control System with "Snow and Power Mode"

  • Vehicle-Speed Sensing Progressive Power Rack and Pinion Steering

  • HomeLink Garage Door Opener

Major Available Options

  • Lexus Navigation System (DVD Based)    
  • Run-Flat Tires
  • Rear Spoiler

For more information on the SC 430, visit

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