Reviews

2002 Lexus SC 430 Road Test

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Lexus has come a long way since its birth twelve short years ago. It has earned recognition as one of the most respected brands in the automotive industry, establishing itself as the premier mark for customer satisfaction, reliability and quality and setting new standards with every model it builds.
In the past year Lexus has introduced two new cars, the completely redesignedLS430 luxury sedan, and the all-new IS300 Compact Sports Sedan. Now they are releasing the third new product in just eight months, the first ever Lexus Convertible.

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

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, 

Top up or top down, this car gets you noticed. Stop for a light and become aware of people in other cars eyeing you. If the light just turned red, you have plenty of time to activate the top-down switch and 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 the light changed until you’re ready to go.

I pulled up to a high school crosswalk as school was letting out and heard the unmistakable sound of a dozen tongues simultaneously hitting the ground. So, I decided, while I was stopped, to put the top back up at which 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 cart traffic jam with golfers shouting out questions to me. “What is it?”, “How much?”, “Is that the new LexusSC?”, “Is it available now?” For that last question, I had to 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, but as of this writing, they already had over 9,500 orders in-house, which means that if you order one now, 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 on Ebay This is a great time to be alive, isn’t it?

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

Then there’s the sound system. The SC430 comes standard with the exquisiteMark Levinson Audio System. If you think that a Bose or Nakamichi system is 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 guy that designs and installs sound systems in the homes of the rich and famous. The average cost of one of his systems hovers around$100,000.00. Lexus told me that he agreed to work with them because their cars were quiet enough to meet his demanding standards.

The sound is so crisp and bright, it defies description. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself. For you audiophiles who understand these things, the amplifier is a 7-channel 240 watt (continuous average 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 of the windshield pillars, two 2.5-in. mid-high-range speakers in the doors, two 6×9-in. midwoofers also in the doors, two 4-in. mid-high-range speakers in the 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 which compensates for higher exterior noise when the top is down. It even includes a single-feed 6-disc CD changer right in the head. Just feed theCD’s into the slot one at a time. Ok, let me stop with the radio before I lose everybody. Did I say radio? I’m sorry, SOUND SYSTEM. To some people, calling this system a radio is blasphemous.

The passenger layout for the SC430 is called 2+2, but judging by what the interior looks like, 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 children back there, but if they’re big enough to be out of their diapers, they will probably complain after the novelty wears off. If you need to carry more than 2 people, leave this one in the garage and use the SUV. The rear seat back (I use the term “seat” loosely) is nearly vertical, so any contortionist who attempts to sit back 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 good support, but they don’t recline very far. In fact, the most comfortable driving position for me was to recline the drivers seat as far back as it would go. Aside from that, this is a relaxing car to sit in and drive. Visibility is excellent all around with the top up or down and all controls and displays are well positioned and easy to use.

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

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

One disappointment for me was the absence of the Lexus trademark electro-luminescent instrument cluster in favor of more traditional 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 can be sure that it will remain solid and rattle-free through the years whether the top is up or down. Driving this car around town on a variety of roads convinced me that the Lexus engineers did their jobs well. This car may be the quietest car I have ever driven with the top up. There was virtually no wind noise right up to 100 mph and precious little road noise despite thefact that the pavement was concrete and ribbed in places.

As good as this car is with the top up, the real surprise comes when you put the top down. Lexus devoted a considerable amount of time shaping the wind flow to virtually eliminate wind buffeting in the cockpit. On the road with the top down, you could actually carry on a conversation in a normal 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 ordinary convertible. In fact, the only annoying noises you get with the top down are from those pesky 18-wheelers that insist on sharing the road with you.

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

As with most Lexus models, the engine is the strong silent type. At idle, it is almost totally silent. You can’t even hear the starter when you crank it up. You know it’s running because the warning lights 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-speed automatic transmission.

The transmission does not have E-shift, the manual shift feature found in the IS300. The reason that Lexus gave was that they wanted to have a ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) rating for this car and that wasn’t possible with a manual shift mode.

Naturally, when you have a car with a retractable hardtop, trunk space suffers when the top is down and the SC430 is no exception. This is especially true if you decide to not get the run-flat tires and are stuck with having a spare tire to deal with. There may be room on either side of the spare for a few loose golf balls, but not much else. If you do opt for the run-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 to swallow the top, when you just want to access the trunk for storage, it opens normally from the rear. A nice bit of engineering, especially considering the fact that Lexus always factors in their world-class reputation for reliability.

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.”

Click here for more pictures of the SC430

How would I improve this car?

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.

Specifications

Engine Type4.3-liter V8, Four Cam, 32 Valve, Aluminum block and aluminum heads. Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVT-i).
Horsepower300 @ 5,600 RPM
Torque325 @ 3,400 RPM
Fuel RecommendedPremium 91 Octane Unleaded.
TransmissionFive Speed Electronically Controlled Transmission with Intelligence (ECT-i)
Tires – Standard
Optional
P245/40R18   Z-speed rated performance tires
Run-Flat with same size and speed rating
Overall Length177.8″
Wheelbase103.1
Width72.0″
Turning Diameter35.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight3,840
Fuel Tank19.8 Gals.
Miles Per GallonEPA city 18, hwy 23.
Acceleration 0 to 605.9 Seconds
Top Speed156 mph – electronically limited
Base Sticker Price$58,455 plus $545 destination charge

Lexus SC-430 Rear Wheel Drive 2+2 Convertible
Standard Equipment

Major Available Options

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Author

Charles Ofria

Automotive Expert

Charles Ofria was an automotive journalist who was active in the automotive industry for over 40 years. During the '70s, he was owner-operator of Ofria Automotive, a thriving auto repair shop in Brooklyn, NY. During that time he became involved with auto mechanic training when he set up courses to help prepare mechanics to take the then new A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic certification exams.

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