2002 Lexus SC 430

2002 Lexus SC 430

Opening up new vistas on the luxo-touring landscape
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Lexus built its enviable reputation on quality and quiet. It did such a brilliant job in the process that the name has virtually become synonymous with luxury in the minds of American car buyers. Now, Toyota's premium division wants to infuse that slightly constricting definition with some genuine emotion, as well. To that end, it just introduced the 2002 SC 430, a head-turning, top-dropping, hardtop convertible that replaces the recently departed SC 300/SC 400 coupes. In creating what chief engineer Yasushi Nakagawa calls the "jewel of Lexus," the SC 430 development team combined the engine of the LS luxury sedan with the underpinnings of the GS sport sedan and topped off that formidable combo with sheetmetal that ensures the car will make a dramatic entrance regardless of whether it's in closed or open mode.

That's just the beginning. Included in the SC 430's $58,455 price of entry is a mind-boggling roster of standards headed by 10-way power front seats, dual front and front-side airbags, HID Xenon headlamps, power tilt/telescoping steering column, automatic climate control, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, and a tire-pressure warning system. It even has power-activated security doors that cycle down to hide the audio and navigation displays when the car is parked.

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Under the SC 430's rakish hood sits the same 4.3-liter DOHC V-8 used in the new LS 430 and GS 430. Producing a heady 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque, it's the first V-8 to achieve ULEV (ultra low emissions vehicle) certification, and from all 50 states. Backing this clean, green, prime motivator is an electronically controlled 5-speed automatic transmission that delivers swift, seamless gear changes. The combo propelled our 3,840-pound tester from 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds and took it through the quarter mile in 14.8 ticks at 96.1 mph.

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From behind the wheel, the SC 430 makes an impressive case for itself. Lexus-quiet in coupe configuration, even with the top down, it retains a fundamentally solid feel with nary a hint of squeak or rattle. While far from nonexistent, wind buffeting proved surprisingly minimal even when touring at supra-legal velocities. Despite an obvious bias toward personal luxury, the SC 430's ride and handling traits season equal measures of comfort and control with a healthy dollop of pure driving fun. About the only area of controversy involved the car's exterior styling. Even in that admittedly subjective realm, most of the gripes related to detail elements rather than basic design features. Aesthetic issues aside, we think the SC 430 will do quite well when it comes to infusing a whole new level of attractiveness to a division that's traditionally favored intellectual over visceral appeal. (www.lexus.com)

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For suitable inspiration, Toyota sent a cadre of designers from its European styling center to the fabled French Riviera. Their goal was to absorb the elegance and sophistication of that Mediterranean seaside environment and translate it into a unique vehicle form. "Some of the character lines of the region's yachts are reflected in this car, replacing traditional wavy lines," says Nakagawa. Formal wind tunnel development work showed that the SC 430's high sides were also quite effective in channeling air around the passenger compartment when the top is down. Even at freeway speeds, you can carry on a conversation at normal tones, or simply sit back and be pampered amid polished wood, supple leather and brushed aluminum while enjoying the vehicle's ultra high-end Mark Levinson sound system.

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In typical Lexus style, the SC 430's meticulously well-finished passenger compartment places an equal measure of emphasis on both aesthetic and ergonomic issues. Technically, it offers 2+2 accommodations. However, with a vertical backrest and minimal legroom, the aft quarters are more appropriately tailored for a golf bag or two than any human life form. That's not a bad thing, since the trunk provides only 9.4 cubic feet of storage space with the top up and room for about one oversize briefcase with it stowed. And speaking of roof deployment, the basic process is a one-touch operation that takes about 25 seconds to complete in either direction. It involves a precision mechanical ballet between the 2-piece articulated top, the decklid, and a cover boot that's guaranteed to stop anyone in visual range dead in their tracks.

Lexus engineers wanted to create a relatively compact form for the SC 430, and to that end, it measures only 177.8 inches-less than 178 inches nose to tail. To ensure a suitably bold stance, they opted for a 103.1-inch wheelbase and 61.0/60.4-inch front/rear track dimensions. The car's main underpinnings are similar in design to those on the GS series, with double wishbones front and rear and variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering. In the SC 430, standard traction control is augmented with Vehicle Stability Control. It also gets larger anti-lock brakes (11.7-inch front and 12.1-inch rear discs). Bolstered by Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist features, they halted our tester from 60 mph in just 116 feet. The SC 430's massive 18-inch wheels-the largest rims ever on a Lexus production model-are wrapped in 245/40 Z-rated rubber. Standard tires are conventional Dunlops; however, comparably sized Bridgestone Potenza RE 040 (which were fitted to our car) and Goodyear Eagle F1 GS-D run-flats are offered as an option. Lexus believes that nearly all SC 430 buyers will want this reasonably priced $400 extra, in large part because eliminating the conventional spare provides another 0.6 cubic foot of cargo capacity. The only other options are a $400 rear spoiler and a $2,000, DVD-based navigation system that features a screen that can be tilted up to 14 degrees to improve visibility in bright sunlight conditions. Our car came with all three items, which brought its bottom line to $61,590.

2002 Lexus SC 430 Convertible
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