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Car of the Year 2002: 7th Place Lexus SC 430

Howard Walker

The SC 430 signals that Lexus is daring to build more than mere replicas. Five years ago, if Lexus had wanted to design a luxury two-seater, it would have emerged as a copycat Benz SL or XK8 Jag. The SC 430, on the other hand, is completely original. This is nothing less than the flag bearer for a bold new wave of designs that are finally, finally, emerging from Toyota’s luxury division.

However, you either love or hate the shape of the SC 430. It’s not drop-dead gorgeous in the way the Jag XK8 is. It has a chubby butt, for starters, with lots of soft curves. And despite having 18-inch rims, the wheels don’t come close to filling
the arches. Furthermore, with the top up, it suffers from the same styling dilemma as the Audi TT and the VW Beetle: You’re not quite sure if it is coming or going.

The SC 430 is unique, and that’s what commands our undying affection—that and the mechanical ballet that takes place when you lower the top. Place your finger on the appropriate button, and in just 25 seconds the aluminum top unlatches, the rear deck opens like a clamshell, and the roof folds into the trunk. Nureyev never moved with this much grace.

We also love the SC 430 because it has an engine that sets a new standard in smoothness and hushed refinement. The big 4.3-liter all-alloy V-8 is one of the wonders of the automotive world. With 300 horses and a torque curve flatter than Kansas, it delivers feisty performance and an exhaust note that’s a heady mix of Bon Jovi and Diana Krall.

The surprise is the way the SC 430 handles. Don’t expect the comfy, cushy, floppy, flaccid school of road manners; this car is a blast to drive. It strikes that difficult balance between entertaining handling, superb road-holding, and a supple ride.

The steering alone is worth the car’s $61,630 price. It is so beautifully weighted, so laser-precise. Never too weighty, never overly assisted. It’s like candy for the fingertips.

Because it’s a Lexus, it is also all about pampering. The SC 430 comes with a Mark Levinson–designed audio system and has the kind of polished wood and kid-glove leather you want in your den.

Specifications

Engine: 4.3-liter, dOHC V-8
Power: 300 hp at 5,600 rpm
Torque: 325 ft lbs at 3,400 rpm
Zero-to-60 time: 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 156 mph
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,840 pounds
Base price: $61,630

Second Opinions
“Lexus is starting to get the hang of making cars that incite passion. A powerful luxury cruiser that is fun to drive. A perfect weekend getaway car.” —Patrick C. Paternie

“Lexus’ purest effort yet at answering the no-soul appliance criticism—an effort to turn the car people loose in terms of design priorities.” —J.P. Vettraino

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