In only 12 years, Lexus has emerged as a true luxury car powerhouse. But to really be aligned with the premier Euro-brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, a company has to offer more than just exceptional luxury cars and SUVs. For real prestige, a little fun is in order. A brand needs a head turner, a truly rare offering to match an SL or Z-8. Well, Lexus thinks so, too. But be warned, the newest Lexus is not just a low volume drop top. In fact, Lexus honchos consider the new 2002 SC 430 the ‘‘Jewel of Lexus,’’ inspired by the ambience of the French Riviera. Because that’s where Lexus sent its team of designers to rouse their creative juices before applying mouse to computer screen. And from the looks of the SC 430, it was a successful venture. As the SC 430’s face, with its signature Lexus grille and jeweled headlamps, impart an attitude of elegance with a hint of aggressiveness. That hint of aggressiveness is reinforced by the sculpted character lines that free flow from below the hood, across the peaks of the SC 430’s broad shoulders, rounding down at the rear, where they then form a subtle aerodynamic trunk lip. But the SC 430’s stylistic crowning achievement is a retractable aluminum-alloy hardtop that stows neatly under the rear deck lid with the touch of a single switch. It takes less than 25 seconds to transform you from Lexus insulation to wind-in-the-hair exhilaration. Although there is a penalty paid in cargo space, especially if you opt to forego the optional run-flat tires and go with a spare. That cuts the 9.4 cubic feet capacity down to 8.8. So, travel fashionably light! But the SC isn’t about cargo capacity, it is about passionate motoring. And providing the motivation for that pursuit is this 4.3 liter, DOHC, 32-valve, V-8, with variable valve timing. It also powers the GS 430 sedan. Output is a strong, but smooth, 300 horsepower and 325 pound- feet of torque. The rear drive SC also uses the GS 430’s seamless 5-speed automatic with ‘‘snow’’ and ‘‘power’’ modes. Even with traction control, this Lexus offspring does a dash to 60 in just 5.9 seconds. Not surprisingly, the SC 430 has ride and handling characteristics that are clearly Lexus DNA. That’s to say, smooth, stable, and quiet, if almost too removed from the feel of the road. While the vehicle-speed sensing rack and pinion steering is precise and accurate, it’s hard to sense exactly what the front wheels are doing. But should that lack of feedback cause you to over extend yourself, there’s the nearly invisible Vehicle Skid Control stability system to back you up. As well as 4-wheel disc brakes with meaty 11.7 inch ventilated discs at the front and 12.1 inch solid discs at the rear. Keeping the SC 430 firmly planted falls to the four wheel independent double wishbone suspension. With coil springs and gas shocks at the corners, and stabilizer bars at the front and rear, it’s a set up that’s also been adapted from the GS 430. But it doesn’t have to work too hard, as the SC 430’s stiff structure was designed with drop top motoring in mind from the get-go. And so was the SC 430’s luxurious and superbly appointed interior, that can be trimmed in either Bird’s-Eye Maple or Burled Walnut wood. Driver and front friend get plush Bader leather seats with 10 way power and 4 manual adjustments. Seat heat makes top down driving most enjoyable on cool days. One points the SC by way of a wood and leather adjustable steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise controls, and faces a trio of Ferrari-ish recessed gauges trimmed in chrome. The center stack is topped by an optional navigation system, with a fully automatic climate control system underneath that also compensates for climate changes when the top is down without any additional fiddling. A sweet-sounding Mark Levinson audio system with cassette and 6-disc in-dash changer and 9 speakers, also includes a separate equalization program for top down driving. Lexus bills the SC 430 as a 2+2 coupe, but we can’t imagine anyone riding in the back. Better to look at that space as a plush little cargo hold. Base price on the 2002 Lexus SC 430 is $58,455. The three available options, run-flat tires, navigation system, and rear spoiler, will run $400, $2,000, and $440, respectively. So a fully loaded SC 430 will hit the streets for $61,840 including destination charge. Lexus plans to import just 12,000 SC 430s the first year, and so far has orders on hand for nearly 7,000 vehicles. With numbers like that, it’s clear that the 2002 Lexus SC 430 is turning the right kind of heads, and that Lexus is ready to match prestigious Euro-brands at every turn.
Engine: 4.3 Liter Dohc 32-valve V-8
Torque: 325 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.9 Seconds