Toyotas luxury division turns out its first convertible for 2002 a 2+2 coupe with a retractable steel roof rather than a fabric top. Launched in March 2001, the SC 430 is a successor to the SC 300/400 coupes that sat in the Lexus lineup through the 1990s, capturing fewer and fewer sales as the 21st century dawned.
Quietness was a foremost goal, whether the top is up or down. For that reason, the SC 430 was designed from the start as a convertible, and no fixed-roof coupe is available. Lexus promotes the SC 430 for its blend of scintillating sport and style. According to Danny Clements, Lexus Group vice president and general manager, it screams luxury, and it screams performance.
As the 2002 model year began, Lexus added a navigation system as standard equipment. Priced at $61,630 (including the destination charge), the SC 430 has only a handful of available options, which include a $440 spoiler and $400 run-flat tires. According to Automotive News, Lexus sold 14,326 of the new convertibles in the United Sates in 2001 thats more than the company had anticipated. Sales are expected to taper down to about 10,000 units per year.
The SC 430s eye-catching appearance was created by Toyotas European design center and was inspired by the sights and styles of the French Riviera. The design was subjected to wind-wrap tests to ensure that it meets Lexus standards for low noise, vibration and harshness. Instead of a fabric top, the SC 430 features a retractable hardtop. A fully independent suspension all around makes use of double wishbones. High-intensity-discharge headlights, headlight washers and fog lights are installed.
Compact in size, the SC 430 stands 53.1 inches tall and measures less than 178 inches long on a 103.1-inch wheelbase. This is the first Lexus model with 18-inch wheels and tires. A tire-pressure warning system sounds a buzzer inside the cockpit if a drop in pressure occurs, and optional run-flat tires can ride up to 100 miles at a speed as high as 55 mph even if theyre completely deflated.
Such natural materials as leather and wood are used throughout to recreate what Lexus calls the comfort of a luxurious living room. Seating is set up for four occupants, but legroom in the back measures close to none unless the front seats are moved really far forward. A 240-watt, nine-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system with an in-dash six-CD changer and a cassette player is standard. A wind dampener goes up and down behind the rear seat. Lexus claims that occupants can converse at normal speaking volumes at highway speeds, regardless of the roof s position.
Standard equipment includes 10-way power front seats, automatic-dimming heated power mirrors with reverse-gear tilt-down, automatic climate control and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The newly standard DVD-based navigation system uses a tilting screen.
Under the Hood
An all-aluminum, 300-horsepower, 4.3-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine employs variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission that incorporates Power and Snow modes. A new electronic throttle control system called Intuitive Powertrain Control is supposed to ensure linear acceleration. Lexus claims a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 5.9 seconds, yet the car meets ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) emissions standards.
Seat-mounted side-impact airbags and daytime running lights are standard. Safety features also include antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and Lexus electronic stability system, called Vehicle Stability Control. Brake Assist determines if the driver is attempting emergency braking and supplements the applied braking power if necessary.
Luxury takes precedence over sportiness, but the SC 430 has a healthy dose of each attribute though serious sports-car fans might claim the car seems almost too perfect. Steering is easy enough, but it demands a bit of effort that imparts more than a hint of sporty behavior. Although the ride is basically like that of a Lexus, some bumps can be felt more curtly than expected, though theres no overreaction from the cars firm yet largely yielding suspension.
Not only is the SC 430 quiet, but no road noise of consequence disturbs the experience. Occupants can converse with soft voices, even when the top is down. The metal top raises and lowers silently, and its a marvel to watch the parts move into their sequential actions. Strong performance befits the big V-8, but the automatic transmission suffers a bit of delay in downshifts when the pedal is pushed to the floor. Otherwise, the automatic operates in a barely discernible manner.
Seats are exceptionally comfortable, if firm, and leather upholstery helps to keep each occupant in place during difficult maneuvers. If an average-size person occupies the front seat, then theres not enough space for even the tiniest persons legs in back. Trunk space is mighty skimpy barely big enough for a duffel bag, and even that sliver of capacity disappears if a spare tire is installed. Because run-flat tires can go for 100 miles without air, a spare tire is not provided when that optional feature is selected.