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Car reviews - Lexus - SC - SC430 convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Build quality, equipment, performance
Room for improvement
Styling, cushy suspension, steering

30 Aug 2002

THERE are many consistencies within the Lexus brand, but one of things it is most consistent about is its tendency to stylistically shoot slightly off-target.

In fact, there's not one Lexus model in Australia that shines as an example of automotive art.

The LS430 looks like an old Mercedes S-class, the GS300 is slab-sided and small of tyre, the IS200/300 looks more Corolla than BMW and the tough LX470 wagon - well, it's a dressed-up Toyota LandCruiser. The latest ES300 comes closest, but it too is considered to be a little slab-sided, a little too contrived.

The SC430 luxury convertible falls into a similar no-man's land. Even though it was styled by the same person who did the neat Echo hatch (but not the awkward-looking sedan), young Greek designer Sotiris Kovos, and even though many of us like a styling challenge every now and then, the $160,000-plus convertible doesn't quite make it as a balanced, appealing design.

Which is a pity, because one would have thought style was a vital element when you're indulging in a vehicle aiming to be high on presence, if low on practicality.

Certainly the SC430 is beautifully built, well engineered and lacks nothing in terms of vital standard equipment. It also drives well, with loads of instant power from the well-endowed, all-alloy, multi-everything V8 and enough fail-safe traction technology to keep you out of trouble if you overstep the mark.

Not to mention the usual array of airbags popping out of the dashboard, or the doors if they're needed, as well as anti-whiplash front seat headrests.

And of course there's the SC430's piece de resistance, the light-weight folding metal roof that provides snug security when closed and allows full-convertible exposure when folded away.

Like all folding metal roofs it intrudes greedily into boor space when folded, leaving little room for more than a couple of very thin suitcases in a space difficult to access because of the vertically-stored space-saver spare wheel.

True, it at least has a spare wheel, unlike some versions of the SC430 sold elsewhere, but it does demonstrate that this sort of body technology does bring its compromises.

Which briefly returns us to the styling, because unlike, say, the SLK Mercedes, the SC430's proportions also tend to look a little unbalanced with its bulbous rear-end and relatively tiny roofline that makes the rear seat nothing more than a gesture at accommodating more than two people.

Of course not everybody sees the Lexus the same way. To some, it's simply a high-ticket, classy convertible with lots of technological trickery. If the looks don't bother you, then it can be argued that the Lexus is eminently qualified to be seen in all the right places, either in a tree-lined Portsea driveway or being carefully manoeuvred in a VIP car park.

That the SC430 is replete with all the gear expected in a $160,000 car there's no doubt. Lexus - at least at the $100,000-plus level - has never really held back on technology or equipment.

The 4.3-litre V8 has a drive-by-wire throttle, plus the usual array of 32 valves, and is controlled by continuously variable valve timing to help extract efficiency.

It drives through a five-speed, adaptive automatic transmission (although it does lack the sequential facility found practically everywhere else these days) and features double-wishbone suspension on all corners, electronic stability control, four-channel anti-lock braking with Brake Assist (which increases boost in emergencies), gas-discharge headlights and an especially taut body that effectively resists the flexing normally evident in convertibles.

It also uses concealed rollbars built into the rear seat headrests to give a certain amount of security if the worst comes to the worst.

Eye candy includes plenty of glossy wood inserts on the dash, centre console, steering wheel and doors, as well as extensive use of leather. Satellite navigation, climate-control air-conditioning, heated seats and a power-adjusted steering wheel are all part of the deal in a car that offers no options other than colour choice.

Typically Lexus, there's no real need to acclimatise to the SC430. The car is commendably spacious (but only for the front seat passengers) and presents no confusion as far as the operating systems are concerned. Controls for the top-end sound system are easily understood, as is the climate-control.

The 210kW V8 follows normal Lexus practice by being all-but inaudible unless worked really hard and delivers more than enough punch to shift the substantial 1740kg body.

The ride quality is certainly not going to be cause for complaint, not is the lack of thumping or tyre roar from underneath. And it turns in pretty well, too - up to a point.

Push the SC430 a little harder and, despite the decent 18-inch alloy wheels and 245/40 styres, the combination of cushy suspension and hefty weight mean it would love to run wide if it weren't for the stability control system. The driver can certainly feel the mass of the Lexus, even if the somewhat unnatural electronically assisted rack and pinion steering is light enough to handle.

Really, the Lexus SC430 manages in its role very well. As mentioned earlier, it's superbly built and has all the exquisite detail attention for which the company is renowned. It cruises beautifully and actually accelerates very quickly if asked (the 0-100km/h claim is a rapid 6.3 seconds).

And, as Lexus points out, it's actually cheaper than the LS430 sedan from which it borrows many of its mechanical components, reversing normal pricing strategies for top-end convertibles.

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