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First Oz drive: New Lexus flagship sails in

Now you see it: SC430's folding metal roof is one of the car's most outstanding features.

Prestige rather than big sales numbers are the aim for SC430

11 Oct 2001

LEXUS says modern boat styling inspired the shape of its SC430 convertible which goes on sale here this month. Appropriate really, as this car is set to become the image flagship of the range.

Not that it's the most expensive Lexus. At $162,000 it undercuts the LS430 saloon by $16,400. But where the LS is as conservative as they come, the avantgarde shape of the SC ensures it will attract a whole lot more attention.

It was devised by a young Greek called Sotiris Kovos who worked at a Toyota styling centre ingloriously called EPOC. Kovos has since moved on and EPOC has since been renamed, but the SC is a memorable legacy.

If Kovos truly was inspired by a boat design then it must have been a beefy one, because the SC looks big and rounded with enough space to land a helicopter on its back deck. It's accentuated by giant 18-inch alloy wheels which feature a curious pancake design.

The highlight, of course, is that aluminium folding roof which turns the coupe into a convertible in a matter of seconds at the flick of a switch. It really is very easy to use and superbly efficient.

The mechanicals underneath the body come from known sources. The platform is borrowed from the GS300 sports sedan along with its double wishbone suspension, although the latter has been specifically tuned for local conditions.

The 4.3-litre V8 engine is the same one first introduced to Australia in the LS late last year which features quad cams, 32-valves and Toyota's variable valve timing system called VVT-i. It punches out 210kW at 5600rpm and 419Nm of torque at 3500rpm.

With the aid of a five-speed "fuzzy logic" automatic gearbox a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 6.4 seconds is claimed. Naturally, this being a Lexus, SC is rear-wheel drive.

Also in the Lexus tradition, this car is well equipped for the money. In fact, there are no options.

Leather and wood trim, a Mark Levinson audio system, DVD-based satellite navigation, climate control air-conditioning with open-top heating mode, heated front seats and self-levelling high-intensity discharge headlights are all standard.

On the safety front there are anti-lock ABS braking with electronic brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, traction control, front and side airbags for front seat passengers, head impact protection measures in the roof rails and rollover hoops built into the rear headrests.

Lexus Australia is forecasting 200 sales per annum for SC430 in a market where it takes on foes like Mercedes-Benz (CLK) and even the likes of Porsche. That's only about five per cent of forecast total for the expanding range in 2002, however, Lexus is counting on SC providing an image boost of much more significant dimensions.


If a large boat drove the exterior styling, then the inspiration for the SC's interior must have been a dinghy. Cosy is the word that springs to mind.

This car is theoretically a four-seater, but only amputees and very young children will find comfortable space in the back once the front-seat passengers claim their share of the space.

And when you consider there is no real boot when the roof is folded, the reality is this is a two-seater because you'll have to put your luggage in the back seats.

With the roof up, however, the boot will swallow one or two suitcases depending on size, or perhaps a golf bag and buggy.

Up front there's none of this drama to worry about. The seats are nicely rounded and comfortably soft. They're fully powered, but even when you lift your seat to its highest point you still feel deep within the car thanks to the high sills.

But it's a nice place to be thanks to the graceful wood, leather and polished metal presentation and with the roof up it is amazingly quiet in the true Lexus tradition - apart from some tyre roar from the massive rubber on coarser chipped roads.

Drop the roof and serenity is buffeted away. The SC is the best convertible around with the roof up, but with it down it's back into the pack, as breeze swirls about in the passenger compartment.

Positively though, there is little sign of that traditional convertible malady - scuttle shake - with the roof down. This feels a solid car and it would want to be considering the 1740kg kerb weight.

Despite the impressive power figures and performance claims, the SC does not feel all that quick and the kerb weight undoubtedly plays a role here too. Nevertheless, power delivery is smooth and keeps right on coming, capable of rushing the car to highly illegal speeds accompanied by a V8 melody that never overwhelms. This is a Lexus after all.

The ride is disappointingly joggly for a car that is presented very much as a Grand Tourer rather than hard-nosed sports car. Bumps, holes and joints in the road made themselves too apparent through the rear of the car, while up front the steering was too vague and lacking in feel to drive with real verve.

Considering the undoubted expertise Lexus has displayed in other cars in its range and, indeed, in other aspects of this car, this sogginess was both surprising and disappointing.

That won't affect the pose value of the SC though. As an image car Lexus couldn't have hoped for anything more dramatic and eye-catching. This is definitely one for the conspicuous consumer.

GoAuto can help you buy a new SC

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