2002 Lexus SC 430
click image to enlarge

Words and photos by Grant Yoxon

If I could reward myself for my financial success, the Lexus SC 430 would be the perfect present. Fast, comfortable, luxurious and – to my mind at least – strikingly attractive, it is the quintessential personal reward car.

But since the price of the Lexus – $84,000 – is roughly equivalent to my mortgage, an hour and a half behind the wheel would have to do.

I know the styling isn’t to everyone’s taste – my daughter calls it “a bun on wheels.” Others have been less kind, calling it “fat assed” because of its long rear deck. Well, the styling is radical for Lexus and perhaps that’s what turns some people off. When you mess with people’s expectations, sometimes they get downright hostile.

2002 Lexus SC 430 headlight
Not me. I liked it – the look that is – the moment I saw it at the Toronto auto show in February.

To my working class mind, there’s no sense in spending $84,000 on a car if no one is going to notice. And like it or hate it the SC 430 is a head turner. Leave the LS 430 for the old money. The SC 430 says “I’ve made it.”

So naturally I was looking forward to actually driving the car and when my colleague from the Ottawa Citizen arrived, I was ready to go.

It was a perfect day for top down driving, so with the push of a button, the aluminum roof folded neatly in two and dropped quietly into the trunk.

The retractable top is unusual and rarely found in production cars (remember the Ford Skyliners of the late 50s?), but Lexus has accomplished the feat with typical engineering excellence. It is fully automatic and requires no unlatching or latching. It fits neatly in the trunk with a bit – a wee bit – of luggage space to spare.

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2002 Lexus SC 430
2002 Lexus SC 430
2002 Lexus SC 430
2002 Lexus SC 430
2002 Lexus SC 430
2002 Lexus SC 430
2002 Lexus SC 430
Click an image to enlarge
images © Autos Communications Inc.

I took the keys and settled in behind the wheel. The seats, upholstered in leather from the prestigious Bader tanneries in Germany, are designed for comfort, soft on the bottom and firm on the back, just right for my old body. I adjusted the height, slope and lumbar support on the eight way power seat and the position of the power tilt and telescoping wood and leather steering wheel.

This is a multi-function wheel. When the ignition key is removed, the steering wheel tilts away for easier egress and ingress. When the ignition key is inserted, the steering wheel returns automatically to the selected driving position.

Our black SC 430 had white upholstery, with black leather dash and upper door trim combined with light coloured birds-eye maple inserts. Cars with darker upholstery receive burled walnut trim.

It is a four seater in name, but in reality don’t expect to carry more than two. With the seats in their rear most position, there is zero leg room. Moved forward, enough space appears to allow someone with skinny calves to sit back there, but their comfort will be compromised by the almost vertical seat back and the rock-hard headrests (they conceal roll-bars).

But up front, there are no compromises. Passenger comfort is the first order of business. Both driver and front passenger seats have microcomputer-controlled memory function (two settings) with eight-way power adjustment and lumbar support. Heater controls, set in the upper part of the centre console have separate settings for passenger and driver.

Beneath the heater controls and hidden from view by a wood panel when not in use is the Mark Levinson designed AM/FM/Cassette sound system with in dash 6-CD changer. This system features a 440W 8-channel digital power amplifier, nine integrated speakers, and an automated sound levelizer and an equalizer that automatically adjust to compensate for the difference in top-up and top-down acoustics. The door speakers were purpose-designed for a convertible to provide high-level sound even when the top is retracted.

With music filling the air, we drove east from Ottawa toward Cumberland on highway 174, the wind flowing around us, but never disturbing us, the sun warming my soul and turning my bald head a bright pink, cooled by an air conditioning system that doesn’t care whether the top is up or down. Both audio volume and fan speed increase with the vehicle’s speed when the top is down.

The car felt heavy on the wheel – it weighs a hefty 3840 lbs – but with 300 horsepower on tap, never felt sluggish. The rear-wheel-drive SC 430 is propelled by a 4.3-litre, 32-valve aluminum alloy DOHC V8 engine that produces 300 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 325 lb/ft of torque at 3,400 rpm. Lexus claims a 0 – 100 km time of just 5.9 seconds.

Certified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV), SC 430 is equipped with Lexus’ sophisticated VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) technology that is shared by Lexus LS, GS, ES, and RX models. Continuously variable VVT-i optimizes tuning characteristics based on engine speed and load for improved responsiveness, power, torque and fuel economy as well as reduced emissions.

The SC 430 is also equipped with an innovative Torque Activated Powertrain Control, which continuously analyzes accelerator pedal angle, engine operating conditions and vehicle speed, then adjusts the throttle to maintain even velocity. The system automatically holds shifts for hill climbing and downshifts automatically when the brake pedal is engaged so that, with only small adjustments in pedal pressure, adequate torque is always available and unnecessary downshifts are avoided.

The new SC 430 is equipped with traction control and vehicle skid control systems and low-profile 245/40ZR18 tires with run-flat technology (with the retractable roof there is no room for a spare tire). The suspension uses a double wishbone configuration both front and rear.

While I had the feeling that the Lexus SC 430 was more of a cruiser than a sports car, my colleague from the Ottawa Citizen (who had five days with this luxury roadster!) assured me the car would perform well on challenging roads. So after taking a few photos along the Ottawa river near Cumberland, I returned to the city along winding old highway 17 that runs from the village of Cumberland to Orleans.

I accelerated past the Camelot golf course and rounded the first turn in the road, just as a farm truck pulled out of a lane. The driver spotted me coming and instead of getting across, he hesitated. Well, actually he stopped, right there in the middle of the road.

I slammed the brakes hard and came to a very quick and unspectacular stop. Not a sound, no squealing of tires, no rear wheel lockup, just instantaneous and rapid deceleration. With electronic brake force distribution preventing rear wheel lockup and brake assist exerting extra pressure in a panic stop, the Lexus slowed down like it had just been plunged into a mud hole.

Fast, comfortable, luxurious, attractive and safe. The SC 430 would be high on my list of reward toys. Now if I could only pay off that mortgage…

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