Coupes should be firm flagships and style vanguards: the best of a brand. Where does that leave Lexus, a marque best known for… reliability? With the Lexus SC430. The folding-roofed Lexus coupe is the second oldest model in Lexus' portfolio of pomp. For a company [relentlessly] pursuing perfection, that would make the SC430 the most imperfect car Lexus sells.
The Japanese luxury 2+0 self-consciously straddles the line between boring and weird. In fact, the super Toyota coupe's proportions are positively playtpussian; the front overhang is ridiculously long, the hood absurdly short, and the rear deck excessively deep. Everywhere you look, something's not quite right. The BMW Z8 is weeping in its shallow grave.
The SC430's disproportionately humongous head lamps complete overpower the car's front end (a la Escalade). The squat greenhouse is as peculiar as the Chrysler 300's is powerful. The 18” wheels look dopey; lacking shape, or delicacy, or style. Strange then, that Lexus' kooky coupe soldiers on, even though its competitors have sharpened their creases, Bangled their butts and added Billy the Big Mouth Bass grills.
Stepping inside the SC430's cabin is like lowering yourself into a bathtub. The seating position is a throwback to bygone era, when rakish drivers knew low meant go; a time before owners of $100k SUV's looked down on diminutive coupes. Shame the roof is too low for you to look back up at them.
Once you've descended into the belly of the bulbous beast, you're immersed in a tragically unmemorable interior. All the traditional luxury elements are there: lustrous wood, buttery cow-hide and toe-friendly wool carpets. But it's luxurious interruptus.
The SC430's textured aluminum panels would be better suited to tabletops in the Getty museum café. The buttons' action seems carefully designed to fool blind people into thinking they're in a Toyota (even if they are). And the cowled gauges are garish and out of place.
As you'd expect from a car launched at the turn of the century, the gadget count is low. Sat nav and Bluetoothery are about as gee-whiz as it gets. Still, in the world of Lexus, less is motorized. Push a button and a wooden door covers or uncovers the SC430's unsightly stereo head unit. The navigation screen also resides behind some electro-hydraulic furniture. It's just as well; the GPS device is as easy to understand as a vintage Porsche shop manual. In Javanese.
Fire up the SC430's V8 and… Hello? Testing. Is this thing on? The coupe tips-in like an ocean liner swinging away from a pier; the six-speed automatic swaps cogs early, often and gracefully, maintaining both seamless progress and the powerplant's vow of silence. Give the SC430's sides a swift kick– 'cause, well, soft leather can only entertain for so long– and you'll instantly understand why Lexus' 290-horsepower two-door is so 110 horsepower ago.
Yes, the 3840-pound two-door accelerates from standstill to sixty miles per hour in an entirely respectable 5.9 seconds. But it could be the least exciting 5.9 seconds of your life (at least since you learned how to eat soup). For one thing, the SC430's go-pedal travel is both excessive and inconsistent; an inadvertent recreation of Mercedes early-70's luxobarges. For another, the car’s dynamics aren’t.
The SC430's speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering somehow manages to get it exactly wrong. The system's too heavy when you'd expect it to be low-effort, and numb and vague when you expect it to sharpen-up. The double wishbone suspension also inverts expectations. It crashes at low speeds and floats when hustled. What's more, visibility is atrocious from inside the pillbox.
All of this lamentable engineering is merely an evil accoutrement to uncertain footing and piss-poor grip. Switch off the traction control and cane the SC430 through a corner– as completely improbable and totally inadvisable as that sounds– and the coupe's nose plows towards the scenery like a pig scenting a truffle.
Even by the traditional Lexus metric (i.e. Vicodin-on-wheels), the SC430 doesn't cut the Grey Poupon. Its engine may be quieter than a Quaker meeting in a sound-proof booth, but there's plenty of wind and tire noise, top up or down. Taken as a whole, it's no more luxurious than a gussied-up Camry, and less luxurious than the fresher IS350.
The SC430 does nothing to dispel the idea that Lexus caters to the wives of stock brokers and dentists, and they no doubt will continue to fawn over it until it is euthanized. No one is asking the SC430 to be a sports car, though the coupe is a poster child for purists who claim that Lexi are fun Hoovers. The real tragedy here, perhaps the only tragedy, is that the SC430 isn’t even a killer killjoy. Buyers in search of a drop-top automotive QE2 are advised to shop elsewhere.