Review: 1992 Lexus SC400

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

“There is nothing quite like it!” Every enthusiast I know has that attitude towards their car. But rarely is it actually true. Platforms are shared. Engines and transmissions are modified and tossed into whatever else can accommodate them from a cost perspective. Compromises are made. Only sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes you can buy something so unique, so timeless, that you can appreciate the qualities even twenty or thirty years later. The Lexus SC400 is one of those rare, outstanding machines. Let’s start with the door hinge.

That’s right. That usual flimsy piece of metal that’s supposed to keep the door open and closed through the ages. On most cars, as the car ages, the bolts holding the hinge to the frame will eventually get a little loose, and the welds can actually wear out over time. At some point, you will eventually hear a popping sound when you open the door. Some owners fix it. Most ignore it. But first generation Lexus SC owners will never face that choice.

The SC400’s door hinges were an absolute engineering monstrosity, as over-engineered and built as those of any similar era—or earlier—Mercedes-Benz. Lexus built in quality trying to make this car eternally seamless and genre-compatible silent. The bushes and flanges that make up the SC400’s über-hinges are as thick as a brick. They’re triple-welded into a geometric design that can hold the SC’s door at any angle. No other car from that time period can do it. None.

Of course, many folks will think I’m nuts to mention the quality built into a simple component. One that most manufacturers simply glaze over. But this website has long argued that quality will out; time makes you appreciate the care and attention lavished on a methodically engineered and assembled vehicle. For reliability freaks, the SC400 has “it.”

The 4.0-liter V8 engine in the 1992 SC400 has specs suitable for today’s car market. 0-60 in 6.9 seconds. 32-valve engine. 250 horsepower. It’s pretty fast for today and amazingly quick for then.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Combined with the four-speed electronic automatic transmission, the engine is just plain unkillable. It can literally out-diesel a diesel when it comes to longevity, and it’s infinitely more quiet. When you can find one at the auctions, they will almost always have odometers far north of 200k. I’ve seen many with over 300k that still sell wholesale in the $1500 to $2000 range.

In nearly all cases, the SC’s dashboard and real walnut trim will be devoid of any cracks or wear. Even in the south. It’s incredible. Getting into one of these cars is like entering a time warp.

Speaking of which, when most people enter the SC400, the first things they will notice is the amazing material quality. The soft leather on well bolstered bucket seats and generous use of wood contrasts well with soft surfaces on the door panels and armrests that were rock hard and plastic in other competing models. Lexus today has a long history of coddling their occupants; this model certainly helped give rise to that rep.

Unlike today’s luxury cars, Lexus kept everything simple and straightforward inside the SC400. There’s no need or desire for multiple displays of the same information. No need for buttons ad nauseam (knobs work very well, thank you). The SC simply gives you all the information you need when you need it. Today’s designers could learn an awful lot by reconsidering the SC400’s more driver-focused, less gadget-laden cabin.

The Lexus SC400 is a strikingly comfortable and simple vehicle to drive. A short dash overhang and plain Jane interior ergonomics makes this large coupe surprisingly agile and dare I say it, safe. Nothing exciting stock. But aside from the IS-F, anesthetized is how Lexus rolls.

The Lexus coupe does have a few expensive wear “issues,” but they’re not what I’d call cataclysmic. The red needles on the dash wear out and turn black; the entire display may follow. A couple hundred bucks will fix it, without visiting the clock-is-ticking dealer. The SC400’s electronic luminescent displays for the radio and temp will also wear out, although the simple knobs will control both.

And like any other power antenna of 1990s vintage, the one on the Lexus will be sheared off given enough encounters with a garage door. Otherwise the fluids to maintain the car are dirt cheap. Maintenance under the hood is surprisingly owner-friendly, and the opportunity to customize and modify the car make it one of the few that can keep an enthusiast’s interest for a long time.

If you find a well preserved one with less than 150k. Buy it. If you can find an SC300 with an all too rare manual tranny in it. Call me first. I’ll buy it and be your new best friend.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Heather Lee Heather Lee on Jun 11, 2013

    Steve, I'm replying to your comment regarding the 1995 SC300 Lexus. "If you can find an SC300 with an all too rare manual tranny in it. Call me first. I’ll buy it and be your new best friend." I have one that is in excellent shape with very low millage. Mine is loaded with the "winter package" i.e. heated seats, memory seats etc. CD changer in the trunk. Everything a car could want in 1995! Email me for details if you are still interested and make me an offer. I'm a retired textbook designer and need a car that drives in the snow! This rear wheel drive is NOT for me. Other than snow issues, I love love love this car. I only use this car to go to Dr's appt's, grocery store and dance classes. I never take it on long trips, since we use our family car for that. It has been well cared for.

  • Ralphy Ralphy on Jul 14, 2013

    hi all. i am needing some help here please. i have a toyota lexus 400 gt. v8 quod cam 32 velve. ok car slowed to a stop after a bell was ringing in the car for a few days every time i drove it. so it stops like no petrol . so we by pass the ECU to test and yep- she runs. so my qestion is. can we just keep it by past with no problems. and if not where do i get a new ECU and how much are they im in perth western australia. i love this car and need it up and running . ive had a stroke and need it to get to hospital each week. and moneys tite. so please let me know what to do in this case . thank you all. ralphy.

  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.