Reader Review: 2002 Lexus SC430

by Ur-Turn
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reader review 2002 lexus sc430

From reader “Joey X” comes a tale of what it’s like to own what he calls “The most hated sports coupe ever.” —JB

Worst car in the history of the world. You try selling a car on Craigslist after getting that sobriquet slapped across its hood by Top Gear. The seller of my 2002 SC430 had the old girl listed for almost a year before I came by and snatched her for $10,000 in funny money Canadian dollars (roughly $7,200 US at the moment). She had 129,000 miles (not kilometers!) on her at this point and an iffy history containing no fewer than three previous owners.

It’s been a year since I got her — and I wouldn’t give her up for the world.

Time for a little Q&A:

Q. Is the SC430 the worst car in the world?

A: Nahhh.

Q. Is it a car with a purpose and defined mission?

A: Yup.

Q. Do you all secretly love it but can’t admit that you love it due to the fact it’s contrary to all modern day perceptions of being an automotive enthusiast?

A: Abso-friggin-lutely.

Practically every automotive journalist ranted about the supposed sins of the SC430. It was, and probably still is, the scapegoat that journalists/bloggers love to use as the baseline comparison for something really horrible. Oh, you drove through minefields in Baghdad? The SC430 rides like that. A 14 day old hippo carcass in the Serengeti after hyenas chewed it up? Can’t be worse looking than the SC430.

The hell with all that. You want the truth about the SC430? You can’t handle the truth! The truth would mean that the original owner who paid almost $70,000 in 2002 for this “statement” wasn’t so cray-cray after all, because the truth is that this was the last genuinely honest Lexus and they don’t make them like this any more.

Saying this car was flawed or lacking performance compared to Cars X, Y, or Z just shows that you don’t understand its original mission. Similarly, if you take Aspirin hoping to cure hair loss and you wonder why it doesn’t work, you are missing the intended usage.

The SC430 was a different beast from the previous generation SC400/SC300. That 400/300 was basically a Supra (well, a Soarer anyway) with leather and a Lexus badge slapped on the front. The 430’s mission was different. Designed for Americans in America, the 430’s only desire in life was to ferry no more than two fat, rich Americans across interstates in absolute comfort and luxury. That means the NVH is exceptionally controlled and the seats and materials used can survive long durations without sagging or deforming.

On the occasional times that Mr. and Mrs. Murrica-RichLardo wanted to sniff the plebeian air, they could drop the top and go for a quaint drive around the countryside, all without a trip to the dealership beforehand to remove their hardtop the way they’d need to do with traditional convertibles. That’s it.

Comparing it to the Miata/S200/SL/SLK/Boxster would take away from its purity of intent. Yet every single member of the motor press did so. The designers for this thing were sent to France to study yachts. What did you think they would come back with? A Renaultsport Megane RS?

Of course not. They came back with a miniature yacht. Okay, that might be taking it a bit far, but Lexus never compromised on the mission. They added all the magical ingredients to make it work. A big, bullet proof, vibration-free V8? Check. Independent double wishbone suspension front and back? Check. Hydraulic steering? Check. Hard top convertible to keep the plebeians at bay? Check. Enough sound deadening materials to block out the loudest fart can Civic rolling by on the freeway? Double check! The SC430 had all of this, plus the greatest front seats in the history of the world, in one package.

The exterior isn’t too shabby either. Some would argue it looks like a melted potato but I would disagree with that statement. I personally believe the SC430 is the last of the great looking coupes. With the safety regulations shaping modern cars to all look more or less the same, you can tell the 430 was built in a different era. The long hood, long trunk and long overhangs cause the coupe to stretch out dimensionally. The proportions of the car look right to me and it doesn’t look any more dated than the rest of the 2002-era competition. I personally think the car looks better in coupe form then in convertible mode. The flowing organic lines are clearly visible with the top closed. Pictures don’t really do this car justice as it has much more presence up close. This is especially true with the right set of wheels.

Sure, she wasn’t the fastest flagship coupe for the day, nor was she able to lap the “Nuremberg” in a magazine worthy qualifying time. In my eyes, however, this was, and still is, the most honest vehicle Lexus ever made. Looking at the new LC500 shows how far they have fallen from their “relentless pursuit of perfection” — all the way down to just the relentless pursuit of BMW.

Admit it: you want to love the SC430. You want to drive one. You want to crank up the brilliant stereo and relax in the lounge chairs and just enjoy life. You just don’t think you can do it without having to burn all your Blipshift shirts and your annual ChumpCar license. Sucks to be you, is all I can say. The SC430 is absolutely an enthusiast’s car. It’s just for a certain kind of enthusiast: one who wants to enjoy driving, even when nobody is watching. Maybe especially then.

So what are you waiting for? Jeremy Clarkson’s approval?


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3 of 121 comments
  • Jfa0209 Jfa0209 on Sep 11, 2019

    I'm amazed at the negative comments. I've had an SC430 for about 8 years now. I got compliments about this car almost everyday having lived in NC, NYC, Texas. The peanut butter interior is cool. For those who say it's weak, how powerful do you need it to be? It's an old car, I don't think it was built for that, but it's fast enough to get the job done. I go by people. I'm also not an old fat rich white guy, I'm just a young white guy. Every Lexus dealer offers to buy the car and a few folks even thought my 2002 was brand new. Either the SC430 had nice paint or I just have a really good detailer. I'll be honest I don't know dick about cars, probably each of you knows more than me, but I'm just sharing my observations and experience.

  • Sonia P Baronvine-Silva Sonia P Baronvine-Silva on Oct 25, 2023

    Hello from a grandma in California!

    I got the most beautiful gold Lexus convertible SC430 for $7000

    Complements everywhere I go. Looks great, rides great.

    The tire indicator light is on, but the dealership says no problems, so I let it be on, I had a problem during the pandemic with the battery dying for not driving it.

    Besides that, no problems!


    Grandma Pachi

  • Analoggrotto Buyers are skipping these in droves and heading down to sign the golden paperwork for a new Telluride. ATPs speak volumes and we have 'em. Our customers are telling us that we offer Mercedes quality for a better deal, and our suite of luxury features rivals any luxury automaker. Insult me all you want, but AVMs, DSDs and BSODs tell the truth.
  • Ted Lulis The Exodus from California is mind-boggling. No surprise from the rectum of the country
  • Mr Imperial Seeing the adjusted-for-inflation amount always makes me sick, I can't believe how much it has gone up in my 40-some-odd trips around the sun. Still fondly remember seeing these and Ford Explorers everywhere.
  • Kyl65759578 👋
  • ToolGuy I appreciate the thoughtful comments from the little people here, and I would like to remind everyone that Ford Motor Company offers a full range of vehicles which are ideal for any driving environment including New York City. The size and weight our of product portfolio has been fully and completely optimized to be friendly to the planet and friendly to pedestrians while consuming the bare minimum of resources from our precious planet (I am of course a lifelong environmentalist). Plus, our performance models will help you move forward and upward by conquering obstacles and limits such as congestion and your fellow humans more quickly at a higher rate of speed. I invite you to learn more at our website.Signed, William Clay Ford Jr.