SC 430: A Look at Luxury

Columns From: 4/1/2001 Automotive Design & Production, , Editor-in-Chief from Gardner Business Media, Inc.

In an era that is seemingly characterized by vehicular functionality, Lexus has crafted the SC 430, a coupe that is essentially engineered for a driver, passenger, and not much else.

In an era that is seemingly characterized by vehicular functionality—as in the sport utility vehicle—Lexus has crafted the SC 430, a coupe that is essentially engineered for a driver, passenger, and not much else (e.g., although there is 2+2 seating, Lexus group vice president and general manager Denny Clements admits, “I wouldn’t want to go across the U.S. sitting in the back of this car.” I wouldn’t want to go across town in the back seat of this car. Clements continues, “But the back seat is ideal for suitcases and other packages.” Which is good because the comparatively compact trunk isn’t. But the SC 430 is about driving. About technology. About luxury.

(A) Long In Coming: Toyota introduced the Soarer Aero Cabin in 1989, which was equipped with an electronically operated metal-top targa roof. But this top didn’t open fully. So when chief engineer Yasushi Nakagawa started developing the SC 430, he had a starting point.

(B) Not a Chop Top: Although there were undoubtedly efforts to transform the SC 400 coupe into a convertible by slicing off the top, the SC 430 was designed from a clean sheet. One of the issues: achieving body torsional rigidity when the top is down. This was achieved by beefing up the structure, such as expanding the rocker panel area.

(C) Balanced: The curb weight is 3,840 lb. The distribution is fairly balanced: 53% front, 47% rear.

(D) Where Did the Styling Come From? The Cote d’Azur. The exterior design team did duty on the French Rivera in order to come up with the design cues. Chief engineer Nakagawa notes, for example, “Some of the character lines of the region’s yachts are reflected in this car, replacing traditional wavy lines.” (It also goes a long away toward explaining why the TV ads for the SC 430 are in French.)

(E) Really White: The paint (there are eight colors) is extraordinary. Which is not merely a subjective statement. Consider: the “White Gold Crystal” uses a titanium oxide-coated aluminum pigment.

(F) Exhaust System: Stainless steel. The better to operate for the long run.

(G) Tires: The SC 430 has 18-in. wheels. There is a tire pressure warning system that employs coded sensors in the tire valves that directly monitor air pressure every 15 seconds; information about tire pressure is transmitted to a controller every 10 minutes. If there is a pressure loss of 7 psi or more, then there is a warning light activated on the dash. If there is pressure of less than 15 psi, then a warning tone sounds every 2-1/2 minutes. Run-flat tires are one of the few options (the others being a DVD-based navigation system and a rear spoiler. A fully loaded SC 430 comes in at $61,295). The Bridgestone run-flat system employs an additional rubber sidewall insert that can support the vehicle weight. One of the benefits of the run-flat system is that it provides more trunk space by eliminating the spare (with spare, there are 8.8 ft3; without spare, 9.4 ft3).

(H) Engine: Said to be the first ULEV-rated V8 in the U.S. (The ULEV rating explains why the SC 430 is equipped with a five-speed electronically controlled transmission: the microprocessors can hit the environmentally correct shift points a whole lot better than a driver can.) The all-aluminum 4.3-liter, double-overhead cam, 32-valve power plant with electronic throttle control may be green but it surely isn’t anemic: Denny Clements, Lexus Group vp and general manager, admits, “The engineers targeted the Jaguar XK8 and then designed the car to exceed the Jag’s performance. The SC 430 has a larger engine with more horsepower and torque.” Those numbers are 300 hp @ 5,600 rpm; 325 ft-lb @ 3,400 rpm. “It also travels from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, which is considerably faster than the Jag.” (The other vehicle that it is benchmarked against: the Mercedes CLK 430)

(I) Where It Comes From: Built at the Kanto Auto Works, Ltd. Higashifuji plant in Japan. Lexus anticipates the first-year demand to be on the order of 12,000 units—at least that’s how many are coming over the Pacific. That demand number is going to be readily achieved: at the start of March, before the vehicle was introduced, there were 9,500 orders. After the first year, it is anticipated that annual sales will be on the order of 10,000 units. The plant is where the SC 400 came from. The SC 430 replaces it.

(J) Slippery: The coefficient of drag with the optional spoiler is 0.30 Cd; it’s 0.31 Cd without.

(K) Inside Story: There are materials used ranging from wood to Kevlar. That is, there is wood trim: burled walnut and bird’s eye maple can be selected. Seating, of course, is leather. As for the Kevlar: that’s used in the speaker cones (there are nine speakers) in the Mark Levinson audio system that was specifically engineered for the SC 430 (the audio system is tuned so that the equalization curves are adjusted to accommodate for top-up and top-down conditions).

What's missing: Look carefully. There are two things that are ordinarily on cars that aren't on the SC 430. What are they? Hint: Although they are two different things, they are of the same category.

(Answer: The lock cylinders for both the passenger-side door and the trunk are missing. This was a security measure. Both can be opened by the key fob. And it also cuts down on inventory and assembly.)

Quick-Change Artist: The simplicity of transforming the SC430 from a hardtop to topless is startling. All it takes is a pushbutton. (However, unlike what you can see in these photos, it also takes a person to be pushing said button.) This isn’t a hydraulically actuated roof system; electric motors, nine of them, do the not-so-heavy lifting: although the SC 430 has a steel body, it has an aluminum alloy lid. Integrated circuits in the motors do the heavy thinking that allows this origami-like folding to occur with a whir. During the 25-second (or so) sequence, the following happens: The side and quarter windows go down. The front of the trunk lid opens. As the roof starts to open, the package tray rises. When the roof is fully open, the package tray goes back in place, and the trunk lid closes. Keeping the button depressed causes the side windows to go back up. (None of this will happen if you’re driving faster than 4 mph. Or if the trunk lid is open.)