2008 Lexus SC 430 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 27, 2008

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 offers a unique shape, a folding hardtop, and the Lexus experience, but the "bathtub" look is a major drawback in a class of beautiful convertibles.

TheCarConnection.com's convertible fans searched the Web for road tests on the 2008 Lexus SC 430 and have condensed those opinions in this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com's car experts have also driven the Lexus SC 430, and they've added more details and driving impressions where it helps you decide which reviews to trust and whether the Lexus SC 430 is the right car for you.

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 retractable hardtop roadster sports a bulbous body with a power folding hardtop, a big V-8, and a six-speed automatic transmission, and returns for the model year with essentially no changes.

From most angles, the Lexus SC 430 is a chunky-looking roadster. It's tall on the sides, and its sloping front and rear ends give it a stance that reminds many professional road testers--including those at TheCarConnection.com--of a bathtub. The shape is good for aerodynamics and helps contribute to a strong body shell and a quiet cabin, but it's far from being held up as a sex object like, say, the Jaguar XK.

A 4.3-liter, 288-horsepower V-8 powers the 2008 Lexus SC 430. It's mated to a six-speed sequential shift automatic transmission with Shift Logic Control. The SC is impressively fast, and the transmission delivers crisp, instinctive shifts. Fuel economy is a decent 16/23 mpg.

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The SC 430 is decently responsive but not a class leader. Steering is precise, though there is a bit more understeer than we'd like. When pushed to the limits, it transitions to oversteer rather quickly. The big 18-inch wheels contribute to a rougher ride than might be expected.

With the top down, there's virtually no trunk space, especially if you have the mini-spare, which is deleted with the run-flats. Space is an issue in the interior as well; the backseat is only a substitute for the lack of trunk space, not a place to seat humans. It is a quiet cabin, though, and a lush place to sit. When not in use, electronically operated wooden doors hide away the navigation screen and radio, probably for good reason. The Mark Levinson sound system is arguably the best audio package on the road. The seven-channel, 240-watt system for the SC 430 provides uncanny resolution, enhanced by an eight-inch, trunk-mounted subwoofer, and an intelligent control system that adjusts the sound depending on whether the top is up or down.

Last year, the Lexus SC gained a knee airbag for both driver and front seat passenger, as well as new exterior color and wheel options. Bluetooth and a navigation system are standard, but the fabulous sound system does not incorporate satellite radio or an iPod jack.

Four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, along with traction and stability control are standard. There are no crash-test ratings for the Lexus SC 430.

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2008 Lexus SC 430

Styling

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 has rounded styling that’s not universally loved; inside, it’s plush but a little busy.

Although the experts at TheCarConnection.com find the styling middling at best, most reviewers consider the 2008 Lexus SC 430 a sleek hardtop roadster.

This was the assessment of Family Car, which says, "Top up or top down, this car gets you noticed." ForbesAutos agrees, saying the SC Lexus "probably draws the most attention in traffic or parked on the street, thanks to its curvaceous styling and power-retractable hardtop." Cars.com is fairly neutral on the subject, but describes the "low roofline" as having a "sleek profile" (presumably when the top is up). Kelley Blue Book does acknowledge that "the SC 430's exterior styling won't please everyone."

It should be noted that the Lexus SC 430 has undergone very few styling changes since the model was first introduced in 2002. Edmunds--which also has little to say about this 2008 Lexus's outward design--does note that it was "one of the first modern production vehicles to popularize a retractable hardtop design."

All Lexus SC 430s feature "natural leather and wood" inside, according to Cars.com. In general, Kelley Blue Book praises the SC 430's interior, with its "loads of Walnut or Bird's-eye maple and brushed aluminum and chrome accenting," but they also say "the instrument panel's center stack is slightly busy, style-wise."

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2008 Lexus SC 430

Performance

This 2008 Lexus SC 430 has good acceleration, but handling is tuned for comfort, not sport.

According to the reviews examined by TheCarConnection.com, the 2008 Lexus SC 430 may be fun to drive, but it won't provide the same thrills as a Porsche or a Maserati.

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 is not built for high performance--it's simply meant to look that way. Edmunds points out that "on paper, a V8-powered hardtop convertible might seem like a real sports car, but in actuality the Lexus SC 430 is primarily a luxury tourer," adding that "the car makes an obvious performance sacrifice in the name of comfort." ForbesAutos' assessment is similar: The 2008 Lexus SC 430 "puts comfort far above performance."

The SC Lexus's V-8 engine, which displaces 4.3 liters, puts out 288 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm and is mated to the six-speed sequential automatic transmission. This "six-speed sequential-shift ECT-i transmission" allows the Lexus SC 430 to go from 0-60 in under six seconds, according to Autoblog. ConsumerGuide describes the SC Lexus's initial acceleration from a stop as "sedate," but reports "good midrange punch and relaxed highway cruising," with a "transmission [that] delivers smooth, prompt shifts."

MyRide.com reports slightly better-than-average fuel economy: 16 mpg in city traffic and 23 mpg on the open road.

"Dynamic handling is accomplished with standard features that include an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, traction control (TRAC) and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)," reports Autoblog. ConsumerGuide adds that the Lexus SC 430 is "Agile for a luxury-tourer, despite slightly numb steering." As far as braking goes, "one test SC wandered slightly in simulated panic stops, but stopping distances were short with the car showing minimal nosedive." Family Car agrees that the tires provide decent grip and that the SC Lexus's "powerful brakes leave little to be desired."

Edmunds says that "the suspension filters out every bump in the road, making the plush [Lexus] SC 430 a great road trip choice." Edmunds also reports that the suspension "soaks up bumps like a new sponge but the drive isn't very entertaining." ConsumerGuide calls the 2008 Lexus SC 430 an "easy rider," but reports "hard-edge jitters on patchy pavement" and some drifting along grooves. However, the available run-flat tires have very stiff sidewalls that "make the ride borderline harsh." Kelley Blue Book is in agreement: "Although the ride is decently compliant over most surfaces, it can become slightly choppy on rough or broken pavement and definitely picks up a little harshness when run-flat tires are fitted."

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2008 Lexus SC 430

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 has superb materials inside and plenty of room for two, but the rear seats are not recommended for humans.

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 may be short on sporty handling and performance, but it's definitely long on luxury.

Although the 2008 Lexus SC 430 is technically a four-seater, TheCarConnection.com notes that couples with children should be aware that it is one in name only. Edmunds reports that the "rear seats are essentially useless...essentially a leather-lined package shelf." ConsumerGuide describes them as a "token gesture," with just enough room for "parcels or pets." In fact, Family Car suggests the reason the SC Lexus has a backseat is to help buyers avoid the exorbitant surcharge that insurance companies slap onto policies for two-seater roadsters.

ForbesAutos calls the 2008 Lexus SC 430 rear seats "virtually unusable," but suggests that they may be needed for storage because of limited trunk space. According to Edmunds, "the [Lexus SC 430] has a serious lack of cargo space"--a mere 8.8 cubic feet.

Inside, the Lexus SC 430 seats two in utter luxury. Jalopnik praises the interior of the Lexus SC 430: "impeccable...[it]would keep your butt (oops, sorry, posterior at this spending level) comfortable on a coast-to-coast drive." Edmunds describes the SC Lexus's interior as "handsome and finely finished, with an abundance of supple leather and lustrous wood throughout."

Noise levels are acceptable: ConsumerGuide reports that with the top in place, the Lexus SC 430 "matches most luxury coupes for refinement, despite some low but audible wind rustle and coarse-pavement tire thrum"; however, "the run-flat tires generate more road noise than the standard treads."

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2008 Lexus SC 430

Safety

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 has plenty of standard safety gear, but it hasn’t been crash tested yet.

For an open convertible, the 2008 Lexus SC 430 provides reasonable safety to its occupants, according to reviews researched by TheCarConnection.com.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has tested the 2008 Lexus SC 430 for crash safety.

According to ForbesAutos, standard safety equipment includes knee-height airbags for the driver and front passenger. An occupant-detection system for the front-passenger seat keeps the airbag from deploying if the seat is empty or occupied by a child.

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 features a stability control system that helps keep the wheels from losing traction. ForbesAutos reports that, if desired, the feature can be "turned off for more aggressive handling."

Intellichoice reports additional safety equipment on the SC Lexus includes a tire pressure monitor and trunk entrapment release, in addition to a full complement of airbags. Jalopnik also reports a sophisticated braking and suspension system, the identifiers of which call to mind the "Alphabet Soup Agencies" of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration: anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, traction control (TRAC), and vehicle stability control (VSC).

Another new-yet-old safety feature (actually dating back 60 years) is the Adaptive Front Lighting System, according to Jalopnik. Autoblog reports that this is "designed to enhance driver visibility." Blind spots are not an issue with the Lexus SC 430; according to Family Car, "visibility is excellent all around with the top up or down."

Kelley Blue Book sums it up best: "the security of a coupe...the exhilaration of a convertible."

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2008 Lexus SC 430

Features

The 2008 Lexus SC 430 has all the features one would expect of a luxury vehicle, but the sound system alone may be worth the purchase price.

There's no shortage of luxury amenities available for the 2008 Lexus SC 430.

Standard equipment on the Lexus SC 430, according to Cars.com, includes "tire-pressure-monitoring system and 18-inch wheels;" MyRide.com reports standard power tilt and telescoping steering; power windows; and a navigation system.

Optional equipment on the 2008 Lexus SC 430 as reported by Cars.com includes "a rear spoiler and run-flat tires." MyRide.com adds to the list optional "Liquid Graphite Wheels with All-Season tires and anti-theft wheel locks.”

Family Car describes many features "designed to make grown men and women salivate, such as the wood grain panels that silently glide open or closed over the sound system and the optional navigation system at the touch of a button."

Jalopnik notes that the Lexus SC 430 hardtop convertible can hide its roof within 25 seconds, "all without latches, catches, snaps or covers," while "remaining solid, secure and weatherproof."

One feature of the SC Lexus that receives high praise is the Mark Levinson stereo system--Family Car says to call it mere "radio" is "blasphemy." According to Jalopnik, this system automatically adjusts for top-up or top-down driving, and its nine speakers turn the Lexus SC 430 into a "private concert hall."

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