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May 2001
High Hopes

It also created quite a stir when it was displayed at the Paris Auto Show this October. That was the first time European auto journalists had seen the handsome suntanner on Continental soil.

It's fitting they should feel an affinity toward the new Lexus since its distinctive exterior design was inspired by sophisticated European ideals of luxury.

Lexus gave the task of creating the car's exterior to its European design center. Chief exterior designer Sotiris Kovos spent several weeks in the French Riviera (what a sacrifice for his art!) to gain insight into what is the modern concept of true luxury. How he got his bosses to buy into this line of thinking and sign his undoubtedly extravagant expense checks is beside the point, though most of us admire his creativity.

What Kovos came away with at the end of his month-long sojourn (besides a killer tan and a taste for Piper champagne and fois gras) was a clear idea of what the rich want in a car. "We discovered that people (on the French Riviera) show a preference to products and services with a high degree of simplicity, character, sophistication and quality."

The many high-performance luxury yachts that ply the deep blue waters off the Riviera's shores, Kovos says, best represent these tastes. So, he tried to reflect this in the SC 430's design. There is a nautical resonance in its sculpted, aerodynamic lines.

It does resemble a boat, but more the wooden speedboats of the 1930s than a modern yacht. And that's a good thing. It gives the new Lexus a classic, streamlined look that makes it instantly appealing.

The retractable aluminum hardtop adds an element of modern, high-tech sophistication to the SC 430. Demonstrations of the top dropping at the Paris Auto Show received enthusiastic praise. Everyone seemed to enjoy the ballet-like machinations of the hardtop retracting and stowing seamlessly away.

Lexus wants us to know that even with the top down there's still enough room for a set of golf clubs in the trunk. They don't mention, however, what you can do with your partner's set. Presumably, they'll just have to rent.

More likely, the second set of clubs will have to be stowed in the rear seating area. Although Lexus calls the SC 430 a “2+2,” it also says the rear seats are good for “small children or extra cargo,” which is as good as saying the seats are useless for adults or anyone with legs thicker than rope.

Although Lexus designers in Japan created the interior, it maintains the elegant, streamlined simplicity of the exterior. Instead of relying on molded plastic for the interior, Lexus chose to fill the cockpit with real wood and leather. Spring-loaded wooden covers hide many of the controls, so that the console has an uncluttered feel, again much like a classic speedboat.

Lexus has equipped the SC 430 with the amenities expected of a luxury auto, including a navigation system, leather seats with driver and passenger memory functions, a nine-speaker premium audio system and a sophisticated climate control system that automatically adjusts to provide either hot or cool air depending on outside air temperatures and the speed of the car. The automaker says the system will allow for top-down motoring over a wider range of outside temperatures than most other convertibles.

The same 4.3-liter V8 engine that Lexus created for the redesigned LS 430, which went on sale this fall, powers the SC 430. The double overhead cam aluminum powerplant produces 300 horsepower (at 5,600 rpm) and 320 foot-pounds of torque (at 3,400), which should facilitate ripping starts, and plenty of pull-away power on the freeway.

Lexus says it designed the SC 430 as a convertible from the start, so that it was imbued with a structural rigidity not normally found on coupes or sedans converted to drop tops. Combined with front and rear double-wishbone independent suspension, this should mean a smooth ride with excellent steering response and handling. The standard 18-inch alloy wheels with high-performance 245/40ZR18 tires should help too.

Until we get a chance to drive the SC 430 and give you our impressions, we can only guess at the quality, performance and desirability of this new Lexus. However, judging by current and past offerings from the luxury automaker, our expectations are high.

Edmunds.com, Inc.was founded in 1966 to publish new and used vehicle guides. In 1995, Edmunds became the first company to establish a site on the Web on which consumers could obtain vehicle information at no cost, and in 2000, Edmunds became the first source for vehicle pricing information for users of wireless Web-enabled devices. Edmunds.com continues to provide free, unbiased information on all aspects of buying, owning and selling a vehicle.

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