Used 2003 Lexus SC 430 Review

Edmunds expert review

Though lacking the ability to provide an invigorating driving experience, the Lexus SC 430 does provide a serene top-down experience for a price considerably less than the competition's.

What's new for 2003

Other than the Lexus Link emergency and concierge service becoming available, there are no changes for the SC 430.

Vehicle overview

Introduction: Conventional wisdom states that if you run down the street naked, you're gonna get noticed. But ever since the advent of "Girls Gone Wild -- Spring Break Edition," ($19.99 plus tax, S&H), no one notices if you're naked anymore. Unless, of course, you're topless -- in the 2003 Lexus SC 430. Everyone will pay attention. You'll feel like a superstar.

This is, of course, totally unexpected for a Lexus. Just try to get the attention of the cutie sitting in traffic next to you while driving your ES 300. A radical departure for the normally staid manufacturer, the SC 430 has been dubbed the "jewel of Lexus," and has been penned to appeal to your emotional right-brain side. Designers drew inspiration by lolling about France's Cote d'Azur, studying the architecture and familiarizing themselves with the lifestyle.

Now in its second year, the SC 430 is Lexus' first and only convertible. The SC name dates back to 1992, when the first Lexus coupe debuted. The SC 300 and SC 400 coupe were decent cars, though sales decreased alarmingly over the years as the platform aged and younger, better luxury coupes sprang up. Beyond that, consumers shopping many competing models, such as the Mercedes CLK, could choose between a two-door with a solid roof or a ragtop for open-air motoring on sunny days. The SC came only with a fixed roof. After nearly a decade on the market, during which time precious few updates were made, the car was allowed to fade quietly into the sunset.

The 2003 SC 430 is far from bland, though not quite as palatable to conservative tastes. The normally reserved automaker has taken a risk here, and the SC is the most radical styling exercise ever to wear a Lexus nameplate. It's not a vehicle for those who like to blend into the background.

It is a vehicle for those looking for something luxurious, however. This car has one of the best interior designs you'll find anywhere. It's also comparatively inexpensive -- a Mercedes-Benz SL500 can easily cost $35,000 more. If you like the SC 430's looks, you should give it strong consideration.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: Though available in just one body style and trim level, the SC 430 comes packed with luxurious amenities. Standard features include a navigation system, supple leather seats with driver and passenger memory functions, an astounding 240-watt nine-speaker premium audio system and a sophisticated climate control system.

With a press of a button, the aluminum-alloy roof rises from its dormant state to provide shelter from the vagaries of the environment. It is truly a marvel, a waltz of levers and axes gliding toward their goal. Once closed, it seals tight to transform the SC 430 into a hardtop coupe possessing superior structural rigidity and little wind noise while cruising down the freeway.

Powertrains and Performance: The SC 430 is powered by the same 4.3-liter V8 engine that Lexus uses in the LS and GS sedans. It produces 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to a five-speed automatic transmission that drives the rear wheels. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration occurs in about 6.5 seconds. Safety: Antilock brakes with a panic-assist feature and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) are standard, as are seatbelt pre-tensioners and front and side-impact airbags. The SC 430 also comes with traction control and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). The optional run-flat tires allow the car to be driven up to 100 miles at 55 mph without air pressure. Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the SC 430.

Interior Design and Special Features: The interior is the highlight of the car, The cockpit is filled with real wood and leather, and much of the center stack can be hidden by spring-loaded wooden covers.

The only problem with the retractable roof is that when it's lowered there's very little storage space in the trunk. Equipped with a conventional spare tire, the SC 430's trunk allows 8.8 cubic feet of space. Ordering the optional run-flat tires and ditching the spare bumps the trunk size up to 9.4 cubic feet. Keep in mind that these numbers are with the top up; in topless form, luggage space is very scarce. Additionally, the SC 430's rear seats have ridiculously tight dimensions that render them last resorts at best. Driving Impressions: The 4.3-liter V8 allows the SC to leap from nearly any speed. It climbs to redline with no discernable strain. The exhaust note is nearly imperceptible, a trait that's either pleasing or disappointing depending on your point of view. Shifts from the five-speed automatic are always crisp, but with no manual shift mode, spirited driving takes more attention than it should. The suspension setup echoes the traits of the drivetrain, filtering out every bump and ripple in the road in an attempt to maintain civility at all times. This, in turn, results in less road feel and reduced driver confidence when pushing the SC 430 hard into the corners.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.