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Topdown Challenge Redux

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On to the top down "chatability" challenge. No challenge at all; conversation was perfectly normal as long as the windows were up. Lexus says this is a result of wind-wrap analysis. Sounds like a lot of Computational Fluid Dynamics to me. And they further claim that the car can be driven, top down, in winter or summer.

As the exterior temperature dropped from 76 F to 60 F (24C to 15.5), I expected cold hands and a chilled body. Not so! I set my side of the dual-zone temperature controls to 25, then 23, then 21 and was comfortable. I had to turn it down, not because my chest and hands were too warm, but because my feet and lower body were overheating!

When could you say that about any car, especially a convertible with the top down going 140 kmh? I wonder if that would hold true at top speed (with tires limited to 156 mph/250 kph). I'd want the optional $440 rear spoiler (standard in Europe) if I were regularly hitting 120-130 mph, that's when stability seemed to decrease if the top was down.

Heading Towards Redline Territory

Driven hard, these prototype chassis did not exhibit quite the sophistication of Mercedes CLK or Jaguar XK8. There's a bit of squat at the rear, and on some transitions the rear end wants to do a bit of steering. Perhaps this is the 53/47 weight distribution? My stopwatch closely matched Lexus' acceleration figure of 0-60 (0-100 kmh) in 5.9 seconds so inclusion of four-sensor, four-channel ABS, traction and stability control, and electronic brake assist was comforting. When pushed into understeer or oversteer on mountain roads, Lexus stability control worked well and was not over-controlling

The Vallecito Mountains near Borrego Springs, California provided a test of run-flat Bridgestones versus 245/40ZR18 Dunlops. The Bridgestones felt like more unsprung weight; heavier, meatier (valve-mounted pressure monitoring is standard for either tire.)

Selecting third gear, I could point the car with steering wheel or throttle. The engine develops torque so quickly it was difficult to apply power smoothly. I noticed that entering turns, just tipping into the throttle affected direction unless both front tires were already firmly loaded.

Driving on mixed pavement - smooth on one side, rough on the other - on some poorly patched surfaces caused the steering wheel to pull or tug at my hands. Also there was a hint of brake grab on initial application. But who knows if the brakes had been properly bedded? For sure they are powerful.

The Verdict

Of course prototype cars driven last December do not totally represent U.S. production vehicles that went on sale in March. (European sales begin in September. Those vehicles are being tuned right now and are not that different from U.S. spec cars, according to Nakagawa-san.)

The SC 430 is built in Kanto Auto Works, Ltd. Higashifuji plant in Japan, with a U.S. base price of $58,455 plus delivery fee of $545. But a navigation system adds $2,000, run-flat tires $400, and rear spoiler $440.

Are there shortcomings? Yes, but as one experienced journalist proclaimed, "It doesn't matter, it just doesn't matter! It has style, elegance, trouble-free heritage, and a sound system so great people will buy the car just to have the stereo."

I have to agree. The 7,000 SC 430 sold orders in hand in early 2001 left only 7,000 of the first-year production unsold. (World-wide first year production is 15,000, sustained U.S. volume is predicted at 10,000.)

There are plenty of dot-comers willing to buy an exclusive sound system with luxury car attached. Or as Nakagawa explained: "You get the audio system and a convertible, too, for (under) sixty thousand dollars."


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