BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
Lexus SC430 review (2005-2009)
Lexus has a history of dragging people out of their BMWs and Mercedes. LS400, IS200, RX300, all are alternatives to German fare that many people consider to be just as good. So, in 2001, the launch of a luxurious Lexus coupe seemed like a done deal. The SC430 would give the Mercedes SL and pending 6-Series coupe a beating.
Well, no. The price was higher than was first predicted, the styling was not to everyone’s taste and, worst of all, the chassis was soggy and distinctly uninvolving. On British back roads, a £25k Mercedes SLK was almost preferable, never mind the devastatingly competent SL. For £50,000, far more was expected. Chief engineer Yasushi Nakagawa was hurt. Further development at the company’s European engineering division in Brussels was rapidly instigated, and the first changes – revised spring rates – came in 2003. But Lexus was working on many more aspects besides, so we jumped at the chance of driving the very latest revised model.
Aside from detail changes, the ‘new’ SC430 looks no different. The flowing, soft lines are organic and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying it’s flawlessly finished. The folding aluminium hard-top remains too, turning it into a convertible in 25 seconds. When down though, the roof eats into boot room dramatically. And whatever Lexus’ claims that this is a four-seater, even toddlers will laugh at you when they see the rear perches. Why fit them when they’re so clearly unusable?
Lexus SC430 interior
Inside is as before too, lavishly-trimmed from some of the best leather and wood in the world. Lexus even sought help from Yamaha pianos when designing the timber, and it shows. Front seats are comfortable, white LED-lit console buttons look great and the nine-speaker Mark Levinson stereo is exceptional, one of the best we’ve ever experienced.
On the road
But all that we knew. What has Lexus done to the chassis? Right away, you notice it feels firmer – too firm? The ride is nervous and unsettled, never really calming down even on motorways. Seek out larger pot-holes and the wheels crash into them with an alarming bang; the magic-carpet fluidity of a Mercedes SL is lacking. It’s almost as if the wheels are too big and heavy for the car, thumping continuously across surfaces, though the ultra-low-profile 245/40 ZR18 tyres are partly to blame too.
Accept this and the benefits, during normal motoring, are good body control and a lack of roll through corners even at higher speeds. Impressive given its 1740kg bulk. Such manners complement the stupendous, rapid engine well; it’s silent, vibration free and silky-smooth. Most of the time this will be the quietest, most refined and soothing coupe in the world. And you’ll never feel the five-speed gearbox change gear.
It’s when you up the pace where the old SC430 traits show through. It’s not as stiff as a proper coupe, revealed by creaks from the roof and a constant feeling of shudder through the structure, not helped by the firm ride. So drive it at speed over demanding roads, and the previously-taught controls begin to feel sloppy, and the light steering which was already lifeless gives no feedback or feel whatsoever. More critically, there’s no excitement to be had, no feeling of real motoring; you simply glide along at ever-higher speeds, until the heavy front end surprises you with the onset of understeer and you check your speed.
The only dubious excitement is saved for heavy braking. The light pedal controls grabby anchors, so shedding high speed smoothly is tricky. Often you’ll trigger the ABS, but not before the car kicks sideways with enough violence to trigger the stability control system – pretty alarming. And sometimes you’ll hear a screech as the wheels lock briefly, further denting your confidence. Much more fine-tuning is needed in this area.
Just as the rest of the car needs further work to bring it up to Germanic standards, too. Both the Mercedes SL and BMW 6-Series are enormously competent models, and the GS-based SC430 simply feels too elderly in comparison when driven hard. It’s a great cruiser, despite the unsettled ride, which to be fair is its remit – but as a driver’s car to challenge its rivals, it’s still not there. For £52,000, more is expected.
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