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2008-03-10 11:35

Hailey Philander

Lexus, in its drive to have a bigger presence in South Africa, has released the convertible SC430 - although on a "by order" basis only. We took it for a spin.

The Lexus SC430 is no longer a "new car" - it has been available in international markets since 2001 - but it has aged reasonably well.

The driving experience is top-notch, and while Lexus was quick to assure that its SC430 is not a true-blue sports car, its 4.3-litre V8's throaty roar does endow it with very athletic qualities.

While we're inclined to believe otherwise, Lexus also assures that the SC430 is being introduced in South Africa to meet market demand for the car, which is totally subject to customer request.

The 2+2 seater (although it's more like a two-seater with comfortable housing for your shopping parcels) is extremely comfortable for the two front occupants, although the SC430's age is most visible from inside the cabin.

Switchgear is of a good quality, although the look and operation of the numerous buttons and dials is decidedly early 2000s. The combination of aluminium-like finishes and wood veneer on the central hangdown feels dated too, even though the facia still appears stylish.

But while the aesthetics are no longer as crisp - the styling, in fact brought back rather disturbing Daihatsu Copen flashbacks - the driving experience is not to be faulted.

Strictly V8 Power

The 4.3-litre V8 used in the sports coupe is infinitely entertaining. The 32-valve dual overcam unit with VVT-i dispatches 210 kW at 5 600 r/min and a peak torque of 419 Nm at 3 500 r/min.

Drive is to the rear wheels via an amazingly slick six-speed sequential gearbox with near seamless changes. Steering through the hydraulic power steering system is extremely accurate too, allowing for great placement on the road.

And since the SC was designed from the outset to not have a permanent roof, the body structure is very rigid. There was no scuttle shake with the roof up, and virtually no flex when the roof was down, even when driving over less-than-ideal road surfaces.

Despite a wheelbase of just over 2.5 m, the car is not small at an overall length of closer to 4.5 m and it's also not light since it weighs well over two tones, but you'd never guess it from this car's commendable road manners.

Weather conditions experienced on the ride and drive along the Garden Route were not the kind that would send you running to take the top down. But with the roof down, the wind swirl (and the climate control) kept most of the cold out of the cabin.

Be patient

However, brave souls who soldiered on through the rain squall reported experiencing the longest 25 seconds while waiting for the electrically operated roof to right itself... Taking the roof down also shrinks the boot space from a fair 321 litres to a laughable 89 litres. And I was somewhat concerned by the exposed roof hinges to the rear of the cabin.

As befits a halo model, the SC is fitted with a vast array of luxury features. These include an automatic climate control system that compensates for changes in temperature with the top down and a nine-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.

Heated leather seats with 8-way electrical adjustment and memory setting, cruise control, and adaptive headlights with high intensity HID lamps are standard too. Windows also block out up to 90% of the UV rays.

Safety equipment is comprehensive too, and includes six airbags, ABS with BAS, VSC and traction control, and for the first time on a Lexus SA product, a tyre pressure monitor.

At R762 000 the SC430 is not cheap, but Lexus believes its loyal fan base will welcome the addition of this classy cruiser to its range. And hopefully snap up a few Mercedes Benz CLK and BMW 6 Series drivers looking for an alternative in the process.

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