In Japan, the related third-generation Toyota Soarer, with which the first generation SC originally shared body design and multiple components, featured a separate lineup of vehicle configurations and different powertrains. The fourth generation Soarer, largely identical to the SC 430, was superseded by its Lexus counterpart in Japan when the Lexus marque debuted there in 2005. At present, the SC is the sole coupe in the Lexus lineup and carries a U.S. base price of $65,455 and a UK base price of £54,880 (approximately $112,000).
In the summer of 1990, following the successful debut of Lexus a year earlier, Toyota decided that work would begin on a mid-size Lexus coupe to compete with the luxury coupes of other marques like Mercedes-Benz and Acura. At that point, Toyota had no genuine luxury coupes in existence. Initially, the existing Japanese second generation Toyota Soarer was selected to serve as the basis for the new Lexus coupe, much like the Lexus ES 250 was based on the Toyota Camry. However, the Soarer's design at the time was considered "boxy"-looking and outdated. Since the coupe was going to be targeted towards the American market, the project was handed over to the Calty Design Research center in California.
The American Calty design team took a revolutionary approach to designing the car, using duracluster molding shapes to design the body, and working 3-dimensionally instead of the traditional 2-D sketch approach. As described by design chiefs Denis Campbell and Erwin Lui, the result was a car that was based on "emotion and feeling" rather than linear aesthetics. The design of the coupe was considered revolutionary, possessing almost no straight edges and built on curvature. As a result, it produced a drag coefficient of Cd 0.31, which was considered very aerodynamic at the time. Some critics found the design of the new Lexus coupe to be very distinctive compared to other cars at the time; later, the SC design was considered influential in the development of automotive designs that followed.