The Lexus SC series is a personal luxury coupé sold by Lexus since 1991. The SC features a front engine, rear-wheel drive design and seating for up to four passengers. The first generation SC debuted as the V8-powered SC 400 in 1991, and the I6-powered SC 300 was added in 1992. Both first generation models were produced until 2000. The second generation model, the SC 430, went into production in 2001. The SC 430 features a hardtop convertible design and a V8 engine. The first generation SC was largely styled in California, and the second generation SC was mainly conceived at design studios in Europe.
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 The fourth generation Soarer, largely identical to the SC 430, was superseded by its Lexus counterpart in Japan when the Lexus marque debuted there in 2005.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 However, the Soarer's design at the time was considered "boxy"-looking and outdated.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.
- Lexus SC 400 dealer introduction video, May 1991 at YouTube Starting 3 minutes into the clip, this video contains archive footage by Calty team members discussing how the car was designed.
The SC 400 debuted on June 1, 1991 in the United States as a 1992 model. The SC 400's 4.0L V8 1UZ-FE, the same engine as used in the LS 400, was reported to have cost over $400,000,000 in research and development. The SC 400 was honored as the Motor Trend Import Car of the Year for 1992. It also made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1992 through 1998.
In July 1992, the SC 300, a smaller engined brother to the SC 400, premiered in the United States. The SC 300 was equipped with a 3.0L inline 6 2JZ-GE. Compared to the SC 400, the smaller-engined variant cost $7,040 less with a manual, and $4,180 less when equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission, (U.S. base price of $31,650 for the 1992 model year). Lexus' traction control system, TRAC, was offered as an option.
The first generation SC lasted in production until July 7, 2000, a span of over 9 years, owed in part to its advanced design. This production cycle was quite long compared to the average car of the 1990s, which was being redesigned every 3-4 years to keep up with the changing styling of automobiles. Even with the SC's long production cycle, only minor exterior changes were made. New tail lighting and a modified spoiler design was part of the mid-cycle vehicle refresh. A front grille was added in 1997, along with a redesigned front bumper, side skirts and rocker panels.
The original 1991-92 engines were rated at 225hp (168kW)/210lb·ft (285N·m) for the 2JZ-GE-powered SC 300 and 250hp (186kW)/260lb·ft (353N·m) for the SC 400. In 1996, the SC 400's 1UZ-FE engine design was upgraded to 260hp (194kW) from 250hp (186kW). In 1998, both the SC 300 and 400 were upgraded with VVT-i and thus the ratings were raised to 290hp (216kW)/300lb·ft (407N·m) of torque for the SC 400 and 225hp (168kW)/220lb·ft (298N·m) of torque for the SC 300. Tests conducted on the new engines showed an acceleration for the SC 400 of 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds, and for the SC 300 an acceleration of 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds. By contrast, the original 1992 SC 400 had a manufacturer's stated 0-60 time of 6.9 seconds, fractionally longer than the updated version.
The first generation SC offered a 4-speed automatic transmission on both the SC 300 and SC 400 models until 1998, when the SC 400 received an upgraded 5-speed automatic. A 5-speed manual transmission was only offered on the SC 300 from its debut until 1997. A majority of the SC 300's are automatic transmission. Finding a manual transmission SC 300 is extremely rare and in some cases, may cost more than their automatic counterpart when buying a used car. Sales of the automatic transmission SC 300 and SC 400 models formed the majority of models purchased.
The Lexus SC 400 was never officially sold in the British Isles, but many examples found their way across the Atlantic as personal imports.
The first generation SC coupes were assembled at Toyota's Higashifuji Technical Center in Motomatchi, Japan.
Lexus showcased its new sports convertible, the SC 430, at the Paris Motor Show in 2000, and the car entered production in March of the following year. Power was provided by a 4.3L 3UZ-FE V8 engine with variable valve timing (VVTi) mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. This engine was the same model as that found in the UCF30 Lexus LS. The SC 430's V8 could produce 288 hp (214.76 kW) and 430N·m (317lb·ft) of torque, allowing the coupe to go from 0-60 in 6.2 seconds.
Lexus designers from Europe and Japan worked together to create the convertible's sleek, streamlined design. Inspiration for the coupe's design came from the south of France. The car features a retractable aluminium hardtop, all-leather interior, and 18inch aluminium wheels. It can technically seat four, but rear seat space is extremely tight. Standard luxury features include Espresso Walnut or Bird's Eye Maple wood trim, a Mark Levinson premium sound system, DVD-based navigation system, and headlamp washers. Initial base price in the U.S. was $63,825.
In 2004, Lexus unveiled the Lexus SC "Pebble Beach Edition," a limited-production model of the SC. The special edition SC is produced in partnership with the Pebble Beach Company, and features a unique exterior and interior color combination which changes with each model year. For model years 2004, 2005, and 2006, production of the Pebble Beach edition was limited to 400 units. Each Lexus SC Pebble Beach edition coupe exhibits special badging (featuring the Lone Cypress logo) on the front fenders, center console, and floor mats. For the 2006 model, a rear spoiler and spider alloy wheels are also included.
Reviewers from Car and Driver magazine praised the SC 430 for 2002 as "an unqualified success," calling it "comfortable, fast, smooth, and quiet" with "all of the virtues expected in a patrician roadster." By contrast, Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson rubbished the SC 430 as "clunky," faulting the standard tyre setup, and gave it his informal "annual wooden spoon" label for 2003.
In 2004 and 2005, J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Survey awarded the SC 430 as the highest ranked premium luxury vehicle. Kelley Blue Book gave the SC 430 its Best to Hold Value Award in 2002. In late 2005, the SC 430 premiered along with the Lexus marque in Japan.
Unlike its predecessor, the SC 430 was officially imported to the British Isles; the old SC 400 had been a popular personal grey import. Currently, production of the SC 430 occurs at the Kanji (Kanto Jidosha) assembly site in Japan. At present, the SC 430 is sold in North America, Europe, Oceania, and Asia.
In 2006 the SC 430 was entered in the (Super GT) race series in the GT500 class (cars with approximately 500 horsepower). Extensively modified from the factory car, the engine used is a modified version of the SC 430's 3UZ-FE V8 that was also used in the Toyota Supra race car from previous years.
The new SC 430 based race cars were immediately competitive with former GT500 champion Juichi Wakisaka and no. 2 driver Andre Lotterer driving the Open Interface TOM's SC to victory at the opening round at Suzuka giving the SC 430 its first victory on its debut race. Juichi Wakisaka and Andre Lotterer also won the GT500 class championship during the same year. In 2007, Lexus SC fully replaces Supras in the Toyota side, a Zent Cerumo SC 430 driven by Yuji Tachikawa was victorious in the GT500 opening round race.
In 2008, a Zent Cerumo SC 430 driven by Yuji Tachikawa and Richard Lyons won the Fuji 500 race, round 3 of the Autobacs Super GT at Fuji Speedway.
In July 2008, Edmunds InsideLine reported that Lexus had cancelled the next generation SC due to slowing sales. In response, a company spokesman did not confirm or deny the rumors, but called the report in the possible replacement with the introduction of the Lexus LF as "unfounded speculation." Lexus subsequently announced the production of the SC 430 model for 2009.
Production and sales data for Lexus SC generations are as follows. Production figures are not available for 2006 onward. Sourced from manufacturer production information, along with sales data.