Home » You Can Buy A Luxurious Lexus SC 430 For Less Than A Gently Used Honda Civic

You Can Buy A Luxurious Lexus SC 430 For Less Than A Gently Used Honda Civic

Lexus Sc 430 Gavel Gazing Topshot Copy
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There’s something joyful about a convertible. Whether a Jeep Wrangler or a Geo Metro, unencumbered access to the open air is a freeing thing, and while many of us have dreamed of nice convertibles, many of the high-end ones can be maintenance headaches. Many, but not all. These days, you can buy a Lexus SC 430 and be cruising in drop-top luxury for less than the price of a gently used Honda Civic. Balling on a budget with the psychological reassurance of Lexus reliability. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Wait a second, didn’t Top Gear call the SC 430 the worst car in the history of the world? Sure, a spin-off special of a self-described “pokey little motoring show” may have bagged on Lexus’ first power-retractable hardtop, but context is important. For $62,875 in 2004 money, it was hard to love the SC 430 over admittedly more expensive competition like the Jaguar XKR, the Mercedes-Benz SL, or the Porsche 911 Cabriolet.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

However, add two decades, and the slightly frumpy Lexus is absolutely worth a second look. Sure, an XKR may be sharper, but as far as older comfortable convertibles to own, there’s a good chance the SC 430 has it licked.

What Are We Looking At?

2002 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids Profile

Around the turn of the new millennium, Lexus sought to replace its SC sports coupe with something that could compete with the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XK8 in the posh grand touring convertible segment. As this sort of vehicle carries a distinctly continental attitude, one designer set out on what may or may not have been a vacation of sorts. As reported by the Athens Banner-Herald:

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Chief Exterior Designer Sotiris Kovos sought design inspiration in a location renowned for high-end luxury — the French Riviera. He spent several weeks there observing people and products to gain insight into truly luxurious lifestyles.

I’m sure that some important research was done on this trip, but it also has to be one of the best career maneuvers of all time. Don’t lie, all of us would do the same damn thing if we could. Anyway, after Kovos’ trip to the Côte d’Azur, the SC 430 team sat down and made a plush, V8-powered grand tourer. It had a power-retractable hardtop, the 4.3-liter V8 from the plutocrat-grade LS 430 sedan, wood, leather, and all the miscellaneous luxury goodies you could shake a stick at.

However, not everything in the history of the SC 430 is rosy. It promptly lost a Car And Driver comparison test against a first-generation Mercedes-Benz CLK convertible. Awkward. However, there are two reasons for that, as explained in the article.

So why does the Lexus languish in the runner-up spot? It comes down to two elements: styling and vehicle dynamics. Both fall into the realm of the subjective, and there’s no doubt that our responses to this car don’t necessarily reflect the market at large. In fact, the only car in recent memory that’s attracted more positive attention during a road test is the Audi TT. Nevertheless, our own responses to the SC430’s styling and dynamics were uniform and unanimous: very nice, but not for us.

The Lexus isn’t exactly a sporting car. Sure, it has plenty of power and a claimed zero-to-60 mph time of 5.9 seconds, but ride quality on early models fitted with run-flat tires is a bit harsh, and handling is more akin to a three-piece suite than a sports car. However, ditch the runflats, pack a tire inflator kit, and the Lexus becomes an excellent daily driver, adequately equipped to eat up highway stretches and cruise around town with the top down.

2002 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids Interior

Once that mesmerizing electromechanical contraption has done its thing, you’ll get to enjoy the sunshine among luxuries like a nine-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, a power-adjustable steering column, and a wood-grained steering wheel. Oh, and did I mention that the leather front seats are extremely comfortable?

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A few improvements arrived in 2006, when Lexus fitted a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the old five-speed and sorted out the ride quality, but this isn’t a vehicle that received many drastic changes throughout the years. After all, the final model year of the SC 430 marked the last time a new car was sold in America with a standard tape deck.

How Much Are We Talking?

Bring A Trailer 2002 Lexus Sc 430

Of course, despite the luxury badge, many of these SC 430s are reasonably priced. A well-equipped four-year-old Honda Civic currently goes for about $20,000, and there are a ton of SC 430 examples to choose from under that price cap. Take this 2002 model year car that sold on Bring A Trailer in December for $19,680. It was owned by one family since new, had just 47,000 miles on the clock, and looks remarkably clean underneath.

Bring A Trailer 2005 Lexus Sc 430

Speaking of low-mileage examples, this 2005 SC 430 with 77,000 miles on the clock sold on Bring A Trailer last month for $15,250. Sure, it may have some odd cosmetic add-ons, but stick-on headlight trim, an aftermarket grille, and aftermarket wheels all fall into the camp of reversible alterations. I’d call this one well-bought.

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2002 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids 1

If you aren’t particularly fussy about year or mileage, there are some serious bargains to be had. This 2002 model with 128,300 miles on the clock recently sold on Cars & Bids for $9,000, which is downright cheap for a car of this caliber. Sure, it’s not cosmetically perfect, but a few little scrapes make it a great example to just drive the crap out of.

2006 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids 1

Speaking of higher-mileage examples, this facelifted 2006 SC 430 with 163,400 miles on the clock sold last October on Cars & Bids for $12,000. The wild part? You wouldn’t be able to tell how much it’s been driven just by looking at it.

2006 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids

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The leather seats are free of cracks, the blue paint still gleams, and even the plastic headlight lenses appear to be in decent condition. Whoever owned this thing took fantastic care of it, and as a result, it still looks like a $60,000 car.

What Goes Wrong On An SC 430?

2002 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids Engine

Good news: This is a Lexus, meaning that unlike the high-end European competition, it’s a fairly robust car. The 4.3-liter V8 is rock-solid, as are both automatic transmissions, as is pretty much all the body hardware. The one notable exception is that power-retractable hardtops are complex pieces of kit, so if proper lubrication and care are neglected, four-figure repair bills aren’t out of the question. However, it’s worth noting that many top components can be sourced second-hand, which should lower the cost of fixes.

Sc 430 Brake Booster Code

The only other thing to watch out for is the brake booster pump going bad. It’s a fancy electrohydraulic pump that costs around $800 for a new part, and is a known sore spot on these cars. On the plus side, it’s easy to diagnose, throwing its own trouble code when it starts to go bad.

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If you’re looking to buy an SC 430, see if the seller has maintenance records for the brake booster pump, along with the critical timing belt. Even if a vehicle isn’t at the timing belt mileage interval yet, rubber tends to go brittle after 20 years, and you don’t want your pistons to kiss your valves. If neither of these items have been done, they can make for good negotiating points on a private sale, or encourage you to mentally lower your maximum bid on an auction car.

Should You Buy A Lexus SC 430?

2002 Lexus Sc 430 Cars And Bids Rear

A used Lexus SC 430 is a fairly smart buy as far as aged luxury cars go. So long as premium gasoline is relatively cheap, you can get a well-appointed, reasonably comfortable convertible for sensible money that you can depend on every day of the year. It even has a pair of tiny rear seats for a dog, luggage, or exceptionally friendly passengers. Think of the SC 430 as a slice of one-percent life now affordable by many. Sure, a four-year-old Civic may be cheaper to run, but the Lexus is near the bottom of its depreciation curve, and it certainly feels a bit fabulous. As far as sensible used four-seat convertibles go, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than this.

(Photo credits: Cars & Bids, Bring A Trailer)

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AceRimmer
AceRimmer
1 month ago

God no. Ugly exterior, ugly interior, terrible ride and lousy performance. Top Gear was 100% right on this one.

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