Generally, it's not in our nature to indulge in breathless hyperbole, so evaluating the Lexus SC 400 performance coupe can be somewhat problematic.
Why? Because when this automotive reviewer nestles into the cockpit of a dream machine like the Lexus SC 400 - with its 250-hp V8 engine - the superlatives naturally start flying as fast as insults at a Friars Club Roast.
For example: Ride - blissful. Acceleration - rocket-like. Styling - sleek and elegantly sexy. Handling - akin to a jackrabbit on steroids. You get the idea.
Such hosannas have been hurled at the feet of Lexus designers ever since the SC 400 was rolled out in 1991. But after spending a few days with the 1995 version of the SC 400, it's clear that the Lexus design team didn't feel overly pressured by a what-do-we-do-for-an-encore syndrome.
The design changes on the front grille, tail-lamps and alloy wheels are more like refinements than overhauls, and are mostly for the sake of increased sportiness.
Several modifications have been made in regards to the front suspension. It's been beefed up with a thicker stabilizer bar and lower arm stay for improved rigidity, while an upper arm bushing was upgraded from metal to rubber to calm the vibrato effect common in many performance coupes. And in the safety department, side reinforcements enable the SC 400 to conform to 1997 federal side-impact standards.
Our SC 400 boasted a long list of standard luxury-line features that includes leather seats and appointments, maple trim, multi-adjustable power seats, a telescopic/tilt steering wheel, automatic climate control, outside temperature gauge, cruise control, power locks and a remote entry system.
The only options we added to our test vehicle were all-season tires, remote 12-disc CD changer, traction control system, carpeted trunk mat and wheel locks. Along with the $470 freight and handling charge, those add-ons brought the base sticker price of $48,400 up to an MSRP of $50,888.
With its long, bullet-like nose, dramatically aerodynamic windshield and on-the-prowl stance, the SC 400 looks as if it's doing 100 mph even when it's sitting in the driveway.
The redesigned grille is not just sportier, it's also more aggressive looking - and that's appropriate, considering the impressive powerplant under the hood. The fat 225/55VR-16 steel-belted radials and sturdy-but-sporty aluminum alloy wheels also contribute to the SC 400's imposing visage.
Meanwhile, Lexus designers were wise not to clutter the car's sleek, windswept countenance with a lot of needless accent trim. The SC 400 is a strictly monochrome affair, with its recessed door handles and mirror housings the same color as the body panels.
Around back, one flick of the remote entry switch pops open the trunk lid to reveal plush, deep gray carpet - and enough space for six to eight shopping bags. To the right sits the 12-disc CD changer, which can be removed with a click of a switch. And for those who are weary of searching for under-the-seat fuel-lid release switches, Lexus put its button on the dash; there's also a trunk-mounted lid-release cord that serves as backup in case of a battery malfunction.
For a lesson in the stylish application of advanced automotive engineering, step right this way. First, insert the key into the SC 400 ignition switch and watch as the steering wheel slowly descends, Space Odyssey-like, into driving position. Remove the key and the wheel ascends, creating enough room for comfortable entry and exit.
Now, push the two buttons on the top of the door panel - marked L1 and L2 - and observe how both the seat and the steering wheel whir into a preprogrammed position that can be custom-tailored to the dimensions and preferences of individual drivers. Turn the ignition key and the gauge level needles light up - a brilliant red - before the gauges themselves actually light up. It's all very civilized.
The sleek black instrument panel suggests an elegantly futuristic attitude without resorting to flashy computer graphics. Directly to the right of the premium stereo system - boosted by bass, treble and midrange knobs - a deft push on a lever yields a smartly engineered passenger-side cupholder.
A similar nudge on a clearly marked, console-mounted trap door reveals the driver's cupholder, which is built into the console instead of extending away from it. It's a simple yet brilliant concept that will spare drivers numerous laps full of hot coffee that they would undoubtedly be wearing in some other vehicles.
Also nearby, an overdrive button is very accessible.
One complaint: For some reason there's a ridge that sticks out about an inch from the hard plastic modular unit that houses the drivetrain - right at the point where the driver's right knee rests against it. The situation was uncomfortable enough that our driver actually had to wedge a handkerchief between his knee and the housing to get some much-needed relief.
Headroom was sufficient enough to allow our driver to don a hat with a 6-in. crown - surprising for a performance coupe. The 44 in. of front legroom isn't overly generous - this is a sports coupe, after all - but the power-adjustable steering wheel compensates.
On a comfort level, the heated seats are covered with the same plush black leather that wraps the steering wheel.
When you're breathing the rarefied air of a $50,000-plus sticker price, you expect the ride, handling and acceleration to be phenomenal - and the Lexus does not disappoint. At speeds of 80 mph and up, the SC 400's ride is silky smooth - thanks to the 4-wheel, double-wishbone, coil-spring suspension and gas-filled shocks. The steering is as responsive as any vehicle we've tested to date. With the aid of the variable-assist, speed-sensitive power steering, high-speed freeway maneuvers can be executed with a single digit. And in a genuine emergency situation - the car ahead of us stopped abruptly - a quick spin of the wheel swept us to the safety of the slow lane.
The Lexus SC 400's 4.0-liter DOHC V8 engine delivers its 250 hp at 5600 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm. It also blasts off from dead dig to 60 mph in an impressive 6.9 seconds.
To soften this Apollo-like acceleration, Lexus engineers have equipped the SC 400 with a 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with ECT-i intelligence - which interacts with the engine's on-board computer to regulate line pressure, in turn providing smoother shifting.
When coasting along at 65 mph with the cruise control engaged, the tach read a very contented 2400 rpm. Moments later, in a 70-mph passing situation, we floored it and the tach needle jerked up to 6000 rpm as the passing gear engaged.
The SC 400 stops with similar urgency thanks to standard anti-lock brakes: At 30 mph, we came to an assured, controlled halt in under 4 seconds.
It's a wonder to behold what auto engineers can do when they're not constricted by petty concerns such as popular pricing. And therein lies the rub: Due to its high-end sticker price, most folks will never know the blissful driving experience offered by the superior Lexus SC 400.
But if you're among the fortunate few for whom money is not an issue, then the SC 400 is high cotton indeed.
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