Much can be said about Japanese cars and their perceived build quality, resale values and general value for money. Although things are beginning to show signs of improvement, the same cannot be said about American cars, something which puts Lexus in a slightly awkward position. For while its roots lie in Japan (it’s owned by Toyota), it’s a car conceived, created and produced squarely for the American market.

Lexus’ success in the USA is a fascinating tale, starting with the original LS400 that was first introduced in the early 1990s. The car literally took the USA by storm, and subsequent model additions have shown no signs of halting sales. In fact, more Lexus’ are sold in the USA than BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi, for that matter.

Attempts to grab market share in South Africa were initially quite disastrous, but since the brand’s highly publicized re-launch in 2006, Lexus has been going from strength to strength, most notably because of its sales separation from Toyota and a fresher, more distinct and sharply styled model range. Now boasting its own national dealership network and a dedicated after sales service, Lexus has finally come into its own.

The local introduction of the SC430 has however baffled many a car aficionado. Let’s not beat about the bush – it’s an old car with a design that dates back to the beginning of the new millennium. The interior is showing its age, with especially the tape deck and heavy wood treatment giving it more of a dated feel than an old-school cool. It’s however superbly luxurious and remarkably comfortable, making the SC430 a cruiser of note.

That it still manages to draw attention wherever you go already says something about the design, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. I quite like the generally rounded look with its retro light clusters, but those alloy wheels… Generally though, the SC430 design works, looking at its best (read: more in proportion) with the roof down.

What is also refreshing on the SC430 is its power plant; a 4.3-litre V8 coupled to a 6-speed automatic gearbox. I describe it as refreshing because, even though you have 210 kW of power and 419 Nm of torque available, it’s not a robot racer, the focus lying instead on comfortable acceleration than outright blow-you-away performance. It also has surprisingly frugal fuel requirements for its engine size, which in my opinion is quite a bonus.

When needed, the power is there, with the smooth gearshifts again making your drive as comfortable as possible. Handling is more than sufficient, although the (in my opinion overly) large steering wheel gives vague feedback that doesn’t inspire as much confidence as it would in a V8-powered car with a stiffer suspension. But, seen in the context of the SC430’s purpose, this is a minor gripe.

Releasing the SC430 in South Africa was a gamble, but it should be seen predominantly as a marketing exercise to increase public awareness and, perhaps, shifting perceptions about the brand. It’s available on order only (unless you can find a pre-owned model), making it an ultra-exclusive acquisition in a somewhat small, very elite segment.

However, this exclusivity comes at a price. Retailing for a cool R818 300, the SC430 is far from affordable to Joe Soap, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why Lexus’ order books aren’t bursting at the seams. Its closest rival is Mercedes-Benz’s CLK500 Cabrio, which, for “only” R798 000, gives you a larger engine, more power and more torque.

All its other competitors would require much more financial input, with the Jaguar XK8 Convertible at R994 700 or BMW’s 650i Convertible at R1 046 900 being the only two automatic rivals remaining. Compared to these two, and seen in the greater scheme of things, the SC430 offers great value for your money.

Buying a car in this segment is undoubtedly the privilege of a select few people in our country, and, as such, many questions can be raised about the relevance of the SC430 – we all know how much good can be done with that much money. However, the SC430 proves – again – that the traditional German three are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to refinement and luxury. Like the LS460, it offers similar, and in some cases better, specification, on par performance and, debatably, more refinement, but at a significantly better price.

Combined with Lexus’ recent top ranking in the JD Powers & Associates Customer Satisfaction Index (for the IS250 and brand in general) and a dedicated Customer Experience Manager at manufacturer level, ownership is sure to be highly enjoyable. The SC430 may be an oldie, but it’s certainly still a goodie.

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