23 October 2006

joie de vivre

Lexus Magazine 2006

Lexus SC430 (Lexus Press Image)

When the weather’s fine, it’s time to drop the hood and enjoy the summer

The image of the convertible roadster has always held the romantic appeal of a car constructed purely for enjoyment and allure. In popular culture, the DHC (Drop Head Coupe) has featured large in movies with style and sensuality as their theme. Dustin Hoffman’s Alfa Spider in the Graduate, the Chevrolet Corvette in Route 66 or even the tortured Ferrari 250 in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off all invoke the free-spirited, fun-loving pleasure-seeker so often portrayed in Hollywood or Cannes. Meanwhile, the SC430’s list of movie credits grows too with The OC, Terminator 3, CSI, 24 and Legally Blonde 2.

High performance roadsters in the classic European or American incarnation conjure images of wind-in-the-hair, string-back gloves and savage exhaust noise, but the SC430 offers something different, says Lexus Australia Chief, John Conomos

"It could be said that some people buy top end sports cars for the wrong reasons," Mr Conomos said.

"They are buying for prestige and for roadster enjoyment but they sometimes find they have a car which demands more of them as a driver than they are prepared to give.

"And that is not only at high speed - it can be also demanding at low speed in the city."

“It can make their total experience less than constantly rewarding. The Lexus SC 430 offers a very attractive alternative."

And Lexus has delivered. The result is a superbly crafted vehicle that imbues all the unapologetic glamour of a prestige convertible, replete with creature comforts in keeping with an ultra high end saloon or coupé and signed off with the unambiguous expression of freewheeling lifestyle transport.

Even if your motivation is not to emulate some siren or stud of the silver screen, the SC430 is the embodiment of style and panache. Seeking inspiration for Lexus’ first and only convertible, chief engineer Yasushi Nakagawa exiled his design team on France’s Cote d'Azur with instructions to soak up the architectural and thematic atmosphere that so epitomises sun-drenched chic. Yachts, powerboats and even the hedonistic human inhabitants served as templates for this very individual, expressive personal transport. The result is a genuinely unique, timeless and distinctive shape that turns heads and unmistakably identifies the occupants.

Within the cocoon of comfort, pristine aromatic leather embraces you. Surrounded with wood panel and a hint of polished metal, controls, instruments and switches are logical, visible and accessible. The DVD-based satellite navigation system is concealed behind a cleverly retracting panel when not in use and the shift for the recently upgraded six-speed automatic transmission is exactly where you’d expect to find it. It’s all very deliberately designed to enhance your enjoyment and pure driving pleasure without complication or exasperation.

Step back from the SC430 and admire the uninterrupted lines that flow in an apparently seamless swoosh enveloping the car. Step closer and you’ll see flawless bodywork, sculpted curves and smooth edges all designed to slice through the air without obstruction or drag. Refit the solid, latch-less aluminium roof with the push of a single button in just 25 seconds and the Cd (Co-efficient of drag) plummets to a trifling 0.29

Driving the car delivers rewards commensurate with the marque and the essential philosophy of Lexus. To label the SC430 a ‘sports car’ is not entirely correct as my own driving experience revealed. I’ve driven and owned sports cars in the popular mold, and as satisfying and exhilarating as they may be, they are invariably the product of awkward compromise. Cramped noisy cockpits, twitchy steering, nervous handling and “buckboard” comfort are common trademarks of the archetypical high performance coupé or convertible. Not so the Lexus. The exemplary aerodynamics is another one of the standout features of the sublime SC430, painstakingly designed to deliver the sheer thrill of a top-down Spring or Summer drive without constantly attacking the coiffure.

When you’re cruising the café strip or idling past the beachfront boulevard, the SC430 is already turning heads. Not as a result of some vulgar, lumpy engine note, but thanks to the unmistakeable visual appeal of your summer-tuned Lexus. Beneath the broad sweeping lines of the bonnet and distinctive yet understated grille, lies the brilliant all-alloy Quad Cam 4.3 litre VVT-i V8. It may whisper in hushed tones and purr when stroked gently, but it will growl purposefully when encouraged and propel you in a satisfying but completely controlled manner thanks to advanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). When you’ve had enough, Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and traction control will bring the car to a comfortable standstill even when an unforseen emergency dictates heavy braking.

Gone too is the stigma of petrol guzzling excess. When driven normally, the SC430 will deliver remarkable fuel consumption figures. Imagine 8.5 litres /100kms on the highway, just 12.5 around town and all-the-while, a breath-taking 210kW is on call. Additionally, the ample 419Nm of torque delivered at 3500rpm means you can lope up steep grades without breaking sweat.

Since its debut in 2001, the SC430 has been subject to ongoing refinement, ensuring the absolute ultimate in automotive technology is available in the option-free SC430.

The then class-leading five speed automatic has now been upgraded to a six speed electronically controlled transmission. An exceptional Mark Levinson, 9-speaker sound system is now standard. Bluetooth personal communication technology is included along with subtle styling upgrades and svelte satin-finish five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels. Handling and ride comfort have both been further uprated to optimum levels and the plethora of safety features now includes six SRS airbags.

Lexus aficionados will be aware of the close technical and developmental relationship with the flagship LS430. Discerning garages in the best parts of town now sport the pair side-by-side in an irresistible marriage of prestige, practicality and leisure – a perfect demonstration of mixing business with pleasure.

In spite of the rigours of running a demanding enterprise, there’s always room in your life for expression and celebration and the SC430 is the perfect statement of your arrival and passion for life.

20 October 2006

Head Turner from the 'Hood

Chrysler 300C CRD

What the grotesque Chrysler 300C lacks in subtlety, it more than makes up for in automotive refinement.

Volvo Aware Driver

The stalwart Swedish marque goes in search of the new generation of bloody Volvo drivers.

Test Car: Volvo V50 T5 AWD Wagon
2.5l DOHC 5 cyl Turbo, 162kW
5-Speed Automatic Transmission with Geartronic
RRP $57,950
3 Year/Unlimited km Warranty

In the 1970s, when ABBA ruled the airwaves, Volvo was the top selling European car in Australia and was frumpy, totally style-free and the butt of countless jokes. Sure, the eminently sensible Swedish machine was high on safety and low on glamour but its Armoured Personnel Carrier credentials attracted nervous (bloody) drivers more in search of survivability than pizzazz.

Ironically, now that 21st Century Volvos perform like BMWs and look like Jaguars the going is tough. So what’s wrong with the latest Volvos? Well, nothing. In an on-going campaign that has consumed the brand for nearly two decades, Volvo is trying to reinvent itself and modify the venerable bullet-proof persona in favour of a more fashionable perception. Consequently the brand has been gradually nibbling back at lost ground since their self-effacing “Bloody Volvo Driver” ads were launched three years ago.

Ford bought the 80-year-old Swedish marque in 1999 as part of its global brand grab under the Premier Automotive Group banner. Ford believed it could benefit from economies of scale with this plan and indeed, our test car shares its platform with the Mazda3 and new Ford Focus.

Despite progressive styling overhauls that has turned your average Volvo into a sleek street-smart stylewagon, all models retain their much envied state-of-the-art safety benchmark coupled to competitive performance and handling.

"The all-new V50 is the result of a consistent design strategy, in which the Volvo character has been developed for each new model,” said Henrik Otto, Volvo Cars’ Design Director at the time of the model’s debut, ”Our new Sportswagon is indisputably a genuine Volvo but, at the same time, it has its own, totally individual and distinct profile – with characteristics from classics like the Volvo 1800 ES, Volvo 480 and its most recent predecessor, the V40.”

The V50 T5 AWD drives extremely confidently with a reassuring road-holding that will comfort Volvo traditionalists and impress newcomers. Thanks to the new AWD system, cornering and handling is superb and the turbo will set the pulse racing when it really kicks in over 4000 rpm. The 2006 upgrade includes heated front seats, self-dimming interior mirror, a brilliant six-stacker in-dash CD changer with 12-speaker Premium sound system, and larger disc brake package.

In the week I drove this car, I never experienced “Volvo-syndrome”; pottering, tunnel-vision, clumsy lane changing and slo-mo driveway exits. Drive one of these and you may never look at a Volvo the same way again.

We Liked:
  • Delightful road manners
  • Spirited performance
  • Superb sound system
  • Superior passenger safety
No so Keen on
  • Rear passenger space tight for big kids
  • Poor economy for heavy-footed drivers

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