There’s more than one way to skin a ragtop. For proof, look no further than the striking SC430 cabriolet from Lexus and the traffic-stopping reprise of the Thunderbird from Ford. Quite apart from the obvious difference between the Lexus’ retractible hardtop and Ford’s traditional soft top, each of these two marvelous playthings defines conspicuous consumption in such utterly unique ways that they appeal to distinctly different types of motorists.
Lexus SC430 cabriolet
The SC430 is the first-ever convertible from Lexus. If you’re lucky enough to witness the origami ballet by which the hard top folds and tucks itself into the trunk, you’re more likely to think of the car as a $62,000 Fabergé egg on wheels. It takes only about 25 seconds to convert the car’s serene interior into a sybaritic shrine to the sun and wind. In the process, anyone who happens to be in the car is instantly transformed into paparazzi bait. People simply cannot stop gazing at this car.
There is no question that the SC430 is eye-catching. It’s not necessarily everyone’s idea of beautiful, however. Particularly with the top down, the car’s flanks and rear deck are oddly rounded and chubby in a way that contrasts with the sleek, aeronautic front end. Lexus press materials intimate a subtle homage to the Riviera yachting scene of the ’20s and ’30s. Maybe so; but when viewed from above, the open-air SC430 more closely resembles an exotic rubber dinghy.
The cabriolet is based on Lexus’ stylish GS430 touring sedan, and that means it boasts a 4.3-liter, twin-cam, 32-valve V8 capable of 300 horsepower and 325 ft.-lbs. This puts acceleration in Porsche Boxster territory: The SC430 is capable of zero-to-60 sprints in under six seconds. It’s thrilling to experience the surge of horsepower that builds and builds as RPMs climb and variable valve timing works its magic. In true Lexus fashion, the car remains poised and serene even as it approaches triple digit speeds. By the same token, one tends to yearn for a bit more raging bull underhood. Like a Botox smile, the SC430 never seems to express much of an engaging personality.
Where the car shines is with its smarts. The ingenuity of the top’s retracting mechanism speaks for itself. It’s poetry in motion, and it deserves a prayer a day to forestall any dreaded malfunctions. In the cockpit, buttery leather and gleaming walnut suggest a luxurious stateroom. What’s more, Lexus has essentially designed two interior environments: When the top’s in place, the 240-watt Mark Levinson audio system and the dual-zone climate control unit operate according to one set of parameters; and when the top is down, the stereo re-equalizes itself and cool or warm air is redirected to the feet and lap. The only egregious mistake is the incorporation of useless rear seats with zero, nada, nothing for legroom. Considering the miniscule 8.8 cubic feet of narrow trunk space (under the folded-up roof), it should have dawned on someone that the rear seat space might better have served as a very stylish storage cabinet.
Ford Thunderbird roadster
Ford’s new Thunderbird contrasts with the SC430 in almost every regard. For one thing, it’s instantly recognizable as an icon restored. Sure, it’s been four years since Ford mothballed the Thunderbird nameplate; but it’s been almost 50 years since the original T’bird roadster of 1955 entered our collective national psyche as a symbol of the open road. Whereas bystanders only looked at the Lexus cabriolet in wonder, when the T’bird rolled by, a hint of lust came to observers’ eyes.
And then you open the car doors to reveal...the front half of a Lincoln LS sedan. In many respects, the interior is comfortable, pleasant, even luxurious; but it singularly fails to live up to the sensuous sheet metal in which it is ensconced. With even less trunk space (6.7 cubic feet) than the Lexus cabrio offers, the two-seater T’bird doesn’t provide even so much as a flat storage pouch behind the seatbacks. Moreover, the motorized soft top folds into a bay and just sits there like a crumpled blanket. Sure, there’s a cosmetic “boot” you can manually install over the retracted roof, but it’s such a pain, you’ll only do so on special occasions. On a spunky Miata, you expect a roof thrown haphazardly back; but a swank T’birdan icon, mind youdeserves better.
There is a relatively beefy 3.9-liter V8 underhood, however; and it’s good for 252 hp and 267 ft.-lbs. More to the point, the motor growls a bit and the exhaust note positively sings. Despite humbler credentials than the SC430’s V8 masterpiece, the Ford twin-cam exudes personality. It positively wants to r’ar-back and gallop.
The only problem is, galloping isn’t exactly what the T’bird does best. Even with fully independent suspension, its handling is less precise than the Lexus’ double-wishbone set-up, and steering is heavier and a bit more numb feeling. What’s worse, the T’bird feels far less structurally rigid than the SC430. Cowl shakethat is, the twisting sensation that’s palpable where the front fenders meet the base of the window
pillarshaunts the topdown T’bird at every pothole and drainage grate.
It doesn’t seem to matter. Folks are standing in line and paying upward of $5,000 over sticker for the resurrected T’bird of their dreams. Go figure. Granted, at $40,000, it’s significantly less expensive than the SC430; and in fact, the two cars’ target audiences don’t even pretend to overlap. Still, it’s fascinating to contemplate the irresistible power of an icon. In the SC430, I have no doubt that I looked like nothing more than a middle-aged goober in an odd-looking car. But in that T’bird, The Wife looked drop-dead gorgeous.
As someone who has driven in Tennessee and walked the streets of Nashville the result…
One only has to go to Williamson County, and the better enclaves of western Davidson…
It doesn't surprise me that the defense is using these dirty tactics. I played sports…
VFL, I think increasing rudeness is also related to stress, the pace of life today,…
@OMFUG: You're an IT professional? Maybe you can help me. I think my internet use…