VIDEO: The Lexus SC presented buyers with a difficult dilemma

The Lexus SC is probably, to this day, still one of Toyota’s best-looking cars. It was the Supra you could take to the opera, built upon the same chassis that spawned the legendary JZA80, but grander, more civilized, and fitted with a sharper suit. However, the SC presented a vicious buyers’ dilemma. Go with the V8-powered but automatic-only SC400, or the manual-equipped but less powerful 6-cylinder SC300?

Both engines were gems. The SC400’s 1UZ 4.0-liter V8 was the same mill that powered the genre-breaking LS400. Its 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque were delivered so smoothly you could balance a tower of wine glasses on the hood, except the SC’s sleek bonnet precluded any of that tomfoolery.

The SC300’s straight-six was a naturally aspirated version of the renowned 2JZ. In tuned form the iron block could handle over 1,000 horsepower, but in the SC it barely broke a sweat dispensing a casual 225 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. According to Motorweek‘s 1992 review it was made even quieter and stouter with resin-coated pistons and a metal head gasket.

If Lexus had never offered the SC300 with a 5-speed manual, the choice would’ve been a no-brainer. If Lexus had offered a manual transmission with the V8, it also would have been a no-brainer. But Japan’s automakers of the 90s always found a way to dangle perfection just beyond our reach.

With the manual, the SC300 put down a respectable 6.9-second 0-60 time in Motorweek‘s testing. Interestingly, a test of the SC400 a year earlier revealed a 0-60 time of — drum roll, please — also 6.9 seconds! So in essence you weren’t giving up much performance, if any, with the 5-speed SC300. You were just having more fun by rowing your own gears. Funnily enough, Motorweek also found that both cars returned the exact same fuel economy numbers, 18 city and 23 highway mpg.

Of course, with any testing done a year apart atmospheric differences can have an effect on the results. For what it’s worth Car and Driver tested both cars separately and found that the SC400 was a couple tenths of a second quicker to 60 mph than the SC300. We might have seen a bigger difference in performance if Motorweek had tested the SC400 in the quarter-mile. The SC300 took 15.4 seconds at 92 mph.

For a base price of $32,700, or $37,500 fully loaded, the SC300 sure seemed like a better deal too. The cheapest 1992 SC400 started at $39,400. The SC300 also had wheels that were one inch smaller in diameter, but that’s a problem easily solved in the aftermarket.

The rest of the review had nothing but good things to say about the SC. The only ding it received were some criticism about the leather seats being too slippery to hold the driver during hard cornering. We can’t find fault with their assessment. Time has only further confirmed that the SC was an all-around superb machine. We would have — and did — choose the manual SC300. Which powertrain would you have chosen?

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12 Responses to VIDEO: The Lexus SC presented buyers with a difficult dilemma

  1. Lupus says:

    If i would be able to find an SC in my country, that gives hope to be brougth back to glory, the drivetrain would be in no interest to me. Both are great, both gave they + & -.
    The ideal would be a Soarer with 1GZ-GTE (parellel twinturbo) with 5spd MT (eventually swapped with 6spd Getrag from A80).

  2. Steve says:

    Manual trans SC300. For the fun factor of lightness. Drag racing isn’t the only measure of a car’s performance, and a minimal one at that, since you spend more time moving than starting. Also, glad there is no reference to that bloated second generation SC thing! 🙂

  3. Frank G. says:

    In my youth I would have picked the stick-shift SC 300 but with these old bones a V8 that you don’t need to shift in traffic sounds pretty good to me. On second thought if I want a V8 Lexus I can just pick up a RC F or LC 500.

  4. f31roger says:

    I always thought to myself, if I ever went down the SC path (or even the GS) I should try and get both versions.

  5. Long Beach Mike says:

    I’ll take the SC300 with automatic. It’s the lightness rather than the manual that leans me toward the straight six. I would love a manual but my wife can no longer drive a manual due to some issues with her left ankle. And oh, she misses rowing the gears in our Miata.

  6. speedie says:

    The SC300 with a manual for me. Of course you will have a hard time finding one in original condition. I have never seen the breakout but I suspect they were a low percentage of total sales.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      They were a bit more common early on. Facelifted ones are supposedly very rare. There’s a registry on Club Lexus that says only 120 were made.

    • Mark Newton-John says:

      Of course. Who wants to be seen in a *lesser* car? And you have to row your own? Not on my way to the office every day… This is ‘Merica. Land of the V-8. (And that’s why they never put a JZ motor in the LS, twin turbo or not)

  7. Mark Newton-John says:

    Of course, people who weren’t even alive, looking through nostalgia glasses (if that’s possible) and decades before F&F, will choose the SC300 with the JZ motor. HOWEVER. the people who could actually AFFORD an SC usually got the SC400 because… V-8.
    Sixes were for people who couldn’t afford the V-8, you know, the people who could only afford the 380SL, 380SEL, 300E, 735i et al, and we’re typically sniffed at the country club.
    Geez, even now you get a car with a six, you think to yourself, just spend more for the V-8. No one in the future is going to extol the Chrysler or even Ford V-6s over their respective Hellcat and Coyote engines. So as much as you think that the SC300 was somehow superior, they weren’t considered at the time.

  8. thatdirtykid says:

    It’ cheaper and easy to build the SC300 for more power than it is to swap a 5 speed into a SC400. The trans options (and kits) are getting more expensive, and the W58 that was put in the SC300 is not the strongest. The torque from a 1UZ is known for being a little rough on them. (I say while my 1uz celica is on jackstands so I can pull the w58).
    All that said, the 1uz is butter smooth and has a pretty flat torque curve and delivers great power at 1800rpm or 4000rpm.

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