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Road & Travel's 2004 Sexy Car Buyer's Guide

Lexus SC 430
2004 Lexus SC430

For anyone who has never thought of Lexus as sultry, the first impression of the SC 430 must be an astonishing discovery. As alluring as any siren, windblown by warm sea breezes as it skirts a West Coast shoreline washed in amazing sound, it has the mystery, the hint of full-throttle gusto, the no-compromises distinction.

Equate it with a languid, classy, black-eyed Salma Hayek gracing the silver screen with a hint of South of the border fire roiling under the surface. (With apologies to Renee Zellweger, it's definitely not Bridget Jones country.)

There's fire under the hood of the SC 430 as well, despite its ultra low emissions ranking, with the same all-aluminum 4.3-liter V-8 engine churning out 300-horsepoewr that lives in luxuriously smooth, top-of-the-line Lexus models. Although a natural in Southern California sunshine, it actually was designed near the French Riviera -- a telltale inspiration that undoubtedly helped foster its seemingly unLexus-like character that simply demands attention.

From its debut two years ago as deliberately-designed convertible, with quick-drop retractable hardtop added for practicality, this rear-drive sportscar has never stopped turning heads or racking up Destination Reviews. Lexus calls it a well-balanced thoroughbred with its 18-inch wheels contributing to a smooth and supple ride. We found early on it caught so much attention that other drivers chased it down -- behind the wheel or on foot -- to get a better look.

Beneath the exterior are a wealth of fine points, with almost everything standard on this neo classic almost-four-seater, based at $62,525. A few options, including $400 runflat tires or a $2,000 Pebble Beach premium special edition could boost it to mid-60s range. A standard, fast-response DVD nav system is welcome despite an early propensity to gather fingerprints. The hardtop stows in less than half-a-minute and the superb Mark Levinson sound system automatically adjusts for the open-air difference.

Mated to a five-speed automatic with Shift Logic control, and every conceivable driving safety feature including brake assist and tire pressure monitors, it feels responsive in the Lexus mode wherever one decides to travel. Driving off onto Sunset Boulevard, we can't help but feel sophisticated, with a tinge of daring added for spice.