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Lexus SC 300: Stick-Shift, Rear-Wheel-Drive and Surprisingly Tuneable

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2016

Although Lexus has taken great strides in recent years to offer a good mix of sporty models and luxury vehicles, that wasn't always the case. In the 1990s, Lexus primarily focused on the luxury side of things, leaving performance to German rivals like Audi, BMW and Mercedes. There was, however, one exception: the SC 300, which was a stick-shift, rear-wheel-drive coupe with a tuneable engine... from Lexus.

For those of you who don't know about the SC 300, this will probably come as a shock, but it's true. While Lexus was getting all sorts of accolades for creating the beautiful, excellent LS 400 luxury sedan, the brand soon followed it up with a surprisingly sporty coupe: the SC, which was launched in 1992 as either a 6-cylinder model (the SC 300) or a V8 version (the SC 400).

Now, normally, when a car offers a 6-cylinder or a V8, the V8 is -- quite obviously -- the one you want to buy. But not this time. One reason is power. When the SC 300 came out, it offered 225 horsepower, while the SC 400 had only 250 hp -- not a significant advantage. In fact, the SC 400 didn't get a big power boost until 1997, when it jumped to an impressive 290 hp thanks to the addition of variable valve timing.

But the SC 400's lack of a significant power advantage wasn't the only reason the SC 300 was the one to get. You also wanted the SC 300 because it was the only way you could get the SC with a stick shift, which was offered for the first few years of production. And so, as hard as it is to believe, it's true: From 1992 to 1997, you could buy a rear-wheel-drive Lexus coupe with a manual transmission.

Perhaps more interesting is exactly what engine the SC 300 used: Toyota's 2JZ inline 6-cylinder, which later became famous when it was installed in the Toyota Supra. Although the SC 300's version of the engine didn't have the twin-turbocharger setup you could get in the Supra, it was still an impressive powertrain, and the Supra's huge following gave the SC a lot of aftermarket potential.

And so, the SC 300 will forever be remembered as a unique bright spot in a sea of otherwise dull 1990s Lexus luxury -- the time Lexus offered a rear-wheel-drive, stick-shift coupe with the engine from a Toyota Supra.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Lexus SC 300: Stick-Shift, Rear-Wheel-Drive and Surprisingly Tuneable - Autotrader