I was enjoying the top-down comfort of the Lexus IS 250C when dark skies suddenly threatened rain. In just a few seconds, the retractable hardtop was in place and I was snug inside a cabin that is as tight and solid as a coupe.
That’s the beauty of a retractable hardtop. It makes convertible life easy. Putting the top up and down happens at the flick of a switch. When Lexus decided to build a convertible version of its luxury compact, it charged Junichi Furuyama, chief engineer, with the task of designing a top that was quiet, smooth and precise.
Furuyama’s team created an electric mechanism rather than the more conventional hydraulic system. The four-link roof assembly, made of aluminum, opens and closes quickly, yet it cleverly slows down as it nears the end of its movement so that it finishes gently. It’s a subtle touch but one you appreciate after opening and closing the top several times a day.
The IS 250C competes with the Infiniti G37 and BMW 3-series. The Lexus feels smaller and more compact than the Infiniti, and it is oriented more toward comfort than outright performance.
The IS 250C comes with a 2.5-liter V-6, and the IS 350C has a 3.5-liter V-6. The smaller engine delivers 204 horsepower while the larger one puts out 306 horsepower. The IS 250C can be equipped with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The IS 350C is offered only with the automatic.
The test car had the smaller engine, and its performance was more than adequate.
Rear-wheel drive provides a sportier balance and better handling than front-wheel drive, but it is not as capable in snow in spite of the fact that anti-lock brakes, traction control and vehicle stability control are standard. It’s too bad that all-wheel drive is not an option like it is on the IS sedan.
Each engine has direct fuel injection. The 3.5-liter one also has supplemental port fuel injectors that are activated at low to medium speeds.
Prices begin at $38,940 for the IS 250C with manual transmission, $40,110 for the automatic and $44,390 for the IS 350C.
Cabin comfort is a prime consideration for a convertible, particularly when the top is down. The Lexus has very little wind buffeting, aided in part by its low 0.29 coefficient of drag. Panels under the engine, floor and fuel tank smooth airflow under the car. Small fairings in front of the tires cut turbulence, too.
Many convertibles shake and shimmy a bit when the top is down, but the Lexus was quite solid, thanks to extra bracing under the car.
The front seats were shaped to provide good comfort without making it hard to get in and out. The rear seat is rather narrow, and rear-seat leg-room is very tight.
Dual-zone air conditioning is standard. The test car was equipped with a navigation system and the Mark Levinson upgraded stereo. The sound was excellent. There is a USB port for an MP3 player.
Because personalization is such a popular part of this segment, Lexus offers a number of F-Sport accessories for the IS C, such as upgraded front and rear brakes, 18-inch or 19-inch forged alloy wheels, sway bars, sport shocks and lower springs. Buyers can also choose a performance exhaust system, a performance clutch, a different shift knob and floor mats.
The test car had a base price of $40,110. Options included 18-inch, graphite-colored wheels; bi-xenon headlights; heated and cooled front seats; a navigation system; and the Mark Levinson surround-sound stereo. The sticker price was $48,200.
Four years or 50,000 miles, with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2010 Lexus IS 250C
Engine: 2.5-liter, 204-hp V-6
Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,814 lbs.
Base price: $40,110
As driven: $48,200
MPG rating: 21 city, 29 hwy.
To contact Tom Strongman, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.