Driven: 2010 Lexus IS Convertible

By John Beltz Snyder

May 18, 2009

—Newport Beach, California

We love convertibles, as our readers probably already know. So when Lexus asked us to take the new IS C for a spin, we happily obliged. The motto for the drop-top version of the IS is “Live a little, a lot.” With this in mind, and with sunscreen at hand, we headed to the Southern California coast for some top-down driving.

Approaching the IS350C, we took in its profile—attractive and clean, almost wedge-like, slender in the front, thickening to a chunky rear end, the cockpit protruding sleek and smooth in line with the rest of the body. There is considerably more metal rising over the rear wheels than the front, the result of a trunk space large enough to accommodate the folding top, which, while up, is perfectly aligned on top of the car. The paint job pops out bright and cool, and the optional F Sport wheels and brakes improve the athletic look.

The long doors swing open widely, offering easy access to IS C’s inviting interior. The leather seats are soft, but form-fitting and supportive, and, in the two-tone models, dramatically complement the paint job of the vehicle with matching hues. The plastics and wood look and feel to be of decent quality. The layout of the instruments and buttons is simple and streamlined, befitting our impressions of the IS C so far. Headroom is limited, so we’re eager start the car and drop the top.

The engine starts with a push of a button, and the sound is uninspiring, if unsurprising. Lexus has obviously taken care to minimize engine noise. Another button to the left of the steering wheel engages the top, which folds into three pieces before dropping into the trunk. It takes about 20 seconds to fully lower, and can only be done while the vehicle is at a complete standstill. With the top down, however, the trunk still has considerable space, about enough for a golf bag or several grocery sacks. With the top down, we’re ready to cruise the Newport Coast Highway.

To improve visibility, we reached behind us and lifted the lever between the rear seats, causing the rear headrests to spring downward. That, and the fact that we could barely slide a hand between the front and rear seats, made us glad we weren’t rear passengers of the IS C.

The take-off of the IS350C reveals its controlled power. It accelerates quickly, and always smoothly. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t get the car to lurch forward. It simply downshifted, then glided back through the gears up to the desired speed. We always felt that the car had power to spare, and that, in the spirit of comfort, only unleashed it evenly and gracefully.

Driving the IS C is a bit isolated. The steering is numb, but responsive, and everything about this car is smooth. Wind noise is low, even above the 50 mile per hour mark. The engine is still quiet, and it’s difficult to hear or feel the car go through the gears. The climate control and audio levels adjust according to speed with the top down, so if it weren’t for the bright California sun already starting to turn the tops of our ears red, we would hardly experience the elements of open-air driving.

For the IS C, Lexus has significantly reinforced the frame, improving rocker panels and adding braces to the sub-frame. Heading into curves, the car never felt loose. To our surprise and satisfaction, the suspension provided some feel of the road, but never got jumpy. Taking curves faster and tighter, the tires just seemed to grip more, and the IS C remained firmly planted. Despite being a convertible, it felt wholly rigid, and it maintained a sense of steadiness regardless of how hard as we tossed it.

Interestingly, despite performing sensationally better than the 250, the IS350C, which begins at $43,940 MSRP, will comprise a much smaller market share than the 2.5-liter version, which starts at $38,490 with a six-speed manual, and $39,660 for the automatic.

To be frank, the IS250C is a dog compared to the 350. It suffers a huge loss of acceleration (0-60 in 8.4 seconds, versus the 350’s 5.8 seconds), and seemed to struggle up the hills around Laguna Beach. Unlike the 3.5-liter version, the 250 does have the option of a manual gearbox, but with a relatively small 2.5-liter, 204 horsepower engine, the larger engine is worth the higher price point.

With the IS C, Lexus takes aim at the BMW 3-Series, Volvo C70, and Infiniti G37 convertibles. While the IS C may be priced competitively for a luxury hard-top convertible, we would be hard-pressed to say that this car could ever outperform its rivals.

Although we expect this car to appeal especially to Lexus loyalists, and to buyers looking for an entry into the luxury droptop segment, it doesn’t offer the type of driving experience true enthusiasts seek. And while we wouldn’t choose to drive this car over some of the more established competitors in this segment, it would be a lie to say the IS350C isn’t an enjoyable car in which to spend a sunny day on scenic highways.

Click through the gallery above to see the 2010 Lexus IS Convertible.