With the debut of the latest iteration of the IS, Lexus has shown a renewed commitment to the platform. The initial offerings of the compact sedan included a high performance luxury version (IS350), a more economical version (IS250) and finally a more practical version (IS250 AWD). While some may think that might amount to a well-rounded line, Lexus was bent on offering even more versions to combat the car it has been chasing for years, the 3-series BMW.
Lexus has finally released a trim level to combat every 3-series model, from the lowly commuter to the supercar-fighting sedan. In what appears to be the company’s final move, the IS-C convertible has been released with both 2.5L and 3.5L V6 mills under the hood. As predicted, the only 6-speed manual transmission offered is on the struggling 2.5L motor and, quite frankly, it needs it the most. The IS350C is a capable performer with a paddle-shifting sport box that rockets through the gears with impressive results. During our test we blazed several mid-5 second passes with a best time of 5.4 seconds. Of course, that performance does come at a cost, because the larger V6 uses premium fuel for a 7.9L/100km highway rating and 11.5L/100km in the city, versus the 6.7L/100km and 9.8L/100km ratings for the automatic IS250C.
Suffice to say, if you want a convertible that really moves, the IS250C is not applicable. Even the 6-speed equipped IS250C will liven up the ride only if you push it hard, but the IS350C will have you pinned to your seat quite effortlessly. The open-top experience though, is identical for both cars and we were eager to see how the mechanics have been developed by Lexus engineers.
Since this is the first cost-effective convertible available from Lexus, we expected a lot from its operation. True to the brand, the movement of the 3-piece metal hardtop was effortless, fluid and of course, very efficient. The entire process, front to back, takes only 21 seconds and eclipses the operation of its competitor, the Infiniti G37S convertible in every way. It is faster, quieter and more fluid than almost everything on the market but, of course, you have to be at a full stop with the parking brake engaged to operate this elaborate mechanism.
The top opens up to reveal the benchmark Lexus interior which unfortunately did not include the optional Navigation or Mark Levinson sound system we have been praising for years. But this experience is all about the drive with the top down and even the test was in the fall, the weather cooperated for a few spirited drives through picturesque forests set ablaze in colour.
Lexus steering has been described by many over the years as lacking life but when pushed to the limits, the IS350C performed as solidly as it looks. We think any issue the IS might have in terms of cornering performance would be due, in part, to the portly curb weight of 3,880 pounds. The steering is effectively sharp and the 3-season Bridgestone Potenza 225/40R18 front and 255/40R18 rear tires don’t protest when thrown into a corner. Due to its inherent weight and the structural compromise of being a convertible, it lacked the zest of the IS-F tuned suspension and the raw, nimble feel of the IS250 6MT with the F-Sport upgrades. Despite these shortcomings, it provided for an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
Naturally, the Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system is onboard to keep the vehicle in-check. Should any skid or understeer arise, the vehicle will manage the systems to take over to prevent a disaster, but at the same time it dulls the car’s ability to truly perform. Sure, it can be partially disabled but a true “off” switch the one offered in the IS-F would have been ideal. The IS350C is also equipped with brake assist, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) to create one stable ride.
Considering our IS350C had all of these systems along with a remote electronic power steering system, it handles better than one might expect. Lexus is expected to satisfy the tastes of many different buyers and maintains that with a lineup this substantial, there truly will be something for everyone in the IS-line.
What the IS350C and IS250C deliver are impressive looks combined with a quiet and comfortable driving experience. In its ‘Relentless Pursuit of Perfection’, Lexus has taken a lot of attention and market share from its Bavarian rival and has worked hard to shake the perception of a disconnected driving experience that has dogged the brand for years. It does all things well and that might be part of the reason the perception exists. The car is so capable and the dynamic controls are so advanced that drivers looking for a more visceral drive can feel somewhat unsatisfied.
That said, the impressive list of standard features includes essentially everything at this price point, with Navigation and Mark Levinson premium sound system being the only options. The ride, power and styling are all top quality and will certainly be brought to a peak when the new IS-C F-Sport arrives later this year.
2010 Lexus IS350C
Base price: $60,400
Price as tested: $60,400
Engine: Toyota 3.5L Dual VVT-i V6
Output: 306hp with 277lb-ft of torque
60-0mph: 112 feet
Tested with: V-Box Performance Meter www.vboxusa.com