It's hard to believe that during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the North American automotive market was devoid of any convertible vehicle, but modern drop-tops are more than making up for that dark era. Whether equipped with soft tops or hard tops, the latest breed of convertibles available on the market have the ability to offer open air excitement without sacrificing the vehicle rigidity or refinement of their solid-roof counterparts. Recently, I got to spend some time behind the wheel of the all-new 2010 Lexus IS C, and while Lexus provided me with the car, Mother Nature provided me with the unpredictable Florida late-summer whether to best test out one of the newest convertibles on the market.
Like just about every other entry-level luxury car segment, the main competition to the Lexus IS C is the BMW 3 Series and Volvo C70, but new competitors have also emerged this year such as the Infiniti G37 Convertible and the Audi A5 Cabriolet. In base trim, the Lexus IS 250C comes with a starting MSRP of $38,940, but the sportier IS 350C that I drove started at $43,940. Although Lexus already offers a four-passenger convertible, even with a list full of options, this IS 350C's as-tested price of $52,260 still undercut the pricing of the Lexus SC by about the same price of a Toyota Prius.
2010 Lexus IS 350C Exterior
Lexus' newest convertible may share its name with the IS sport sedan, but the only common body panel shared between the two cars is the hood. The visual similarities shared between the IS sedan and convertible are noticeable up front, but from the doors back, the IS C has a completely unique design. Even though there is no standard version of the IS coupe (yet), the convertible model looks about as close as one could expect without the awkward flat decklid and clumsy-looking roof of some other convertibles (both the hard- and soft-top variety). In sedan form, the IS is a sporty looking sedan, but the coupe-like profile improves upon an already attractive design thanks to the aggressive front and this test models candy-apple red hue called Matador Red Mica.
One of the ways Lexus helped give the IS 350C a more coupe-like profile with the top up is by offering sculpted haunches that seemingly tie the roof and decklid in together, but at the touch of a button, the top tucks neatly underneath the decklid. The three-section hardtop can change the IS C from a sexy coupe to an elegant convertible in only 20 seconds, which comes in handy during sudden Florida rainstorms. Lexus says that once the buttonÂ is pressed, a total of 15 motors and 37 sensors go into action to smoothly and quietly stow the top in the trunk. The backup sensors integrated into the rear fascia help determine if there is adequate space for the dual-hinged decklid to maneuver properly, and if an obstruction is detected, the top operation will be interrupted.
With the top down the sculpted rear haunches that give the convertible its coupe-like profile proves to be one of the car's more polarizing design cues that either attracts or detracts from the rest of the car. The upswept beltline helps create a look similar to the sedan and gives the car more definition than some other hardtop convertibles on the market such as the Chrysler Sebring.
2010 Lexus IS 350C Interior
Unlike the exterior, the IS C's cabin is basically the same as the sedan (except for the rear seats) and our test model came with the optional ($3,055) Luxury Package that added light perforated leather, whichÂ resisted the urge to burn hindquarters after sitting out in the sun. If the seats aren't comfortable enough, both front seats are equipped with heating and cooling. Additional goodies tacked into the Luxury Package include wood accent trim, illuminated 'Lexus' door sills and memory positioning for the 10-way power front seats. As for entertainment, our test vehicle also had the ($3,890) Navigation and Mark Levinson Package that adds a 12-speaker, five-channel Mark Levinson surround sound system to Lexus' advanced navigation system. Audio inputs include Bluetooth streaming, USB port, auxiliary jack and a six-disc CD changer with DVD capabilities.
In order to provide a useable backseat, Lexus stretched the overall length by 2.2 inches making giving the IS 350C comfortable accommodations for four adults. Access to the rear seats was improved by stretching the length of the door, but Luxury Package our model came with adds buttons to the seat belt guide on each front seat that automatically tilts and slides either front seat fore and aft. Once in the back, legroom for average adult passengers is adequate, but shoulder room and headroom are limited.
Aside from the comfortable leather, one of the cooler features of the interior is the ring that surrounds the speedometer and tachometer that lights up orange at an adjustable speed or rpm and the tachometer ring turns red when the revs hit the 7,000 rpm redline. After enjoying the RX 450h just a couple weeks ago, one thing I missed in this Lexus' cabin was the ingenious Remote Touch Controller that would have easily fit where the small cupholder on the center console is located in order to operate the navigation, HVAC and audio systems.
Surprisingly, the convertible's trunk space is only slightly smaller than the sedan as Lexus claims that the IS C's 10.8 cubic foot trunk can hold golf bags for each of the four passengers. Drop the top and storage space drops as well to just 2.4 cubic feet. In order for the top to fold down, the cargo separator must be in place, and it features a retractable vinyl cover to keep dirt and debris from getting on the light tan carpeting inside the trunk.
2010 Lexus IS 350C Performance & Handling
Nobody will ever confuse the performance of the IS 350C with its IS F counterpart, but its 3.5-liter V-6 packs plenty of punch with 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission available directing power to the rear wheels is a six-speed automatic that offers a sport mode and manual shifting capabilities through either the gear selector or the steering wheel paddles. Adding the retractable hardtop and its multitude of mechanisms pushed the weight of the IS 350C to 3,880 pounds compared to 3,527pounds for a comparable IS 350 sedan. EPA fuel economy ratings remained the same with an estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Remarkably, the added weight helped give the IS C a more balanced 50/50 weight distribution while only decreasing its 0-60 mile per hour time by 0.2 seconds. Most of the added weight came from added structural support to reduce noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and the results paid off. Not only is the IS 350C a fun car to drive around, but less-than-perfect roads don't cause body flex or any other undesirable convertible traits. For more spirited driving, the traction control can be turned off simply by holding down the traction control button until the traction control light comes on.
2010 Lexus IS 350C Safety
The 2010 Lexus IS 350C has yet to be crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Unlike some of its competitors, the IS C opts to use stationary roll bars rather than pop-up bars to protect occupants in the event of a rollover. Standard safety features on the convertible include six airbags (including two front knee bolster airbags and front seat mounted head and torso airbags), vehicle stability control, traction control, hill start assist and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution. To complement the backup camera, this model was also equipped with the optional ($500) intuitive parking assist with front and rear spark sensors.
Living in Florida, top-down driving is both a blessing and a curse, but with a quick-action top and soft, cool leather seats, the only thing a driver of the all-new Lexus IS C has to worry about is the proper application of sunscreen. Taking on an industry icon such as the BMW 3 Series is no easy task, but the 2010 Lexus IS 350C delivers a refreshing open air experience with all the luxury and performance expected from a Lexus.
Select photos by Jeffrey N. Ross