HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, Ark. -- Rolling up Central Avenue in the Arkansas spa city of Hot Springs, sunshine fills the sky and invites motoring al fresco with the pop-top stowed and bright sunlight but a cool breeze filling a convertible cockpit.
Note that it's a push-button snap to lose the lid on the sleek new IS 350C convertible coupe by Lexus, luxurious upshot brand from Toyota of Japan.
Rising from a rigid open-roof body, the IS C has a retractable three-piece roof composed of lightweight aluminum with a reinforced glass rear window. The top sits on a smooth body coated in one of five sparkling colors including the Cerulean Blue of our tester IS 350C.
An electro-hydraulic mechanism motivates the fully automatic top to fold up or down in only a few seconds.
Pop, flip, fold and drop: When that origami roof tucks below the trunk deck, IS 350C effectively transforms itself from a sleek and stylish sports coupe to an airy and expressive convertible.
Styling for IS C varies from IS sedans because all exterior body parts are unique to the drop-top, save for a front hood.
Two models -- IS 250C and IS 350C -- resemble a high-strung rally car, big wheels pegged at corners and the contoured body characterized by a low arching profile, flat side panels and convex shoulders with a stubby prow and tail plus scant overhangs.
They behave like road-hugging German touring cars, a taut suspension tuned to allow the tires to waltz around bends on curvy pavement as a V6 engine -- displacing 2.5 liters for IS 250C or 3.5 liters for IS 350C -- ripples with goosy throttle-power and sends all torque to the rear tires.
Despite the lack of a roof's unifying structure, these new Lexus cars feel rock solid, effecting the stability and rigidity of a precise sports coupe rather than the usually loosy-goosy ragtop.
Unlike some Teutonic machines, however, IS C cars also carry cushy appointments in a leather-bound cockpit with metallic accents or optional glossy hardwoods.
Then there's the high-tech angle with a stunning array of electronic vehicle controls.
A key element is the VDIM -- Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management -- system.
Tapping into a host of sensors -- to track such vehicle functions as the angle of the steering wheel, the turn rate of each wheel, lateral motion of the car body, or the foot pressure on brake and accelerator pedals -- VDIM constantly analyzes all collected data and uses it to deploy various traction controllers and maintain vehicle stability.
Acronyms in car safety include the anti-lock brake system (ABS), traction control (TRAC), vehicle stability control (VSC), brake assist (BA), plus electronic throttle control (ETC).
The VDIM coordinates the ABS and BA with VSC, TRAC and ETC systems -- it can actually anticipate a vehicle control problem and go to work automatically to remedy the problem through brake and throttle restraints.
And a standard hill-start assist control (HAC) device prevents the car from moving backward on a slope when a driver moves a foot from the brake pedal to accelerator.
The stiff platform underpinning this series stretches to 182.5 inches with a wheelbase length of 107.5 inches and a wheel track width of 60.4 inches.
To this platform goes the front and rear independent suspension system. There are double wishbones up front with high-mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shocks and stabilizer bar. The sophisticated rear multi-link also employs high-mount upper arms with coil springs, gas-filled shocks and a stabilizer bar.
Standard 17-inch aluminum wheels wear all-season rubber (225/45VR17 in front and 245/45VR17 in back).
The optional 18-inch tire package adds all-season or run-flat treads -- 225/40YR18 front and 255/40YR18 rear.
An electric power steering (EPS) system uses a quick-ratio rack and pinion setup with speed-sensing variable assistance.
Two V6 engines define the rear-wheel-drive IS C models.
Standard plant for IS 250C is a direct-injection 2.5-liter V6 with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and Toyota's intelligent variable valve timing (VVT-i) plus dual exhausts.
It generates 204 hp at 6400 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.
IS 250C lists two six-speed transmission choices -- manual or automatic.
The manual shifts smoothly and has a respectably short shift lever.
The automatic mounts shifter paddles on the steering wheel, which enables an aggressive driver to shift up and down sans clutch with only a flick of the finger and without removing hands from the wheel.
A robust direct-injection 3.5-liter V6, also with VVT-i, links exclusively with the six-speed paddle-shifted automatic to define the top model IS 350C.
This plant hits 306 hp at 6400 rpm with torque of 277 lb-ft at 4800 rpm.
Each car in the IS C series is loaded with gear.
Standards range from fascia foglamps and puddle lamps on the belly of side mirrors to metallic cabin trim, automatic air conditioning, a keyless SmartAccess device with push-button starter, vivid Optitron gauges in the instrument panel, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) along with the 194-watt Lexus Premium Audio system using eight speakers, a CD changer in the dash for six CDs and USB connector for iPod/MP3 player.
Lexus also offers optional equipment.
The list includes an adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with xenon high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, a pre-collision system (PCS) coupled with dynamic radar cruise control (DRCC) to reduce collision damage, a luxury package with semi-aniline leather upholstery and heated/ventilated front seats, the Lexus Navigation System incorporating Bluetooth and voice activation plus a rearview video camera, and a 270-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound audio kit with 12 speakers.
MSRP numbers for the 2010 IS C series begin with IS 250C manual transmission at $38,490, or $39,660 for a paddle-shifted automatic, and $43,490 for IS 350C.