There's nothing quite like the feeling of riding top-down along a winding country road on a beautiful day. It's an old fashioned yet timeless experience.
Of course there are the downsides to convertible ownership too, including the noise, latching chores and obvious lack of security of the soft folding top.
Lexus's second ever convertible, the IS350C, solves that with its three-piece, aluminum folding hardtop. Press a single switch and it glides slowly along, its aluminum mechanicals quietly folding the sections up and dropping them into the top portion of the trunk. It retracts completely under a panel behind the back seats. This process takes about 20 seconds, and thanks to its roof-speed brake-control system, slows down elegantly as it winds up. Of course, if the system detects anything blocking its way it stops immediately before any damage is done.
When the top's up, you'd never know you weren't in a coupe. The finishing and soundproofing are perfect. From the outside, the shape of the new roof is different enough to warrant a nearly complete restyling of the body to match it. It's a real challenge to have a car that looks good top up or down, but Lexus has come up with a handsome, if not pretty, solution that should please and satisfy IS Convertible owners.
With the folded roof in place in the trunk, there's still a little space beneath it for some slender luggage. Cloth tops take up less space, but they have all those other downsides we talked about earlier.
The IS350C's interior is much like that in the sedan, but the rear seats have been moved inward to accommodate the top mechanism, so this is definitely a four-passenger car-not five. The center console in back is handy for holding drinks and stuff for rear passengers. Little snap-on straps hold down the rear seatbelts when the top is down to keep them from flapping-a thoughtful touch.
The car's air conditioning system automatically adjusts for outside temperature when the top is stowed, moving the air outlets, temperature, and air flow. So, you won't be uncomfortable or waste energy heating or cooling the great outdoors as you cruise along.
The Convertible's doors are nearly a foot longer than the sedan's, so rear passengers can climb in and out efficiently. However, as in most two-doors, the driver and front passenger have a long reach for their shoulder belts. My wife didn't care for that. My teenage son and his friend fit fine in back, although there's not a lot of visibility through the small top's windows if you're planning a long trip anywhere.
The IS Convertible, like the sedan, comes in two levels-350 and 250-indicating engine displacement. My Ultrasonic Blue Mica tester was the former, with its mighty 3.5-liter V6 pushing 306 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels. This engine moves the nearly two-ton car along from zero to sixty in a sporting 5.8 seconds and records a 14.1-second quarter mile dash. Through the only transmission available, a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, EPA fuel economy estimates are 18 City, 25 Highway (I averaged 19.6 mpg).
The 250's 2.5-liter, 204-horsepower (185 lb.-ft.) V6 is probably enough, but it drops that 0-60 time to 8.4 seconds and the quarter mile run to 16.5 seconds. However, fuel economy estimates with the automatic jump to 21/29 with this version, which will please buyers of the lower level unit no doubt. A manual six-speed is available with the smaller engine.
Those who concern themselves with environmental ratings will like the IS350C's Air Pollution score of 7 and Greenhouse Gas number of 6-giving it EPA SmartWay status. That's pretty amazing considering the power this car flaunts. The IS250 Convertible is even better-with the automatic-at 7 and 7 respectively.
Naturally, as a Lexus, the IS350C is loaded with luxury and convenience features out of the box-the usual electric and electronic goodies-but you can add more with option packages. My tester featured a wheel upgrade from the standard 17-inch alloys to Liquid Graphite 18's ($720). The Luxury Package brought in high-tech Bi-Xenon High Intensity Headlamps, heated and ventilated leather seats (especially nice in a convertible), wood interior trim, seat position memory, stylish illuminated scuff plates, and more ($3,055).
The Mark Levinson Premium Audio system blends state-of-the art navigation with a crystal-clear 12-speaker 270-watt system ($3,890). May as well live it up!
With options and delivery, my IS350C hit $52,580. You can get an IS250C with manual six-speed starting at $39,815.
You have a choice of luxury, performance four-door hardtop convertibles, but only one is a Lexus.