2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition
2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition. Click image to enlarge
First Drive: 2010 Lexus IS 350c
Test Drive: 2010 Lexus IS 350c

Manufacturer’s web site
Lexus Canada

Review and photos by Michael Schlee

Photo Gallery:
2012 Lexus IS C

In 2009 Lexus sharpened its aim on BMW. No longer content with attacking the bestselling BMW 3 Series with merely the sedan version of the compact IS, Lexus decided to add a convertible hardtop to the mix. Dubbed the IS 250c or IS 350c (depending on engine choice) the Lexus becomes a fun-in-the-sun vehicle with just the push of a button that triggers 15 electric motors and 37 sensors. First the rear window disappears into the trunk followed by the aluminum roof which breaks into two panels and folds neatly behind it. The whole process only takes 20 seconds and must be completed while the vehicle is stationary.

To help keep interest in the slow selling IS convertible alive for 2012, a new special edition has been added to the line-up. The special edition upgrade is available on either the IS 250c or the IS 350c and adds 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a red leather interior and navigation. My test vehicle is the 2012 IS 350c outfitted with the special edition upgrade arriving in Tungsten Pearl; Lexus-speak for silver. With the flashy red interior treatment set against the conservative exterior styling and silver paint job, this IS 350c is an exercise in stark contrast. As much as Lexus may cringe at the thought, I began referring to this car as the ‘Mullet Edition’; Business on the outside, party on the inside.

2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition
2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition
2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition
2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition
2012 Lexus IS 350c Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

In all honesty though, the red leather interior grew on me and seemed fitting for a fun in the sun vehicle. In fact, I kind of wished the exterior had a bit more flash to match the interior’s gusto. Sure, there were the staggered tires with 225/40R18 up front and 255/40R18 in the rear, but even they were mounted to somewhat bland five-spoke rims.

The bulbous rear trunk lid that dominates the back of the car is as heavy as it is massive and requires quite a bit of grunt to open up. With the roof up the trunk does reveal a decent 306 L of space, but put the top down and trunk space shrinks dramatically; think under 100 L. The sophisticated hard top roof also cuts into rear seat space which has already been reduced from three seats to two; best to keep the rear seats the exclusive territory of children.

As with any convertible conversion, the Lexus IS receives substantial stiffing and structural support which unfortunately escalates the IS 350c curb weight to 1760 kg – up from 1600 kg for rear-wheel drive IS 350 sedan. Tasked to handle this heft is Lexus’ 3.5L V6 rated at 306 hp at 6,400 rpm and 277 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm paired to a 6 speed automatic. This drivetrain combination has good power; not exceptional, but enough to get up and go in a quick hurry. The transmission is decent, but not the quickest to change gears in regular or manumatic mode. The IS 350c manumatic mode is a strange one. You pick which gear you would like the system to ‘max out’ at and then the rest of the upshifts and downshifts are done by the vehicle. Using the paddle shifters does allow for on-demand downshifts, but upshifts occur when the computer deems it worthy; not pressing on the gas pedal enough, or too much, and the transmission will upshift and downshift with the range allowed. The system defaults to 4th gear when put into manumatic mode and a few times I forgot about it and was screaming down the highway in fourth instead of sixth.

Despite a potent 306 hp on tap, the rear end is fairly planted in the dry even with stability control turned off. In the wet though, it can be coaxed to kick the tail end out. The IS 350c is not as stiffly sprung as the sedan to help prevent the inevitable chassis flex of a convertible. With the added weight and softer suspension settings, any handling prowess the IS350 may have had is gone. But this vehicle isn’t about clipping apexes; it is about top down cruising and nothing beats cruising down the road on a warm sunny day with the top down. When topless, the car does exhibits some wind buffeting at low speeds, but at highway speeds it mostly disappears.

The IS 350c does work well as a fair weather top down cruiser that can also be used on colder, unpleasant days. Unfortunately at a $62,050 as tested price, the IS 350c is competing against some seriously compelling competition like the BMW 3 Series Cabriolet, Infiniti G Convertible and Audi A5 Cabriolet. Can the IS Convertible compete with these models? Yes. But it may not be doing enough to differentiate itself in this crowded niche market.

Pricing: 2012 Lexus IS 350c
  • Base price: $57,000
  • Options: $5,050 (Special Edition package)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,950
  • Price as tested: $64,100

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Lexus IS 350c

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Audi A5
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 BMW 3 Series
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Infiniti G
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Volvo C70

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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