2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Lexus IS C

Ottawa, Ontario – The arrival of the Lexus IS C in the entry-level luxury convertible segment seems a little late, when you consider that a number of its key competitors – BMW, Audi and Volvo, for examples – are well known in this arena. But then, Lexus took the luxury field by storm in the early 1990s, despite joining the game decades after its European competition and even a few years after Honda’s Acura line arrived. Given Lexus’ history, couldn’t this relative luxury upstart upset the game again?

2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C
2010 Lexus IS 350C. Click image to enlarge

On paper, it looks like a possibility: my IS 350C tester used the same smooth and strong 3.5-litre V6 as the IS 350 sedan and numerous other Lexus and Toyota models. In the IS, it makes 306 horsepower and is mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission. Also, like the IS 250 sedan, the IS 250C gets a 2.5-litre V6 with 204 horsepower, matched to either a six-speed manual or automatic. The only powertrain option not carried over to the convertible is the all-wheel drive system offered in the IS 250 sedan.

Pricing starts at $52,100 for the IS 250C, and ticks up to $60,400 for the 350C. My tester added the optional Navigation Package to the uplevel model’s price; for $3,900, this package adds the expected navigation system, a great-sounding Mark Levinson stereo and a back-up camera.

Comfort and space for those in the front seats are great. These are terrific chairs that would be great on a long haul. The rear seat, unsurprisingly, is less accommodating, though it is useful, with enough leg- and headroom available for people of average height to sit back there with the top up. It’s getting back there that’s the big deal, at least with the top in place. The power slide function on the front seats is a great touch, though.

The trunk is an impressive 550 litres, which is significantly more than any other four-seat convertible available, regardless of price range or top type. The roof is a three-piece design; the rearmost portion tilts backwards and down, while the front and mid sections fold back to rest on top of the rear piece when the roof is stowed. It’s fully automatic (though the button has to be held until the operation is complete) and quick – Lexus says its 20-second operation time is fastest in the IS’ segment – but it’s not very space-efficient when folded away.

Go topless, and you’re left with maybe enough room for a single golf bag. I realize that convertibles are hardly the paragon of practicality, but the Volvo C70, BMW 3 Series and even the less expensive VW Eos can carry a small-to-medium suitcase in the trunk with the top down. The Infiniti G37 convertible is similarly challenged in cargo space with the top stowed.

While the IS sedan is marketed as a sport sedan that competes with the 3 Series, A4, G37 and TSX, I’d argue that it’s less sporty than the best of those cars in sedan form, an impression that carries through to the convertible.

The suspension is tuned for comfort more than sport. While the ride is terrific, the handling is less athletic than that of the IS sedan, with more pronounced body roll in turns. It simply feels less nimble than its sedan sibling, which I would chalk up to the car’s added weight: my IS 350C tester weighs in at 1,760 kg (3,880 lbs), compared to 1,600 kg (3,527 lbs) for the IS 350 sedan.

The car tackles high speeds with aplomb, though, with road, wind and engine noise well muted at cruise. The downside is a lack of feel in the car’s controls; the steering is light and responsive and the brakes strong and the pedal firm, but none of it inspires excitement.

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