2011 Lexus IS350C Review

The IS350C is the way luxury convertibles were meant to be

2011 Lexus IS350C Review
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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 a cool breeze filling the convertible’s cockpit as the morning sun warms the skin.

FAST FACTS

1. The IS350C is powered by the same 306-hp 3.5L V6 as the sedan.

2. Despite a similar look, the IS C shares only its hood with the IS sedan.

3. An IS250C is also offered with either a manual or automatic transmission. The IS350C comes exclusively with an automatic.

4. Pricing for the IS C starts at $39,440, with $44,890 for the V6-powered IS350C.

POP THE TOP SUNSHINE

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 seven sparkling colors, including a stunning new Cerulean Blue.

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, the IS350C 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. Still, it’s certainly a familiar look.

PRECISION ENGINEERED THROUGHOUT

The convertible behaves like a road-hugging German touring car with a taut suspension tuned to allow the tires to waltz around bends on curvy pavement as the IS350C’s 3.5-liter V6 engine ripples with power, sending torque to the rear tires. Our one real complaint about the car’s driving dynamics would have to be the steering, with a slightly vague feel typical of models in the Lexus lineup.

Despite the lack of a roof's unifying structure, the IS C feels rock solid with all the stability and rigidity of a precise sports coupe rather than the usually loosy-goosy ragtop. But unlike some Teutonic machines, the IS C also carries 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 anticipates a vehicle control problem and goes 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 their foot from the brake pedal to accelerator.

Standard 17-inch aluminum wheels wear all-season rubber (225/45/17 in front and 245/45/17 in back). The optional 18-inch tire package adds all-season or run-flat treads -- 225/40/18 front and 255/40/18 rear.

SPORTINESS UNDER THE HOOD

While the standard plant in the IS250C model is a direct-injection 2.5-liter V6 with just 204-hp at 6400 rpm and 185 ft-lbs of torque at 4800 rpm, the 3.5-liter motor in our test car makes a more suitable of 306-hp and 277 ft-lbs of torque at the same rpm points. Despite the extra weight of the convertible, 306-hp is still plenty of grunt and you should expect a 0-60 mph time of anywhere from the mid five second range to about six seconds.

Just one transmission is offered, a six-speed automatic, with steering wheel mounted shift paddles that swap gears (somewhat lethargically) with the flick of a finger. A six-speed manual transmission, (a rare choice for a convertible) is offered on IS250C models.

Fuel economy for our IS350 C tester is rated at a reasonable 18-mpg city, 25-mpg highway.

LOADED UP WITH LUXURY

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 plenty of optional equipment. The list includes an adaptive front lighting system (AFS) with HID headlamps, a pre-collision system 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 $39,440, or $40,610 for a paddle-shifted automatic, and a starting price of $44,890 for IS 350C.

THE VERDICT

With the added power of the larger V6, the IS350 C delivers plenty of luxury and refinement in a comfortable package with plenty of style. Open air driving is meant to be this enjoyable.

LOVE IT
  • Fit and finish is superb
  • Excellent trim and seats
  • Hugs corners with tenacity
LEAVE IT
  • 2.5L V6 in IS250C model lacks finesse
  • Limited trunk space
  • Somewhat benign steering feel

RELATED READING

2010 Lexus IS250C Review
2010 Audi A5 Cabriolet Review
2010 Infiniti G37S Convertible: First Drive
2011 Mercedes E-Class Cabriolet: First Drive
2010 Nissan 370Z Roadster: First Drive
2009 BMW 128i Convertible

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