Lexus IS 350 C — Open-air luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

You have always wanted just one convertible experience in your life, but for a variety of reasons you were never able to make the purchase. But you still have a passion for an open-air machine even as you figure the time for such extravagance has slipped away.

The truth is, it's never too late to fulfill that want and Lexus may just have the ticket, a 2014 steel top convertible that for most of the time performs as a luxury coupe with all the Lexus trappings and a Lexus-quiet interior. And for those occasions when you want to indulge in open-air enjoyment, the IS C is ready to comply. Simply hold down the top-open button for around 20 seconds and you will be rewarded with a very solid, refined convertible; and a wish come true.

The IS convertible is based on the previous-generation compact IS sports sedan and carries the IS wedge-shaped styling theme from the front bumper through the front door, as well as the same interior layout and features. It also carries the same engine configurations, a 2.5-liter V-6 making 204 horsepower in the IS 250 C and a 3.5-liter V-6 making 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque in the IS 350 C. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. For this review we drove the 350.

While the IS 350 C is no rocketship compared to current competition, it offers satisfying performance in the mid five-second range. The sub-six-second time is rewarding and the power is seamless and quiet, and with the top down the ride can be exhilarating.

Lexus cites a low 0.29 coefficient of drag because of its "sleek aerodynamic body" which increases fuel economy in the 350 measured at 19 mpg city and 27-highway. And we like the aerodynamic design up to a point. What throws us off is the bulbous rear end made necessary to store the hard top. In more recent designs, competing manufacturers have learned how to overcome this problem.

When the IS was introduced five years ago, it was knocked in some performance circles as not as adept at handling the twists and turns as, say, the BMW 3-Series. Lexus has answered with the optional F SPORT package, which brings out the IS C models’ inner road athlete. The F SPORT grille and lip spoiler and aerodynamic body elements accentuate the car’s already sporty stance and most importantly, the sport-tuned suspension sharpens the car’s moves without the ride becoming harsh. We took our F-Sport-equipped IS 350 test vehicle for a spirited run on our winding back-road "test track" and found its road-holding abilities first rate But keep in mind; you’re not making this purchase to run race tracks on the weekend, but for the enjoyment of occasional top-down driving.

To Lexus' credit, it has created an extremely taut car with the top down with minimal cowl shake. This is one solid piece of open-air machinery. And automotive refinement is not only found in the car's drivability, but in the quality interior where fit and finish is superb.

The F SPORT provides the driver and front passenger with wide, comfortable leather-appointed, heated and ventilated sport seats, an F SPORT steering wheel and shift knob, silver metallic interior trim, aluminum sport pedals, and aluminum doorsill scuff plates. Gauges and controls are clear and intuitive, though navigation-equipped models make it a little harder to get at touchscreen-controlled audio and climate functions while the navigation system is in use. We found the optimum driving position, using the tilt and telescoping wheel and the power seat controls, was easily attainable.

While the rear seats are far too tight for adult passengers, they are not totally unusable. If you need storage space, the rear seats are a good place to stash stuff because the trunk is almost nonexistent with the top down and stored.

While Lexus has checked off all the usual safety features, to get high-tech equipment now available on luxury vehicles you will have to check an options box. A forward collision warning/preparation system, parking sensors and a rearview camera come with the optional adaptive cruise control. We think a rearview camera should be standard on all cars regardless of price. And blindspot monitoring, a very useful device in convertible styling with limited rearward visibility, is strangely not offered at any price.

Our test IS 350 C carried a base price of $48,050 including destination charge and a bottom line of $53,850 with several options including the $2,550 F-SPORT package and the $2,490 navigation package.

Base price: $48,050; as driven, $53,850
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 306 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 277 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
Length: 182.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,872 pounds
Turning circle: 33.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.8 cubic feet
Fuel Capacity: 17.2 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 27 highway, 19 city
0-60: 5.8 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: BMW 4 Series convertible, Audi A5 convertible

The Good
• Quiet interior with hard top
• Energetic V-6 engine
• High-quality interior

The Bad
• Limited trunk space

The Ugly
• Blindspot monitoring not offered