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A drive in the 2010 Lexus IS 350C hardtop convertible is like a weekend at some fancy golf resort, the kind you read about in that magazine you get when you're flying business class. You know, the whole thing with a hotel that looks like a Tuscan villa, only it's about the size of a convention center, and it's got the ocean view, a pool that you could water-ski on, and of course the championship-grade golf course.
When the top is down, sunlight floods the IS C's cabin and you're overcome with a sense of well-being, so different from the wretched life you lead locked away in the office during the week. When the top is up, you're in a buttoned-up coupe, holding in your hands a finely crafted machine that can take you to a great steak dinner with effortless speed.
All the while, you've got music, a navigation guide to the local sites and a temperature-controlled environment. Like an efficient staff at a resort hotel, the 2010 Lexus IS 350C brings you anything and everything you need, and neither a moment too soon nor too late.
You've pretty much got everything going for you here that you'd find in a resort hotel, except for the cutesy soaps and that big, white terrycloth robe.
There are actually two Lexus IS Cs at your disposal: the 2010 Lexus IS 350C with its 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and the 2010 Lexus IS 250C with its 204-hp 2.5-liter V6. It's easy to think of the IS C as a response to the new generation of hardtop convertibles, like the BMW 3 Series convertible, the Infiniti G37 convertible, and the Volvo C70 hardtop. Yet this is also meant to be a kind of Lexus IS coupe, a two-door that features everything you can get in the IS sedan.
So what you're meant to have here is a car that changes personalities as quickly as you can peel back the roof. Once you trigger the simple switch on the instrument panel to the left of the steering wheel, windows start retracting and panels start flipping as 15 electric motors work in harmony with 37 sensors, and the three-piece top engineered in-house at Lexus does its thing. It's like computer-generated movie magic from Transformers brought to life with Disney imagineering, and it all takes place in just 20 seconds — the quickest time in the category, Lexus tells us.
Lexus has done its usual thorough job in compensating for the inevitable structural compromises that come when you slice the roof off any car, and the door sill rockers in the platform are much larger and there's an elaborate network of braces and struts beneath the floor. All this work plus the top mechanism means the IS 350C weighs about 380 pounds more than a comparable IS 350 sedan.
In fact, so much work has been done to make over the IS sedan into a convertible that the only shared body panel between the two is the hood. The front of the IS C has been restyled with more dramatic projector-beam headlights (HID headlights with adaptive cornering lights are optional) and a zippier front airdam, while the entire rear of the car has been resculpted. But you have to say that it doesn't add up to much in the looks department. Like one of those generic Tuscan-style hotels that architects seem to download from some kind of software, it's attractive enough in an inoffensive way, but you wouldn't say that it has any real strength of character.
The Resort Experience
Of course, you miss the point if you're hoping for personal drama here. Like every Lexus, the IS C is about what it does, not what it looks like. So you'll find its true character in all the carefully considered services it provides, a composure that's not found elsewhere in convertibles.
When the top is down and fresh air is slipping around the windshield, you're most aware of the well-crafted cockpit. There's space only for four, as the top mechanism inevitably squeezes shoulder room in the rear, yet this configuration also gives this car some personality. (And if you're buying a car — any car — based on rear-seat space, you should be rethinking your worthless life in any case.) The 10-way-adjustable power front seats offer support without making a point of it, and there's a one-touch electronic trigger that moves them aside for rear-seat access. A pop-up rollover bar behind the rear seats adds a dimension of safety, as do lateral beams behind and below the rear seats.
As a measure of their customary thoughtfulness, the Lexus engineers have tailored the ventilation system to the position of the top, as the volume and distribution of heated or cooled air changes when the top is down. The same goes for the standard audio system, which changes the programming of its equalizer system, and the optional 12-speaker Mark Levinson audio system performs its comparable audio magic with 5.1 surround sound and only 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion.
The leather-upholstered interior looks better in tan with dark-gray wood trim, as the color values of the black plastic aren't very rich while the metallic trim is insincere. If you like, you can go for a two-tone interior that's pretty wild in a water-ski boat sort of way.
One of the reasons Lexus built its own top (and the IS C looks a little heavy in the rear) is the insistence from the engineers on a useful amount of cargo capacity. When the top is up, there are 10.8 cubic feet of space (or two golf bags, which is the standard of measure in the adult world), and when the top is down there's 2.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity (or one golf bag). This is more than a BMW 3 Series convertible, a good comparison since the IS C has a full-size spare tire while the 3 Series has no spare tire at all because it uses run-flat tires.
Convertible or Coupe
When the top is down, the IS 350C maintains the refined ride and deliberate reactions of the IS sedan when the standard 225/45R17 front and 245/45R17 rear Bridgestone Turanza GL400 tires are in place, and it drives great. The convertible's structure is overmatched by the optional 225/40R18 front and 255/40R18 rear Dunlop SP Sport S5000 tires, though, and you can detect some shudder from the structure and the soft suspension bushings.
Of course, if you're looking for a coupe, then you might be after a bit more than the usual reserved Lexus personality. And when the hardtop is snugged down, the IS C feels tight and sound just like a coupe, with not a whisper of wind noise from the joints in its three-piece top.
You have the same powertrain alternatives as in the IS sedan, too. The 3.5-liter V6, with its variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust cams, makes 306 hp at 6,400 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm, and it uses its six-speed automatic transmission to get the 3,880-pound car to 60 mph in a claimed 5.8 seconds. Meanwhile, the 2.5-liter V6, also with variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust cams, makes 204 hp at 6,400 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque. It'll get you to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, says Lexus, if the six-speed manual transmission is in place rather than the six-speed automatic.
But this is not a coupe that rips it up in the fashion of the 400-hp Lexus IS-F. Sure, the automatic transmission will now go right into manual-shift Sport mode, even when the shift lever is in Drive, if you trigger the shift paddles on the steering column. But these Toyota V6 engines are all about refinement, not response, and they feel as if they've been lumbered with 100-pound flywheels to help smother any detectible trace of vibration. A fast highway cruise is what they offer, and neither engine offers much when you put your foot down. And while the IS 250C can be had with a manual transmission, the sloppy linkage makes you think of a Mustang V6 rental car from the 1990s.
Of course, you can equip this car with the line of F-Sport accessories, including a high-volume engine intake, low-restriction exhaust system, drilled brake rotors and trick calipers, stiff antiroll bars, and aggressively calibrated springs and shocks. But the IS C doesn't really seem to like it much, and since there's no big horsepower to compensate for the shake and shudder, we advise you to choose a more relaxing configuration.
We Take Coupons
For all the ability of the 2010 Lexus IS 350C to deliver a resort-quality experience, you pay only getaway package prices. The price of the IS 350C starts at $43,940, while the 2010 Lexus IS 250C starts at $38,490. Lexus claims this is on the order of $6,000 less than the base price of the U.S.-specification BMW 3 Series convertible, and it's the kind of price that should guarantee Lexus can meet its target of 12,000 annual sales.
As convertibles go, the Lexus IS C reminds you that a hardtop is really what you want when it comes to year-round, go-anywhere practicality. You can drive it every day with the top in place and never feel as if you've made any sacrifice in daily comfort or utility. And then when you peel back the top between cycles at a stoplight on the way home from work, there you are at that Tuscan villa with a view of the ocean.
Just don't be trying to get there in a hurry.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2010 Lexus IS 350 C in WA is: