When Lexus decided to build a two door version of its compact IS sports sedan rather than build both a conventional convertible and a coupe, it tapped into one of the latest trends: the folding hardtop. The result is a four-seasons car that combines many of the best features of both open and closed cars.
Top closed, the IS350C is incredibly quiet. Conversations at highway speeds can be conducted in hushed tones, and the trademark Lexus refinement is fully in evidence. With the roof stowed, airflow management keeps blustery breezes at bay (hard to do in a four-seat convertible) while bathing the occupants in sun- or moonshine. Also in evidence is the IS’ usual excellent build quality and material selection; everything you touch is top-flight. The small, sculptured steering wheel in particular is a joy to hold.
Despite a weight increase of almost 400 pounds over its sedan sibling, the IS350C’s direct-injection V6 (306hp and 277lb-ft) provides strong urge at all speeds, accompanied by a muted snarl that’s refined yet evocative. It is hooked to a six-speed auto with paddle shifters, which works best when left to do its own thing. Naught to sixty arrives in under six seconds.
Though it was obvious Lexus was thinking along the lines of BMW’s 3-series hardtop convertible when developing the IS C, this is a different animal: more cruiser, less racer. While it does hang on gamely when pushed to its high roadholding limits, the loss in rigidity that comes with chopping the top introduces a level of vagueness in the car’s moves that makes it hard to place when hustling. There’s also a fair amount of wiggle and scuttle shake with the top town; roof up there are only a few squeaks to let you know this isn’t a fixed-top ride. And the commodious trunk is almost filled with the stack of glass, aluminum, steel, and plastic that makes up the lid when it’s stowed.
These types of issues are endemic to this class of car, though, and most find them acceptable tradeoffs for the security and robustness of the retractable hard roof. One of the most enjoyable benefits of the IS350C is that one can use it all the time: it will carry four adults when needed (and its trick powered front seat controls make accessing the back a snap), and on a 50-degree winter day the top retracts quicker than competitors’, letting in Father Sol’s warmth. Yet when night falls or the flurries fly, the cosseting nature of its cockpit comes to the fore, giving the Lexus an engagingly broad personality.
THE BROKER’S VIEW: The Lexus IS series has always done well in resale and reliability; while the iconic 3-series Beemer is typically better at retaining MSRP while the car is under warranty, once mileage goes up, the Lexus rebounds—thanks to the firm’s legendary long term reliability. BMW’s retractable hardtop only came out a couple of years ago, but so far has shown itself to be a desirable second-hand purchase. If these two trends combine in the IS350C, this Lexus looks to be a great place to enjoy many turns of the seasons.
Price as tested: $53,555
What Lexus says.