2011 Lexus IS 250CPosted on October 31st, 2011
Hardtop convertible for driving enthusiasts
By Nina RussinThe IS series began as Lexus’ tuner offering. Following its success, the automaker transformed the IS from a single car into a series, which ranged from entry luxury to more upscale performance models. The most recent IS models include two new hardtop convertibles, which take the place of the SC 430, discontinued in 2010. The high-performance IS F is the series flagship, competing against high luxury European sport coupes.
The IS 250C is the less expensive of two open-air IS models. Pricing starts at $41,060, plus an $875 destination charge. Power comes from a 2.5-liter direct injection V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower. Direct injection delivers gasoline into the engine cylinders without passing through the valves. This reduces parasitic loss for better gas mileage, and also provides a cooling effect which enabled engineers to apply a very high compression ratio: 12.0:1.
The engine has excellent throttle response: zero-to-sixty acceleration is 8.4 seconds according to the manufacturer. The down side of the high compression engine is its premium fuel requirement. Running the car on regular unleaded fuel could produce detonation and engine damage.
A six-speed automatic transmission includes formula-style shift paddles on the steering wheel. The paddles enable the driver to choose gears manually for more aggressive performance on challenging roads.
The IS 250C runs on 17-inch alloy rims and all-season tires. The wheels are large enough to provide an ample footprint, but the tires have enough sidewall to offer a comfortable ride on uneven road surfaces.
Options on the test car include a hard drive navigation system and Mark Levinson audio upgrade ($4015). Lexus Enform, which comes with the option, adds connection to a remote call center which can provide turn-by-turn directions.
A cargo net and trunk mat add $64 and $73 respectively, bringing the price as tested to $46,087.
High-tech top deploys in 21 seconds
The coupe’s three-piece aluminum hard top deploys using a single switch. The operation, which stashes the top in the trunk, takes less than 21 seconds. When the driver raises the top, the same mechanism will lower the windows slightly and raise them again after the top is locked in place to ensure a tight seal.
The mechanism work flawlessly. Its only downside is that there is essentially no trunk space with the top deployed. A few grocery bags will fit in back but a suitcase will not.
Engineers wisely used a lightweight rear glass window in lieu of plastic. Plastic can fog and yellow over time, impairing visibility to the back of the car.
An open-air car for four-season climates
The hard top makes the IS C a more practical choice for buyers in climates with severe winters. It is extremely well insulated. With the top in place, the car’s interior is as quiet as a conventional sedan or coupe. The only noise I noticed during the test drive was from the tires, which whined on some of the highway surfaces. When the driver gooses the throttle, the dual exhaust pipes emit an appealing belch.
Engineers did an excellent job in creating a rigid, noise-free chassis. Cowl shake, which can be the bane of convertibles, is non-existent.
Test drive in the Midwest
I spent several days behind the wheel of the IS 250C during a recent trip to Ohio. The trip included about 200 miles of highway driving between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and several days of driving on the narrow, hilly surface streets in the Cincinnati metro area.
Cincinnati is an old town, founded in the late 1700s. Most of the streets are glorified cow paths. Because the city is hilly and is prone to bad winter weather, maintaining the roads is an almost insurmountable challenge. Large quantities of road salt are the only way to prevent the streets from becoming impassible in the winter. As a result, a bumper crop of potholes emerges when the snow melts, which city managers attempt to repair with limited manpower and budgets.
Residents who live inside the city tend to favor small cars. The IS 250C has a small enough track and wheelbase to function well under these conditions, yet is extremely stable on the highway. A 33.5-foot turning radius makes the couple easy to park in tight spots on the street, or maneuver through crowded parking lots.
The smaller of the two available V-6 engines can’t match its larger sibling in terms of low-end torque: zero-to-sixty acceleration is about 2-1/2 seconds slower. That said, the smaller block has ample power for acceleration off the line and in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range for merging into high-speed traffic. The six-speed automatic transmission works seamlessly, with no noticeable shift shock under normal driving conditions.
A compact double wishbone suspension up front and multi-link setup in back includes stabilizer bars on both axles to keep the chassis flat in the corners. I was able to take decreasing radius turns at speed and feel completely in control. The suspension, while firm, is compliant enough to keep passengers comfortable on uneven surface streets inside the city.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car with the top in place is good. Despite the coupe’s high beltline, I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes. The small rear glass creates some large blind spots in the back corners. A rearview camera on the test car projects a wide angle view to the back when the driver shifts into reverse, making it significantly easier to back out of parking slots.
Driver-focused interiorThe IS 250C interior wraps the driver in luxurious amenities such as a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, perforated leather trim with a ten-way power driver’s seat, automatic dual-zone climate control and an automatic dimming rearview mirror.
As is the case with many two-plus-twos, the rear seats have very little legroom. They’ll work in a pinch for a short trip in town, but that’s about it. The fact that the front seat slides and tilts forward makes it slightly easier for passengers to amble into the back.
The optional Mark Levinson sound system on the test car is worth mention for its exceptional quality. Mark Levinson is known as a manufacturer of premium home audio systems. The 5.1 surround sound system in the IS turns the car’s interior into a concert hall.
All IS models come with the Lexus vehicle dynamics integrated management system which incorporates antilock braking, traction and stability control into a single matrix. All models also come with front, side, driver and front passenger knee airbags.
Safety connect automatically notifies the police and emergency medical personnel if the vehicle is involved in a collision. The standard feature also provides stolen vehicle notification and emergency roadside assistance.
Other standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring, a tool kit and first aid kit.
The IS 250C is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A stylish open air car with excellent performance and good fuel economy. The hardtop is better insulated against temperature extremes than soft tops on some competitive products, making this IS C a better choice for buyers in four season climates.
Dislike: Lack of trunk space.
Model: IS 250C
Base price: $41,060
As tested: $46,087
Horsepower: 204 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 185 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/30 mpg city/highway
Comment: The IS 250C requires 91 octane or higher unleaded fuel.
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