2013 Lexus IS 350CPosted on January 3rd, 2013
Convertible hardtop for four-season fun
By Nina Russin
I believe that everyone who drives should own at least one convertible in his or her lifetime. The feeling of open-air motoring is unlike anything else. Unfortunately, soft tops don’t always insulate well against temperature extremes, forcing owners to suffer through the winter or purchase second cars.
Convertible hardtops solve this problem by offering their owners the best of both worlds. The Lexus IS 350C combines the structural integrity and temperature insulation of a coupe with the top down pleasure of a roadster.
Electric motors deploy the three-piece aluminum top in less than 21 seconds, storing it in the boot. Unlike some competitors, the trunk is large enough to offer decent storage space, even with the top deployed.
The 3.5-liter V-6 engine in the test car is the larger of two available blocks for the model. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, it propels the IS from zero-to-sixty in 5.8 seconds: about 2-1/2 seconds faster than the four-cylinder model.
Base price is $46,890, excluding the $895 delivery charge. The test car comes with several F Sport performance options: special alloy rims with summer performance tires, performance suspension, sport pedals, sport grille, chin spoiler, heated and ventilated front seats, sport steering wheel and shift knob.
Other options on the test car include LED daytime running lamps, headlamp washers, navigation with a premium audio system, cargo net and trunk mat, bringing the final MSRP to $55,389.
It isn’t just the Ultrasonic Blue Mica exterior on the test car that captures one’s attention. Even without the F Sport paint, unique grille and wheels, the ISC is a beautiful car. It looks fast standing still.
With a .29 coefficient of drag, the IS convertible is literally a bullet waiting to be deployed. The LED daytime running lamps and large dual exhaust tips add some extra spice to the front and back.
Inside, the ISC is surprisingly spacious for a two-plus-two. There isn’t much in the way of leg or headroom in the rear seats, but the four-seat configuration lowers insurance costs and adds some additional interior storage space.
This year, Lexus has made its Enform infotainment system with app suite available, enabling buyers to use the car’s head unit to browse Bing, Pandora, Movie Tickets, Open Table and other apps. Other new additions include HD radio with iTunes tagging, and Bluetooth interface with automatic phonebook download capability.
Test drive in southern Arizona
This week I drove the ISC around Phoenix, Arizona, as well as on a road trip between Phoenix and Tucson.
If a buyer is looking for an ‘it’ car to reward himself for years of hard work, the ISC is a good choice. It’s beautiful and a hoot to drive, yet practical enough to serve as a primary vehicle.
The rear-wheel drive configuration and 50/50 front-to-rear weight balance make it a fun car to toss around in the curves on a two-lane rural road. On the other hand, the trunk has enough space to hold two people’s luggage on a road trip, with room to spare.
A switch on the instrument panel deploys the top and locks it in place inside the trunk. The same switch automatically lowers windows when the top in down and raises them again when the driver raises the top.
Visibility with the top in place is surprisingly good for a convertible. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes on the highway. Lack of a B pillar makes over-the-shoulder visibility exceptionally good. A glass rear window reduces weight, and doesn’t yellow over time as plastic can.
The optional backup camera, which comes with the navigation system, makes it much easier to spot obstacles behind the vehicle, and to monitor cross traffic in crowded parking lots.
High-intensity discharge headlamps on the test car project longer beams that are closer to daylight than halogen. They make a huge difference for drivers who travel on poorly lit rural or suburban roads.
Although the ISC weighs close to 4000 pounds, it doesn’t handle like a heavy vehicle. The direct injection engine provides exceptional throttle response, and there is an abundance of torque available at about half pedal.
The weight and large engine do, however, impact fuel economy. I averaged between 22 and 23 miles-per-gallon on my test drive: in line with EPA predictions. The manufacturer requires the use of 91octane premium unleaded gasoline due to the engine’s high compression ratio: something potential buyers should factor into cost of ownership.
Engineers did an excellent job of giving the chassis good torsional rigidity. There is no cowl shake, which can be the bane of open top cars.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of a compact double wishbone setup in front and multi-links in the rear with stabilizer bars on both axles. Despite the low-profile tires on the test car, I found the suspension compliant enough to buffer against rough road surfaces.
Steering response is good at all speeds, with excellent on-center response. A 33.5-foot turning circle makes it easy to perform the occasional U-turn.
Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes stop the car in a firm, linear manner.
With the top in place, the ISC is as quiet as the sedan model, enabling the driver to enjoy the premium sound system.
Keyless entry and start is standard on the IS 350C, saving the driver the inconvenience of fumbling for the key fob. Once inside, driving enthusiasts enjoy sports car-type amenities such as bolstered seats, aluminum pedals and digital information display in the gauge cluster.
A locking glovebox provides secure storage inside the passenger compartment. Other storage compartments and cupholders are on the sparse side, but are adequate for two passengers.
At night, ambient lighting in the foot-wells makes it easier to see inside the car.
The Lexus IS 350 C comes with front, side, driver and front passenger knee airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control. Lexus Safety Connect automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision, and can also assist with stolen vehicle location.
Other standard safety features include tire pressure monitoring and a first aid kit in the trunk.
The ISC is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: A stylish, powerful convertible hardtop that has the safety, insulation and structural integrity to serve as a four-season car.
Model: IS 350 C
Base price: $46,890
As tested: $55,389
Horsepower: 306 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 277 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg city/highway
Comment:* The manufacturer requires the use of 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
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