Butler County Times Gazette
  • Silvio Calabi: Lexus IS 350C is a four-season convertible

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  • Convertibles are iffy things. In cold climates, their seasonal window is short, if sweet. Ironically, that goes for warm climates also, where it’s often too hot to run around topless. In urban areas, there’s the risk that some villain will slice through the fabric top and help himself to your E-ZPass and your iPad. And finally, a car without its roof also lacks an important bit of bracing, so some convertibles shimmy like belly dancers. Convertibles, then, are like hot tubs and home exercise machines — great ideas that don’t quite pan out in everyday life.
    Even this Lexus IS 350C isn’t perfect, although it comes closer than many other droptops. Its top is aluminum, fully lined and with a glass back window; in place, it looks like the real thing. Push a button, and the roof unlatches itself from the windscreen, folds up into three sections, and hides itself away under a panel behind the back seats.
    (Back seats? Why, yes — the IS 350C is one of those rare birds, a two-row convertible. Come to think of it, convertibles themselves are getting as scarce as clutch pedals now. That’s reality overcoming daydreams, I suppose. Speaking of reality, these rear seats are almost unusable, at least by anyone with legs.)
    Top up, the IS-C is as weatherproof and quiet as any other Lexus; top down, it’s still remarkably quiet and composed. Top up or down, the car is as flex- and shudder-free as a bar of aircraft aluminum. So where’s the catch? There are two: First, that bulky roof eats up about three-quarters of the trunk space when it’s stowed away; and second, it adds a hefty $7,000 to the price of an IS 350 sedan. Speaking of heft, the origami mechanism also puts more weight onto an already heavy car. You can’t really feel it, though; this is neither a hard-core sportster nor a lightweight mileage-miser.
    No, the IS 350C is a classic boulevardier, an almost reasonably priced luxurious ride for two that would be right at home descending the switchbacks of the Corniche on a sunny day into Monte Carlo, where our yacht awaits on the blue Mediterranean Sea. Its 3.5-liter V-6 engine churns out a sufficiency of 306 velvety horses and 277 torques, and an automatic transmission feeds that power without a hiccup to the rear wheels. In addition to the usual data (mpg, range, air temperature, etc.), the driver’s display can indicate which of the six gears is engaged — useful information as we flick the shifter paddles on the steering wheel in those hairpin bends.
    Our $48,000 IS 350C was equipped with the $2,550 F Sport package, which dresses up the car both inside (a sport steering wheel and shift knob, perforated aluminum pedals, and heated/ventilated leather seats) and outside (special grille and chin spoiler, 18-inch wheels). These are worthy improvements, but the real value is in the F Sport suspension upgrades that touch up the car’s handling without compromising the famous Lexus ride.
    Page 2 of 2 - Another $500 buys parking assistance with front and rear sensors, and the final option on our car was the $2,490 Navigation package. Its Lexus Enform infotainment suite includes Yelp, Facebook, OpenTable, Bing, Pandora and apps for weather, traffic, sports scores, stock and fuel prices, and of course AM, FM and SiriusXM radio plus a CD player. The satnav can gin up a split-screen view, with micro and macro perspectives of the car’s location.
    It’s all good, but this particular model lags behind its 2014 IS 350 sedan counterpart, which has just been overhauled inside and out. Probably because of the complex engineering of the folding roof, the convertible hasn’t yet gotten the 2.0 treatment, so the IS-C does not have, for example, Lexus’s new mouse-type computer controller or the larger dashboard screen, the eight-speed transmission, the praying-mantis grille or other up-to-the-second touches.
    The IS-C lineup, which also includes a less powerful and less expensive IS 250C, surely will be updated very soon, or replaced by … Lexus isn’t saying. So this might be an opportunity to haggle your way into a fine and well-sorted-out deluxe convertible at a never-again, closeout price.
    Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at calabi.silvio@gmail.com.

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