Competent Across the Board
I recently attended the launch of the 2013 Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h in Newberg, Oregon USA. Rather than fly, as journalists so often do, I drove to the event, which was a 1,200 km round trip. The vehicle that carried me to and fro is the subject of this review.
Convertible hardtop - best of both worlds
The Lexus IS is a compact four-door sports sedan. When a 'C' is added to the badging, it becomes a two-door convertible coupe that seats four occupants. The 'C' could just as easily represent "competent."
While its cabin is less spacious than the sedan, the hardtop convertible lid is so well executed that it's difficult to discern from within that the roof fully retracts into the trunk. Even from the outside, the car conceals its roofless alter, preferring to appear simply as a sleek coupe when the roof is in place.
IS 250 C milder than 350 C
The 2012 Lexus IS 250 C rides upon a rear-wheel-drive platform and relies upon a smaller V6 engine for propulsion than its IS 350 C sibling. That's okay, because it still has plenty of oomph when needed while returning better fuel economy.
The polished mill displaces 2.5 litres, generating 204 hp @ 6,400 rpm and 185 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm. It's fastened to a 6-speed automatic transmission featuring shift paddles. Fuel economy with the autobox is pegged at 9.8L/100km and 6.7L/100km, city and highway driving respectively.
The 306-hp IS 350 C is rated at a thirstier 11.5L/100km and 7.9L/100km city/highway. This is a powerful vehicle, and with a base MSRP of $57,000, it's also significantly more expensive than its calmer brother, the IS 250 C, which is listed at $49,100.
Unless big power is a big need, I'd recommend forgoing the IS 350 C in favour of the more sensible brother. The congenial, soothing performance of its smaller powerplant delivers plenty of pleasure and contentment.
The standout attribute of this engine isn't its power but its refinement. I was delighted by its quiet, ultra-smooth operation and performance. It really reinforces the notion that the IS 250 C is, at its core, a luxury vehicle. But don't let that orientation delude into thinking that it's not directionally capable as well.
Sweet-spot between handling and ride quality
My run to Newberg and back provided an extended opportunity to evaluate the ride comfort versus handling equation of my tester, and I'm happy to report that it was ideal in all situations.
The car delivers an absorbent, composed ride that's not mushy by any means. In fact, it's more on the sporty side than the revised ES series launched at the Newberg program; that vehicle emphasized comfort over handling, whereas the IS strikes a slightly more aggressive balance.
I purposely sought out secondary roads in the US, avoiding the freeway much of the time. It was on these twisty traffic-free stretches of tarmac that the responsive, direct steering of the IS 250 C was appreciated.
The car settles nicely into a curve, holding its line with precision and predictability as its 18" rear wheels push it off the apex and through to the next bend. Nice indeed.
Special Edition leather and more
The IS Series is a generously equipped luxury car with few available option packages. My tester was the Special Edition version of the IS 250 C, which added $3,400 to its MSRP.
In return, Special Edition packaging includes the 18" alloy wheels, a backup camera in the navigation display, clearance and backup sensors, voice-activated HDD navigation (most helpful on my trip) and red leather upholstery.
The automatic transmission with paddle-shift added another $1,600 to the bottom line, which saw my tester's price tag climb to $54,100 before taxes and delivery charges, which is a few thousand less than the Volvo C70 T5, the closest competitor to the IS 250 C.
However, both the Volvo and Lexus are considerably more expensive than the Chrysler 200 hardtop convertible, which starts at just $30,095 and works its way up to the $40K mark.
The final word
The Lexus IS 250 C is a tremendously rewarding vehicle to drive, roof up or roof down. It's ultra smooth and refined, and its cabin is beautifully constructed, offering adequate room for four adult occupants. Luggage room is on the tight side though, with little usable trunk space remaining when the roof is retracted.
While it's not the least expensive four-seat hardtop convertible (Chrysler owns that title), it's on the lower end of the price range for an upscale hardtop droptop, especially one that's as competent across the board.
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