When Lexus chopped the top off the IS model, it not only added a convertible to its lineup, but made some much-needed updates to the cabin tech. The 2010 Lexus IS 350 C uses a retractable hard top. We like the extra weather protection provided by a hard top over a soft top, but aren't as keen on how the new top changes the car's profile, which looked just fine on the IS 350.
This Transformer-like folding top also means a reduction in usable space: when the top is down, the trunk is limited to a narrow band, barely big enough for a single golf bag. Where the standard IS has four doors, the IS C loses the rear doors, although Lexus assists entry to the back seats with power forward buttons on the front seat shoulders.
Using the same power train as the standard IS 350, a 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic, the Lexus IS 350 C feels powerful from the moment you press the engine start button. The electroluminescent gauge needles do a little dance as the engine turns over, tracing the circumference of speedometer and tachometer before settling into their jobs.
That engine produces a peak 306 horsepower at 6,400rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque at 4,800rpm, enough to make 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, according to Lexus. With variable-valve timing and direct injection, the engine works efficiently at high revolutions per minute, but at lower rpms it actually switches to a set of secondary port injectors to lessen engine noise.
To really get the IS 350 C going, a switch on the dash puts it into power mode, making the accelerator more responsive. That switch also controls a snow mode, reducing torque to the rear wheels to limit wheel spin in slippery conditions. The transmission also has sport and manual modes, making it clear that Lexus intends the IS 350 C as a sports car as well as a summer cruiser.
Testing out the car's sporting characteristics on mountain roads, we found it really wanted to take off initially, the engine putting plenty of power to the rear wheels, convincing us it would be an able BMW 3-series competitor. In sport mode, the transmission did a reasonable job of keeping the engine speed high, although it wasn't too aggressive. In manual mode, gear shifts were not particularly sharp, cursed by the automatic transmission's torque converter. Lexus doesn't make a manual transmission available on the IS 350 C.
Even with the transmission, the car feels like a good sports car up to the first six tenths of hard driving, but, pushing it further, things start to go a little haywire. Diving into a corner at speed, understeer reared its ugly head, and attempts to correct it with more throttle caused the suspension to feel unsettled, leaving the steering vague. Body roll was also very apparent, along with significant suspension travel. Lexus sells a line of performance parts designed for the IS, so some of these handling issues could be corrected with a suspension upgrade, although that would mean a harsher ride.
From the car's interior materials, it's clear it leans a little more toward luxury than sport. Soft plastics over the dashboard have a texture that suggests quality. The leather seats are power adjustable, comfortable, and ventilated, with controls for heating and cooling on the console, a nice extra with a convertible. Buttons on the center stack and steering wheel are all well-designed, and show good fit and finish. With the top up, there is a soft headliner material that feels like felt. Not many cars carry off this extreme feeling of comfort and luxury, even from well-known brands such as Mercedes-Benz.