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2011 Lexus IS C Overview
The typical recipe for a convertible is to take a popular coupe or sedan, chop the top, and reinforce everything else. So much structural rigidity is lost in removing the top that hundreds of pounds of additional bracing is needed in order to prevent the newly shorn vehicle from collapsing in on itself like an aging star.
The IS C is different. From the beginning, it was designed as a convertible. Rather than modifying the design of the IS sedan, Lexus instead created a unique platform for its entry-level luxury drop-top, with increased structural rigidity from the get-go.
It shows. The IS C is surprisingly solid. It’s not perfect, and some dreaded cowl shake will announce itself over larger bumps, but it’s better than most. Sadly, that’s just not enough. When competing with entries like the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A5, the bar is quite high even at the entry level, and the difference can definitely be felt here.
The IS C comes in two trims whose names denote the engine found on the other side of the firewall. The IS 250C features a 2.5-liter version of the Toyota GR engine. That means an all-aluminum block, head, and lower intake manifold, blessed with dual variable valve timing and direct injection. With 204 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, the 2.5 won’t exactly peel your eyelids back, but it’ll get the job done. It’s the perfect engine for working on your tan during a weekend ride.
But there is another option. With more than 100 extra horses, the 3.5-liter engine that powers the IS 350C will not disappoint. In the sedan, this all-aluminum, twin-injection V6 can get to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. The convertible is only a few hundred pounds heavier and should do it in under 6 seconds with ease. Besides, there are faster cars out there if you’re looking for speed, and the 3.5 is a hell of an engine, having made Ward’s 10 Best list in 2006 – 2009.
While the 250 gets the option of a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, the 350 gets no such flexibility and is saddled with the automatic by default. The 250 gets 19/27 mpg with the manual and 21/30 with the automatic. The 350's 100+ extra horses mean a drop, but it’s only to 20/27, and that’s not much of a penalty for all the extra power, not that you’ll be calculating fuel efficiency with the hardtop down.
That’ll take 20 seconds, by the way. An all-electric setup, avoiding the hydraulic/electric combo that many manufacturers employ, the all-aluminum top even features a brake system that slows its descent right before fully deploying or stowing. And if you want more sophisticated climate adjustment, there are standard dual-zone automatic climate controls and even optional heated and ventilated front seats. The latter is a standalone option or can be purchased as part of a Luxury Package that also adds a memory system, wood trim, rain-sensing wipers, and steering-linked bi-xenon headlights.
Other options include Lexus’s Pre-Collision Safety System, a navigation system, and an obstacle detection system, all of which can add more than $5,000 to the sticker price.
Lexus was smart to offer the IS C, and they’ve done everything right so far. The problem is its competitors did it right, too, many years ago. With all that time to adjust and focus on all the little problems a convertible introduces, Audi and BMW are just ahead of the game. Additional refinement to the chassis to further reduce cowl shake, a competent manual option for the 350, and some extra power for the 250 would do a lot to improve the overall feel of the IS C. It might even be enough to match the 3 Series or the A5. But for now, Lexus has some catching up to do.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.