LEXUS HAS LOPPED the roof off its popular IS 250 sedan to create the IS 250C. The result, a two-door four-seater with metal folding roof, is only the second drop-top in Lexus’ 20-year history.
Like every Lexus, build quality and attention to the smallest detail is brilliant. But the style? No, not such a happy place.
Sure, there is some 'look-at-me' appeal with the metal roof folded away, but, roof up, the bulging bum and slab sides to the rear quarter - necessary to accommodate the roof in the boot - just don't marry with the lean pinched curve of the hardtop.
The inoffensive (if a little anonymous) chunky lines of the IS 250 don't translate to the convertible.
More importantly, if the IS 250C is on your shopping list, the adoption of a folding hardtop brings with it a number of other compromises that bear some consideration.
In short, everything.
Although the nose may look familiar, the IS 250C shares little with the IS 250 sedan. All sheetmetal - bar the bonnet and front quarter panels – is unique to the convertible and the front and rear bumpers are also markedly different to the sedan’s.
The door count has been reduced from four to two, the metal roof now retracts electrically into the boot and everything rearward of the doors is entirely different.
To restore chassis rigidity there’s a multitude of under-body braces and reinforcements, and the rear suspension system has been revised to provide more space for the folding roof.
Inside, the dashboard, centre console, steering wheel and pedals are the same as the sedan, but all other cabin trim and fittings are new.
What's the appeal?
The IS 250C, like most luxury drop-tops, is more fashion accessory than car.
It looks far more distinctive than the IS sedan, and with the top down it offers the carefree joys of wind-in-the-hair driving.
It’s also reasonably useful. There’s space for four people in its cabin, and with the roof up luggage room is decent.
The IS 250C Sport that we tested also packs a lot of high-tech equipment as standard. This makes it a strong value proposition - dollar for dollar - when compared to most of its European rivals.
What features does it have?
The Sport is the mid-spec model in the IS 250C range.
But being mid-spec doesn't see it missing out on life's little luxuries: dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, auto-on halogen headlights, keyless entry and ignition and puddle lights.
An auto-dimming rear view mirror, reversing camera and front/rear parking sensors are all standard.
Also standard is radar-assisted active cruise control while satellite navigation and a seven-inch touchscreen interface are standard across the hardtop range.
Sound is piped through an eight-speaker audio system, which features both a USB and a 3.5mm auxillary input for portable music players.
Nothing wrong with that list.
What's under the bonnet?
Lexus’ versatile 4GR-FSE 2.5 litre naturally-aspirated V6 is used by all IS 250C models.
This is the same engine that features in the IS 250 sedan.
Peak power is a quite respectable 153kW at 6400rpm, while torque tops out at 252Nm at 4800rpm.
Those figures come at a premium at the bowser. Due to the more efficient direct-injection system, the engine needs to drink 95 RON petrol.
The V6 is married to a six-speed automatic (unlike the sedan, there’s no manual option for the convertible) and power is taken to the rear wheels.
In addition to a ‘Sport’ shift mode, the transmission features a tiptronic function on the gearshifter as well as paddles behind the steering wheel for manual gear selection.
Suspension is independent all around, with double wishbones up front and a multi-link system at the rear. Front suspension geometry is similar to the sedan, but the rear suspension has been modified to improve boot space.
Disc brakes are fitted to all four wheels, with the rear discs being larger than those used by the IS 250 sedan.
How does it drive?
This where we become aware of the first of the compromises.
Despite the extra braces, gussets and other reinforcements that Lexus has engineered-in to the 250C, there is a noticeable 'looseness' to the chassis and body when the roof is down.
Scuttle shake is clearly evident on rough roads, and the steering column and rear view mirror vibrate noticeably on broken pavement.
Roof up and locked in place, it feels reasonably rigid, but, unfortunately, you will need to learn to live with a little annoying body-flex with the roof down.
On the plus side, the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension afford good grip in corners, and stowing the heavy roof in the boot lends the IS 250C a more neutral – even tail-heavy – weight balance.
Unfortunately, the extra weight of the chassis engineering and the steel folding roof blunts the 250C's performance.
Weighing some 130-odd kilograms over the sedan’s kerb mass, the convertible carries a significant weight burden. The 2.5 litre V6, although willing to rev, is overtasked by the IS 250C’s 1750kg frame, and ultimately there’s not enough torque to provide brisk acceleration.
Nine seconds is the official 0-100km/h claim, and we’ve no reason to contest it.
Where the IS 250C excels though is as a boulevard cruiser. It’s far more at home trundling down city streets than blasting down a sinuous B-road. The monotube dampers iron out most bumps and dips easily, but deep corrugations and harsh bumps can upset the convertible’s composure.
Ride quality is best with the roof up. Fact is, the IS 250C feels a heck of a lot more solid - and a lot more secure on the road - with the roof securely latched to the windscreen frame.
The six-speed automatic is a good thing during normal driving. In 'drive', gearshifts are smoothly slurred, but performance can be a little leisurely. The car’s preference for higher gears means response is pretty poor.
In ‘Sport’ mode, the shift map keeps the engine revving slightly higher and shifting later, which works better with the V6’s output.
Changing gears manually (using the paddles or tiptronic) can improve performance although the gearbox can be a little slow to downshift when a lower gear is selected.
Manual upshifts are quicker, but sometimes the engine can be left banging against the redline for a fraction of a second as the gearbox slots in the next ratio.
The upshot is that despite the sporting pretensions of the badge, the IS 250C Sport is a city car at heart.
It's at its best best slinking between trendy nightspots with the roof down and a cool breeze on the cheeks than running with the hares on a mountain road.
What did our passengers think?
The IS 250 is a relatively confined car to begin with, and interior space doesn’t get any better in the convertible.
Space for the front seats is about the same as the sedan, and both electrically-adjustable front pews are comfortable enough to sit in for long periods.
Legroom for the rear seats is only just adequate for a mid-sized adult though, and with the convertible’s rising beltline and the close proximity of the front seat’s backrest, sitting in the IS 250C’s rear can be somewhat claustrophobic.
That said, the rear seat squabs offer decent under-thigh support and the backrests have enough recline to give adequate upper-body comfort.
With the roof up, the cabin is quiet and well insulated from the outside elements thanks to the steel roof. Roof down, there’s not much in the way of wind buffeting and conversations between both front seat occupants can be easily had at highway speed.
Headroom is tight with the roof down and the position of the front seat rails crowds your inboard leg, but at least there are two cupholders and two air-conditioning vents provided for the rear passengers. With the roof down, back seat buffeting isn’t that bad either.
Getting in and out of the backseat is made easier by front seats that slide and tilt forward at the touch of a button. But entering the back with the roof up is a far from graceful process thanks to the low roofline.
Interior quality and feel
On the whole, the quality of the interior is well above par. Dash and door trim plastics are soft to the touch and have a nice grain, while the harder plastics on the centre stack and centre console feel appropriately up-market.
The standard black leather upholstery is made from good quality hide, and it’s also applied to the door cards and rear side trims.
The fit and feel is typical Lexus. Remarkably - because it was such a surprise - there was one mystery rattle that made itself known during some roof-up driving on a potholed road (and later disappeared).
However, given the amount of flex that can be induced by poor-quality surfaces, the cabin and all of its fittings is impressively solid.
With the roof raised there’s ample storage space in the IS 250’s boot.
Lifting the bootlid is a tad more involving than it should be (the gas struts don’t seem to give quite as much assistance as they should), but the boot is both deep and wide and can swallow an impressive 553 litres of cargo.
All that space disappears as soon as the roof is stowed though, and a paltry 205 litres worth of space is left behind the stacked roof panels – just enough for one full-sized golf bag. That's also a compromise to consider.
Inside the cabin there’s at least a decent sized glovebox, a deep centre console box, long (but shallow) door bins and a cupholder for each seat.
How safe is it?
Traction control, stability control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all standard features of the IS 250C, as is Lexus’ accident-sensing Pre-Collision System.
The standard Active Cruise Control system of the Sport and Sports Luxury models certainly helps reduce the likelihood of highway mishaps too.
The IS 250C has yet to be tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but passive safety is catered for by dual front-airbags and dual side-airbags with integrated head ‘bags.
However, the IS 250C isn’t fitted with full-length curtain/head airbags, and back-seat passengers lack critical head protection in a side impact.
Three-point seatbelts are fitted to all four seats, and both back seats have integrated ISOFIX child seat anchorages as well as a top-tether point.
Fuel Consumption and Green Rating
Toyota says the IS 250C will return fuel consumption figures of 9.3 l/100km on the combined cycle, however our testing saw an average of 10.6.
Considering the 2.5 litre engine has to pull 1700-odd kilos of metal around, it’s a number that’s probably hard to improve upon. In the stop-start of suburban driving (where the majority of IS 250Cs are likely to spend their lives), fuel efficiency plumments.
The government’s Green Vehicle Guide rates the Lexus IS 250C as a four-star car, with a CO2 output of 219g/km. It has a greenhouse rating of 6 out of 10 and an air pollution rating of 8.5 out of 10.
How does it compare?
In the luxury convertible segment, there are plenty of contenders.
There’s the Audi A5 Cabriolet, BMW 3 Series Convertible, the newly-arrived Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabrio and the freshly-updated Volvo C70. However, for all but one of these, the Lexus represents the best value on purely a price comparison.
The BMW 325i Convertible may have a roomier interior and a sharper look, but it retails for around $16,000 more than the Lexus and doesn’t feature things like active cruise control or a reversing camera as standard.
Volvo’s C70 T5 bests the Lexus with its $69,950 pricetag and grunty turbocharged engine but its long option lists make the Volvo expensive to spec up to the same level as the Lexus.
Lexus offers a four-year/100,000km warranty on all new Lexus vehicles, including the IS 250C.Colour combinations
The IS 250C can be had in nine colours, including White Pearl, Silver Metallic (as seen on our tester), Blue Pearl, Sapphire (dark metallic purple), Flame Blue, Vermilion (burgundy), Midnight Metallic (dark blue), Graphite (dark silver) and Onyx (black).
The IS 250C range starts at $76,900 for the entry-level Prestige, rising to $81,900 for the Sports model tested here and topping out at $94,900 for the Sports Luxury. All prices do not include on-road costs.
There are no factory-fitted option packages for the IS 250C.
The IS 250C is a mix of opposites.
With the roof up, it looks more than a little ungainly from certain angles, but then it drives better.
Open the roof, and the 250C might almost be considered attractive, but the drive suffers.
The engine is free-revving, but lacks urge, and the six-speed tiptronic-style transmission doesn't operate with the decisiveness we would like.
That said, it is a matter of looking at the car for what it is - a 'life-style' car for those who put a premium on quality.
And, while it is not a real 'Sport' model - not in the sense of a performance car - it is capable of more than just cruising down a shop-lined innercity street.
If you feel you can live with its inevitable compromises, the IS 250C Sport is worth a close look. Especially if you value exclusive comfort and superb fit and finish.
The IS 250C is generously appointed and represents buying value compared to much of its competition, but is bested dynamically by its European competitors.