If you scour a Lexus dealer’s lot looking for its equivalent of a VW GTI, a BMW Mini, a Honda CRZ or a Ford Fiesta, you’ll be stranded there for some time.
The closest thing Lexus comes to a sporty little car that zips around without calling too much attention to itself with big engine grumbling is the IS-C – the automakers two-door convertible.
The Lexus IS-C is a two-door, hardtop coup with simple, slicked back body stylings. For the purpose of this test drive, we had the 250 version with a manual transmission. (When in doubt, always opt for stick – preferably on the floor. If you spend too much time with an automatic transmission, you end up merely steering, not driving.)
As one of the smallest Lexus vehicles, the IS-C offers up to 30 MPG highway. That’s an impressive engineering feat when you consider the extra weight built into its convertible body. For the would-be convertible fans out there, when you remove the roof from a car chassis, you sacrifice stability. So, car designers build an additional stabilizers to the underbody to secure the car. That adds weight and often makes for a thirstier car.
Not only does the IS-C escape that fate, it also qualifies as a Certified Low Emission Vehicle.
As for that hard top, a simple pair of switches activates an automated process – pulling the old Optimus Prime routine until your roof folds away into your trunk space. You’ll go from hard top to ears in the wind in less than 15 seconds. If you have kids, surprise them with it. It freaks them out and provides bonus value for your Lexus purchase.
As with all Lexus editions, the interior comes packed with technology and luxury appointments. Just for starters, you get leather, heated and ventilated seats, dual climate control, voice activated navigation, Sirius XM and power everything. Lexus knows what one of their drivers expects the moment his or her behinds hit those power seats, and they provide it.
There are some quibbles over the IS-C, though. It falls into that Lexus neutral zone of separating you from the sensory experience of driving with its loads of technology. Computers monitor everything from your suspension to your fuel usage. Those kinds of features probably appeal to older, responsible, safety conscious drivers. I’m not one of those, so maybe it’s a personal thing.
But the car does suffer from a slight lack of power. For a smaller car with a 2.5 liter V6, you expect more “oomph” when you hit that rectangular pedal to the right of the steering column. But, while the speed build-up is smooth and consistent, that 0-60 time isn’t scaring anybody at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
You might point out to me that we’re talking about a Lexus here, and gutsy performance takes defers to sophistication and no worries cruising for that brand – unless we’re looking at the wonderful IS F or the ridiculous LFA. But the 250’s V6 plays like a distant four cylinder cousin at times. If you look to unload the $40,000+ it takes to drive an IS-C home, go the extra money for the 350 variety.
Power aside, the only feature that really matters on the IS-C is that carefree hardtop. Anyone who buys an IS-C does so just so he or she can wait for magic hour on those warm summer evenings. Then it’s time to drop the top and drive the streets of your town in affordable luxury – while those be-roofed drivers learn to hate you for your good fortune.