2010 Lexus IS 250C Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
August 29, 2009

Can’t make up your mind between practicality and performance in a convertible? The 2010 Lexus IS 350C is a nice, sporty middle ground for top-down thrills.

The experts at TheCarConnection.com have thoroughly tested the 2010 Lexus IS Convertible and compiled this full review from a range of other sources to bring you useful highlights. This Bottom Line review sums up the opinion and observations of TheCarConnection.com’s editors and compares the IS C to rival convertibles.

The 2010 Lexus IS C is the second convertible model to come from Lexus and the first time the brand has offered a more compact, affordable luxury drop-top. The model isn’t as overtly sporty and compromised as a roadster—thanks to a real backseat and an excellent folding hardtop—but it’s more exciting than "cruiser" convertibles.

While it shares many features with the IS sedans, the IS C’s silhouette is very different from the sedans, and nearly all of its panels are unique. The IS-C isn’t as drop-dead gorgeous as the upcoming Audi A5 ragtop or as purposeful as the BMW 3-Series Convertible. It has the same rakish hoodline and assertive stance as the IS sedan from the front, but from the side and back it appears a little plain and conservative. The look could even be called out as a bit too slab-sided from the doors back through the rear fenders. Inside, it’s a similar tale; the IS C’s cabin isn’t stunningly beautiful, but it’s attractive. Its instrument panel is almost identical to that in the IS sedans. Fortunately, you won’t find a complicated interface like BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI; that leaves a few more buttons and a little more clutter, but most will be happy with the trade-off. A few flamboyant two-tone color choices for the interior break from the straitlaced look, but not all are so well coordinated.

The sporty but conservative appearance carries through to the way the 2010 IS C drives, but it’s by no means boring. Handling is a strong point; the IS C steers and handles with way more verve than lesser cruisers like the Toyota Solara, Pontiac G6, or Chrysler Sebring, and it surely trumps better-dressed front-drivers like Volvo C70 and Volkswagen Eos for poise in the corners. TheCarConnection.com unequivocally recommends the IS 350C over the IS 250C. The smooth 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6 in the Lexus IS 250 sedan has little more than adequate power in the IS sedan, but the extra 300 pounds or so of the IS C leaves it feeling sluggish, whether with the notchy six-speed manual (offered only in the 250) or excellent six-speed automatic. The Lexus IS 350C gets the 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and a complete change of character, with brisk acceleration, though the experience is still rather sedate; the six-speed automatic responds well but doesn’t bring out the performance character. The left paddle shifter just behind the steering wheel commands a temporary downshift in Drive or a lasting one if you pull the shift knob over to the left, but in either case, there’s no throttle-blipping or rev-matching as on many newer performance models. Braking ability is strong, but the pedal feel isn’t as firm as some might expect from a sporty coupe. Overall, the Lexus IS C models are almost high-performance cars in many respects, though they don’t quite stand up to the top rivals like the BMW 3-Series.

Review continues below

The piece de resistance of the Lexus IS C is its retractable hardtop arrangement. The hardtop is a home run, as it’s made of lightweight aluminum, folds into three neat sections, and forms a tight, weatherproof barrier from weather and noise. It’s fast (opening or closing in around 20 seconds), yet one of the smoothest-actuating of any we’ve experienced. With the top stowed, wind buffeting is quite good, and it’s even better with the available windscreen.

Seating and cargo are the IS C’s strengths. Top up or down, the IS C has more of a spacious feel inside than most might expect—especially in back.  While the seats in front are well proportioned and comfortable for daily driving, with a slimmer-seatback design that aids rear legroom, they won’t hold you in place in corners like the aggressively bolstered sport seats in the high-performance IS-F. The two seats in back are real ones—not just a bench for kids, as in some convertibles—and two normal-size adults will be just fine for a few hours. Getting in and out isn’t a big deal either; a simple rocker switch powers the seat forward and then back to the original position. This 6'6” editor even fit in the backseat with knees splayed apart; it should be noted that rear headroom is tight in back with the top up, though. The tall, wide side sills, rather tall doors, and tall roll hoops in back help impart a feeling of security; however, the high beltline around to the decklid could give smaller rear occupants a bathtub feel. Everyone gets a cup holder, and there are plenty of smaller cubbies. Interior trims aren’t anything special in appearance of feel, but the perforated, ventilated leather seats (optional) are a boon to comfort. Trunk space is vast with the top up, and there’s still enough space for weekend bags with the top stowed away.

The Lexus IS Convertible is a new model and hasn’t yet been crash-tested, but we’ll keep you posted as results are available. The IS sedan receives a mix of four- and five-star ratings from the federal government and a noteworthy five-star rollover rating. From that, the IS C’s body has been braced and strengthened throughout, so we expect it to do at least as well; in addition to the stouter side sills, the doors receive additional reinforcements, and the underbody has additional welds and bracing that aid handling and safety. Seat-mounted side airbags are standard, as is Lexus’ advanced VDIM stability system. A Pre-Collision System is on the options list.

Feature content is similar between the 2010 Lexus IS 250C and IS 350C. Lexus makes plenty of high-tech options available, such as Intuitive Park Assist, Adaptive Front Lighting with bi-xenon headlamps, and a voice-activated navigation system. Both the sound system and the climate control system automatically change their operation depending on whether the top is up or down. Aside from factory options, also of note is what’s offered for the IS C in a new line of F Sport dealer-installed accessories. There, for a somewhat high price, buyers can spice up the IS C’s appearance with wheel upgrades and special trims, add a more vocal exhaust, or upgrade the suspension and brakes.

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2010 Lexus IS 250C

Styling

The 2010 Lexus IS C is neither stunning nor gorgeous—"understated" would be a better way to describe it.

Like most vehicles in the Lexus lineup, the 2010 Lexus IS C range of convertibles is unremarkable in its execution. Its styling won’t inspire much emotion, but at least there will be few negative reactions to the look of the Lexus IS C.

The 2010 Lexus IS C is an “entry-level luxury convertible,” according to Autoblog, and it features what Lexus calls “the world’s fastest opening three-piece metal hardtop.” Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com contain muted reaction to the new 2010 Lexus IS C’s exterior appearance; Motor Trend says “you’ll recognize the C as a member of the IS family, yet every body panel save the hood is new.” Exterior styling elements on the Lexus IS 250C and 350C include “a rising belt line that leads back to an elongated rear decklid,” which Kelley Blue Book asserts “improves trunk space but results in a vehicle that is actually longer than its sedan counterpart.” Car and Driver reviewers observe that the 2010 Lexus IS C “varies not a nanometer from the established Lexus path,” as the overall look suggest a “sedan that has met the hacksaw.” Edmunds effectively summarizes reviewer sentiment regarding the Lexus IS C, noting “it’s attractive enough in an inoffensive way, but you wouldn’t say that it has any real strength of character.”

One of the more impressive interior elements of the 2010 Lexus IS 250C and 350C is the fact that, as Motor Trend says, “the headliner covers everything,” leaving “not a brace or strut visible inside” despite the mechanicals that underpin the folding hardtop. The layout of the Lexus IS C’s interior is “modern and attractive,” according to Kelley Blue Book, but “the instrument panel features many similarly colored shapes and controls,” which can cause some confusion. Edmunds chooses to ignore this minor flaw, instead describing the Lexus IS C’s interior as a “well-crafted cockpit.” The one flaw that does come up repeatedly in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is the fact that some of the instruments can wash out in the sunlight, but overall the interior matches the exterior—pleasant, inoffensive, and largely unremarkable.

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2010 Lexus IS 250C

Performance

Performance in the 2010 Lexus IS C is extraordinarily good compared to cruiser convertibles, but it's not quite as sharp and well honed as rivals like the BMW 3-Series.

The new ad campaign for the 2010 Lexus IS C might try and convince you that the Lexus IS C is a sports convertible (not that anyone’s really sure what the 15-second spots are trying to convey), but don’t be fooled—as TheCarConnection.com’s editors point out, this is no BMW.

The two variants of the Lexus IS C are distinguished first and foremost by their unique powertrains. Car and Driver says “the engine choices—a 204-hp, 2.5-liter V-6 and a 306-hp, 3.5-liter V-6-are identical to the IS sedan’s,” but the added weight of the Lexus IS C makes them somewhat less exciting in this application. In the Lexus IS 250C, Autoblog reports that 0-60 mph “arrives in an estimated 8.4 seconds—only a half second slower than the sedan…but from the driver’s seat, it feels far slower than Lexus’ claimed five-tenths.” The 3.5-liter in the 2010 Lexus IS 350C is somewhat more capable, however, as Motor Trend notes that “Lexus claims 0-60 in 5.8 sec, which feels right.” Regardless of which option you choose, Autoblog feels that “this convertible is made for the boulevard” and not the drag strip.

The Lexus IS C lineup can claim an enthusiast-oriented manual transmission, but it's only available with the Lexus IS 250C. Autoblog reviewers state that the less-powerful model “is available with either a six-speed manual or automatic, and [the] IS 350C is packaged exclusively...with the self-shifting six-speed.” The automatics do come with paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but Jalopnik says they are more or less unnecessary, since “the canned programming does an admirable job of predicting your intentions.” The manual isn’t quite so well received; Edmunds feels “the sloppy linkage makes you think of a Mustang V6 rental car from the 1990s,” and many reviewers recommend opting for the automatic.

One area where the 2010 Lexus IS C remains competitive with its German counterparts is in terms of fuel economy, especially in Lexus IS 250C trim. According to the official EPA estimates, the 2010 Lexus IS 250C should get 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with the manual transmission, while the automatic boasts a 21/29 rating. The 2010 Lexus IS 350C, meanwhile, delivers a respectable 18 mpg city and 25 mpg on the open road.

The Lexus IS C can’t quite hang with most sports convertibles in the acceleration department, but it really begins to fall behind when it comes to handling. Autoblog reviewers feel it's pretty easy to tell that Lexus’s tuning “emphasized luxury over sport,” as “both the steering and handling felt like they were set on ‘shopping.’” Car and Driver agrees the Lexus IS C isn’t a canyon carver, claiming you feel the convertible’s extra weight “in corners where this weighty ship rolls and porpoises a bit more than the sedan.” The flip side of the less aggressive suspension tuning is that the Lexus IS C offers a soft and supple ride, with Motor Trend labeling the car “supple without being mushy.” When it comes time to stop, Jalopnik reports that the optional F-Sport brakes provide “snappy stops” thanks to the “giant cross drilled brakes” included with the package.

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2010 Lexus IS 250C

Comfort & Quality

Seating is the strength of this convertible; compared to most other ragtop or hardtop models, the 2010 Lexus IS C offers a roomier, more refined experience.

Although the 2010 Lexus IS C lineup has two fewer doors than its sedan counterpart, the coupe/convertible is actually a larger car. The reason for this is that Lexus wanted the IS C to feature a usable trunk, even with the top down, and to provide ample amounts of rear seat passenger room. While the Lexus IS C succeeds in accomplishing the latter, its success with the former is debatable.

Passengers inside the new 2010 Lexus IS C lineup will surely be surprised at the amount of space afforded by the capacious interior, especially up front. Jalopnik reports that the front seats, which are “unique to the convertible,” get a “thinner frame to maximize rear legroom,” and Edmunds asserts that the seats “offer support without making a point of it.” The rear passenger area houses two seats divided by a center console, and unlike with some coupes and convertibles, reports read by TheCarConnection.com show that the rear seat is actually livable. Motor Trend reviewers feel it’s possible “to pack a pair of adults in back for moderate jaunts,” but Kelley Blue Book warns that “normal-sized adults may find them too confining for longer journeys.” Compared to the IS sedan, Autoblog says the Lexus IS C suffers from “five inches less leg room, eight inches less shoulder room, and ten inches less hip room” in the back, though “it’s not as bad as it might sound—if the driver isn’t an NBA guard…a person of average height will be fine for a local trip.”

One of the benefits of the extended length of the 2010 Lexus IS C as compared with the sedan is that it allows for a modicum of trunk space even with the hardtop stowed. Autoblog has measured that, “with the top up, you get 10.8 cubic feet of space” in the trunk, while “with the top down, you’ll have 2.36 cubic feet to work with.” Motor Trend reviewers are quick to point out that the Lexus IS 250C and 350C models have “more trunk volume than do many retractables,” but ConsumerGuide cautions that “cabin storage on both body styles is mediocre.”

Lexus might be trying to undercut the competition in terms of price, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to sacrifice when it comes to quality. Car and Driver isn’t surprised to learn “the IS convertible features Lexus fit and finish,” while Jalopnik feels that “everything from the leather to the most inconsequential switches are top notch.” ConsumerGuide agrees, giving the 2010 Lexus IS C high marks for its “rich-looking upholstery, soft-touch surfaces, and high-grade plastics.”

A hardtop convertible has both pros and cons when compared to a cloth retractable, but one of the biggest pluses is that a hardtop is significantly better at providing a quiet cabin environment with the top up. ConsumerGuide describes the wind noise as “modest, and wind rush isn’t intrusive top-down in the convertibles at highway speeds.” Other reviewers offer similar assessments, with Motor Trend claiming that, “with the top up, there’s nary a squeak or creak from the top—impressive—and minimal windnoise.” Overall, the Lexus IS 250C and 350C convertibles are very quiet and refined at cruising speeds.

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2010 Lexus IS 250C

Safety

A reinforced body structure, plus all the expected safety features, means the 2010 Lexus IS C is no slouch in protection.

The 2010 Lexus IS C convertible lineup boasts top-notch safety features inside and out. Although the Lexus IS C has not yet been crash tested, it offers enough to keep most consumers satisfied even without the attendant test scores.

The 2010 Lexus IS 250C and 350C haven’t yet undergone IIHS or NHTSA crash tests, but the IS sedan on which they are based scores an acceptable mix of four- and five-star ratings. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also point out that the 2010 Lexus IS C is strengthened above and beyond the standard IS sedan, so the scores should come in somewhat higher for the convertible. Stay tuned to TheCarConnection.com for the latest updates on the Lexus IS C’s crash-test scores.

Inside the Lexus IS 250C and 350C, drivers will find a long list of standard safety features working in concert to keep all occupants safe. Kelley Blue Book states that “standard safety features include anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, front airbags and seat-mounted airbags that protect the head and torso of front-seat occupants.” Convertibles present a slew of additional safety problems when the top is down, but Edmunds reports that “a pop-up rollover bar behind the rear seats adds a dimension of safety, as do lateral beams behind and below the rear seats.” In short, Lexus appears to have done everything right when it comes to safety features on the 2010 Lexus IS C lineup.

The Lexus IS 250C and its quicker brother the 350C both afford drivers a tremendous amount of visibility, especially with their tops down. ConsumerGuide says that visibility from within the convertibles is “far better to the rear corners” than on the sedans, “thanks to fold-down rear headrests and narrow roof pillars.” Kelley Blue Book adds that “outward visibility is decent with the top raised and enhanced by rear headrests that flip down with the pull of a lever placed within reach of the driver.” Whether the top is up or down, however, visibility directly behind the car can be compromised during parking-lot maneuvers. Fortunately, Kelley Blue Book reports that a “back-up camera” and “front and rear parking sensors” are available on the entire Lexus IS C lineup.

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2010 Lexus IS 250C

Features

Plenty of high-tech factory options, plus a new line of dealer-installed performance accessories, mean you'll be able to get almost all the features you want on the 2010 Lexus IS C.

Like any Lexus worth its price tag, the 2010 Lexus IS C lineup gets a full range of high-tech features, some standard and many optional. The Lexus IS C lineup is also priced very competitively, and when you consider the cost of a car like the Lexus IS 250C, you’ll realize it’s a true luxury bargain.

The inherent differences between a convertible like the 2010 Lexus IS C and the standard IS sedan lineup require several changes to the car’s features, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that Lexus engineers have risen to the challenge. Motor Trend reports that one example is in the audio volume tuning, as the Lexus IS C’s “audio system volume adjustments are reprogrammed when the top is down, and the HVAC system knows to deliver more air.” The audio system similarly “alters the equalization for the top being up or down,” according to reviewers at Kelley Blue Book. Reviewers there add that, “in terms of entertainment, the [2010 Lexus] IS C features an eight-speaker audio system with six-disc CD changer, satellite radio and a USB interface for portable music players.” One new feature for the Lexus IS 250C and 350C convertibles is a revised heating system, which Autoblog says offers “increased ventilation for cooling, and the heating elements have been included in the seat shoulders – good stuff for when the top is down in chilly weather.”

In order to keep the base price for the entry-level Lexus IS 250C below the competition, Lexus has had to make many features optional instead of standard. Fortunately, Kelley Blue Book says that, for convenience, “many of the options offered for the Lexus IS C are bundled in the Luxury Package, which includes rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats with memory, HID adaptive front lighting and semi-aniline leather trim.”

Although the IS C isn't offered with the powertrain or go-fast hardware of the blazingly quick Lexus IS F sedan, it's inspired “a line of F-Sport performance accessories” that Car and Driver says include “forged 19-inch wheels, a cold-air intake, a cat-back exhaust,” and a “short-throw shifter” for the Lexus IS 250C with the manual transmission. Last but not least, TheCarConnection.com’s research shows that a navigation system can be optioned onto the Lexus IS C lineup, and Autoblog reports that it “uses an auto-fill feature like predictive text,” and has a system that allows for “voice commands [to] be more informal (e.g. “Call Bob at home”).”

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