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There's surely a place in the market between edgy roadsters or sports cars and cushy luxury cruiser-convertibles, and the Lexus IS C models hit that middle ground. The IS C is only the second convertible model to come from Lexus, and this time around it's a more affordable offering. While the IS 250 C and IS 350 C aren't overtly sporty, they're not nearly as compromised thanks to a real backseat and an excellent folding hardtop.
The 2011 Lexus IS C lineup fits the mold for a retractable-hardtop convertible. Its styling won't inspire much emotion, and isn't stunning in the way of the Audi A5 ragtop or Mercedes-Benz E-Class Convertible. Partly to blame for that is the IS C's silhouette, which a little more 'generously' shaped in back than it should ideally be, in order to fit both a roomy trunk and a back seat.
The Lexus IS C won't provide sports-car-caliber driving excitement, but it does perform as well or nearly as well as most rival convertible models with a back seat—with fewer compromises overall.
The sporty but conservative look carries over to the way that the 2011 IS C drives. Handling is a strong point; the IS C steers and handles better than front-drivers like Volvo C70 and Volkswagen Eos, and has way more poise in the corners. Between the two models, our editors unequivocally recommend the IS 350C over the IS 250C. In the IS 250 sedan, the smooth 204-horsepower, 2.5-liter V-6 has little more than adequate power, so in the IS 250 C, which is about 300 pounds heavier, it feels sluggish and barely adequate, whether you take the notchy six-speed manual (offered only in the 250) or excellent six-speed automatic. You'll lose to minivans in Miracle Mile sprints. The Lexus IS 350C is the way to go; it 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 2011 Lexus IS C is actually a bit larger than the sedan; although it has two fewer doors than the sedan, it manages to package a usable trunk, even with the top down, and that takes some extra length. While the proportions might not look as neat as they could have, the tradeoff is that trunk space, plus decent back seat legroom—well, depending on your expectations. Seating and cargo are IS C's strengths, too. 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 sedan. 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.
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.
The 2011 Lexus IS C lineup has a full range of tech features, with many of the more common ones standard and some of the more leading-edge tech features optional. The Lexus IS C lineup is also quite the luxury bargain, when you consider its 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. 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. A Luxury Package adds rain-sensing wipers, HID adaptive front lighting (which now for 2011 are packaged together with LED running lamps), semi-aniline leather, and heated/ventilated seats with memory.
In addition to the factory options, a new line of F Sport dealer-installed accessories is offered on the IS C. 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.