2011 Lexus IS 250C Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 4, 2011

The 2011 Lexus IS C convertibles aren’t sports-car edgy, but they offer the practicality and refinement of cruise convertibles with a little more sportiness.

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.

Review continues below

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.

6

2011 Lexus IS 250C

Styling

The 2011 Lexus IS 250 C and IS 350 C aren’t stunning—more understatedly attractive.

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.

While it shares many features with the IS sedans, the IS C shape is quite different from the sedans, and nearly all of its panels are unique. 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.

6

2011 Lexus IS 250C

Performance

The 2011 Lexus IS C is no sports car, but it performs well without the obvious sacrifices of some other models in this class.

The 2011 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. But you won't find that 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; it shifts its weight around more on choppy surfaces, and the steering rarely reports back on remaining grip. Braking ability is strong, but the pedal feel isn't as firm as some might expect from a sporty coupe.

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 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.

9

2011 Lexus IS 250C

Comfort & Quality

The IS C models are top-notch for practicality and refinement, with a roomy cabin and spacious trunk to boot; a claustrophobic back seat is the only exception.

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.

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 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. 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, but it should be noted that rear headroom is still very tight in back with the top up, so you might only be able to cruise with taller companions top-down.

Especially with the top up, some might find themselves feeling a little pinned-in; the tall, wide side sills, rather tall doors, and tall roll hoops in back help impart a feeling of security, but especially in back there's something of 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.

Overall, the Lexus IS 250 C and IS 350 C are top-notch for refinement; they're very quiet and refined at highway speeds, and even with the top down there's not as much wind rush as most other convertibles.

8

2011 Lexus IS 250C

Safety

For convertible shoppers concerned about safety, the 2011 Lexus IS C models offer a relatively secure package.

The Lexus IS C convertibles haven't yet been crash-tested—and they might never be, given the IS C's relatively low-volume sales.

That said, the Lexus IS sedans have earned an impressive—but not excellent—set of safety ratings, including 'good' ratings for frontal and side impact and 'acceptable' for rear impact. And safety equipment itself is quite good, including electronic stability control, anti-lock four-wheel disc braked, head- and torso-protecting seat-mounted side airbags, and a pop-up rollover bar behind the back seats.

Visibility with the top up can leave a lot to be desired, as is the case in a lot of convertible models, but an available rearview camera system and front and rear parking sensors will help remedy the situation—at least when parking.

9

2011 Lexus IS 250C

Features

With an extensive set of standard features, plenty of high-tech options, and dealer-installed performance accessories, you'll be able to get the IS C you want.

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.

Feature content nearly the same between the 2010 Lexus IS 250C and IS 350C, but between the IS C and the standard IS sedan lineup, there are some key differences meant to keep convertible living as easy as possible. The audio system adjusts its volume up when the top is down, and the fan cranks up automatically to supply more air. The IS C also comes standard with an eight-speaker audio system with six-disc changer, satellite radio, and a USB interface.

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.

For 2011, there are a few new exterior colors on offer, and the interior gets new black metallic and silver trims.

6

2011 Lexus IS 250C

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Lexus IS C models are by no means green choices, but they won't embarrass you in socially aware circles.

The 2011 IS C models get fuel economy ratings ranging from 19 to 21 in the city and 27 to 30 on the highway. That's about the same as that of a V-6 mid-size sedan, and not too shabby for a sporty coupe with a retractable hardtop. And according to the federal government, that ranks the IS C right in the middle of the carbon-footprint scale.

The six-speed automatic that's available in the IS 250 C has a much taller top gear than the six-speed manual, so its highway fuel economy is considerably higher (30 mpg versus 27).

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April 13, 2015
For 2011 Lexus IS 250C

Great car.

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This is the 3rd Lexus I've owned. Wonderful cars. Quality throughout. I knowingly gave up performance for fuel economy. It still has plenty of power for me. Just drove back from south Florida to central Ohio(... + More »
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Styling 6.0
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