The Lexus IS 250C has been with us for a long, long time and the convertible is due for a reboot soon along with the rest of the range, heralded by the new model unveiled at Detroit motor show this week.
Meantime, to help keep sales bubbling, and capitalise on the success of the F-Sport trim level – which takes up 30 per cent of IS sales -- there is now an IS250C wearing the F badge on the front quarter panels.
With the F-Sport adding some visual and chassis changes it is a genuinely different car – not as distanced as, say, BMW's M Sport packages, but enough for us to have another look.
The IS250 F-Sport sits in the middle of a three-tiered convertible range. The IS 250C Prestige kicks off at $76,800 while the $94,800 Sports Luxury puts $13k of clear air between itself and the $81,800 F Sport.
The headline items on the F Sport include sat-nav, Bluetooth, reversing camera and front and rear park assist, LED daytime running lights, Xenon headlights, new grille and front bumper and graphite 18-inch alloys.
All are powered by the same 2.5 litre V6, good for 153kW and 252Nm of torque. Combining variable valve timing and direct injection, the powerplant is properly Lexus - revvy, but so, so smooth.
The interior also benefits on the F-Sport - silver stitching on the leather, sports pedals, a new roof lining and unique seat and dash trim. The seats themselves are electrically operated as is the steering wheel, which adjusts for reach and rake. The seats have three memory positions, which also store the steering wheel position. The front seats also score heating and cooling.
Our test car also had the active cruise control and pre-collision safety system, which is standard on the Sports Luxury. The same enhancement pack brings the 12 speaker Mark Levinson stereo with bluetooth and USB connectivity, adding $4615 before luxury car tax.
The IS250 benefits from Lexus' 48-month/100,000km warranty and as a Lexus owner, you'll never need to darken a dealer's door again - as long as you own the car, the company will fetch it from you when it requires a service. Alternatively, if you so choose, Lexus will supply a loaner while your car is serviced. You won't get that as "standard" from the European marques.
Volvo's folding hardtop C70 T5 is as close as you'll get for a genuine competitor. The T5S starts at $61,950 and packs Volvo's characterful (and thirsty) Ford-sourced 169kW turbo five cylinder. It's as slow as the Lexus, uses more fuel and is not a sharp drive.
The T5 (yes, the pricier version has a shorter name) adds full leather, different steering wheel and stereo and adds adaptive headlights and Volvo's renowned safety innovations. Both block and parry each other for specification items but the Volvo's newer design is more coherent.
The fabric-roofed BMW 3 Series Convertible range starts at $81,318 for the 320d. Developing 135kW and a muscular 380Nm of torque, the diesel will carry you to 100km/h in 8.4 seconds and a combined fuel figure of 5.1l/100km. You will need to tick a few boxes before achieving the same spec level as the Lexus but there's also a lot more stuff to choose from.
After-sales service doesn't come close to matching Lexus' generous offering and, like the IS, the E93 is soon to be sent on its way. Audi's A5 Cabriolet is Audi's closest contender, which starts at $77,779 for a 125kW 1.8 TFSI litre petrol engine, and that's before the addition of the F-Sport equivalent, the S-Line. The A5 bests the Lexus' fuel figures, but struggles with rather less power.
It also has a fabric roof and substantially less equipment. Like the BMW, many boxes will require ticking to match the Lexus' specification. The range stretches to the $100,108 3.0 TFSI quattro. A slightly left-field alternative is the sober Volkswagen EOS which starts at a tick under $50,000 for the 103 TDI and just over that mark for the 155TSI.
The IS 250C was introduced at the 2008 Paris Motor Show and…well, is showing its era. From front bumper to the A-pillar, the 250C is as elegant as its gracefully ageing sedan sibling (introduced in 2005), or would be were it not for the tacked on plastic pieces that form part of the F-Sport package.
From top of the windscreen back -- and with the roof up -- it looks slabby and a bit of a mess. The roof's arc doesn't gel with the rest of the design or identify well with the sedan, and the result is ungainly. The wheels look too small and the accommodation for the folded roof called for a rising beltline that magnifies the boot's size and deck height. Lexus designers have tried to disguise the rump by increasing the size of the rear lights.
Once the roof is folded away, the proportions do improve, but it's impossible to hide that very high-set backside. Another sign of the IS250C's age is that the car must be stationary before you can fold or unfold the roof, while many rivals allow a gentle pace to be maintained during the roof's operation.
Being a Lexus, fit and finish is exceptional. Even on this older design, everything is tight and the paint is beautiful. The roof's folding operation barely makes a sound and what little you do hear are reassuring clicks, clunks and whirrs. Materials in the cabin are like any other Lexus, with soft-feel plastics and supple leather on the seats.
It's clear the dash wasn't really intended for a convertible as the central screen is angled the wrong way -- with the roof stowed, sunlight reflects into your eyes and obscures the screen. The main dials, though, are super-bright and set deep into the dash.
The 250C could kindly be called a 2+2. There is no centre seat in the rear and passengers would have to be of the short, tolerant variety, with cropped or no hair to suffer the strong buffeting from the wind at speed.
The IS250C shares the 2.5 litre V6 with the sedan. Despite its advancing years, there are few engines that match it for smoothness and refinement. Direct injection and dual variable valve timing help the unit to 153kW at 6400rpm and 252Nm of torque at 4800rpm.
The car needs every last kW and Nm, however, as it weighs in at a portly 1700kg. Missing is stop-start for fuel saving, which would be handy given its true thirst of 11.5l/100km. The IS350's 3.5 litre V6 is not available in Australian-delivered convertibles.
Six airbags, including two kneebags (in lieu of curtain airbags) are fitted to the IS250C. Active safety features include ABS, brake force distribution, traction control and stability control. A rear-facing camera is essential and, thankfully, standard on the IS250C - you can't see a thing behind you and it's almost impossible to judge where the elephantine rear ends.
With the roof up, the IS250C's on road dynamics are not far at all from the 250 sedan's. The overall road manners of the F-Sport are, if anything, an improvement despite firmer springs and dampers and bigger wheels. The F-Sport chassis tweaks reduce roll and introduce a little more discipline.
The 250C's rear-wheel drive dynamics are still apparent, but the extra weight of the 250C's bracing blunt the handling. Turn-in is a little woolly and it understeers a lot earlier than you might expect. With the roof folded away, things begin to deteriorate.
While it's no Saab 900 convertible (which had all the structural integrity of Rolf Harris' wobbleboard) the steering column shakes in corners and over sharp bumps and ridges in the road. It's not encouraging, but nor does it ever lose composure.
The giveaway that the chassis isn't coping is the way the front tyres sound like they're struggling for grip even at low speeds, trying to keep everything on the straight and narrow. Then again, chucking an IS250C through corners is missing the point.
It's far more of a boulevardier, a car you buy to carry you between fun things while letting you have fun on the way. It's far more enjoyable if you ease off and let the car dictate your pace. Through it all, however, the ride is impeccable, even with the F-Sport's firmer disposition. It suits the character of the car perfectly without letting things get out of hand.
The engine struggles with the extra weight but, like a good butler, never lets you know it's under pressure. The transmission is sometimes a little jerky on the upshift, but only under a more-than-moderate throttle or after an abrupt lift-off. The six-speed transmission can be actuated with steering wheel mounted paddles that are actually nice to use.
While the gearbox claims to be intelligent, it takes too long to drop a gear or two on steep descents. This is a problem while using cruise control as you can't depend on the car to stay near the speed you've chosen, requiring your intervention to slow the car.
The electric power steering system is well-suited to the car, but keen drivers will notice a lack of feedback. Our test car was fitted with Active Cruise Control, part of the Enhancement Pack. This option is a double-edged sword -- you won't have to monitor the car in front but it lulls you into a state of apathy -- you'll occasionally peer down and realise you're dawdling along much slower than the speed you've set because you're behind a slow-moving vehicle. It's far more useful in urban motorway traffic rather than outright freeway cruising.
The IS range is not long for this world but for most buyers, it's hardly an issue. As a relaxed cruiser and almost-practical coupe, the IS250C is hard to beat as long as you aren't expecting class-leading anything. It's probably as middle of the road as it's possible to get but at the same time leads the way on build quality, noise and driving refinement -- the engine and ride are true standouts in a pretty good package.
However it uses a lot more fuel than most of its competitors, is down on performance and some people will find the looks challenging. But to many buyers of a car like this, none of that really matters. You can't help but enjoy a car like this with the roof down on a beautiful summer's evening. Added to that, the IS250C stands alone in this class by having the security of a hard top roof and that might just be enough to clinch it.
Lexus IS250C F-Sport
Price: from $76,800
Engine: 2.5-litre 6-cylinder, 153kW/252Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 9.3L/100Km, CO2 219g/km