A few days ago, we looked at the latest iteration of the venerable BMW 3-Series and found that the model continued the small sports sedan heritage that it created over 30 years ago. A new Lexus model, the IS C, is looking to muscle into the market largely dominated by the 3-Series, and while die-hard fans of BMW won’t find much to like, anybody who is looking for a nice, comfortable hard-top convertible should give the 2010 Lexus IS C a look.
The Lexus IS series was introduced in 1999, but the 2010 IS C is the first two-door version of the series. While the IS C definitely takes styling cues from the other IS models, every body panel, excluding the hood, has been redesigned for this hard-top convertible variant. Also, the body length has been increased by a little more than 2 inches in order to keep the proportions of the car pleasing to the eye (the necessary space for the hard-top would make the rear end look too tall and bulky at the standard length). The IS C is also built on the same chassis as the other IS models, but the platform had to be stiffened in order to compensate for the rigidity loss of chopping off the roof. While there is a bevy of new struts and suspension work, the car is still 15% less rigid than the sedan.
That loss of rigidity definitely affects the handling. The aforementioned 3-Series has made a reputation for itself as a sporty, nimble drive, and the Lexus IS C cannot compete with it on a windy mountain road with an open throttle. This, however, is not as bad as it initially sounds. The Lexus IS C will appeal to drivers who want to have a slick-looking convertible that isn’t short on luxuries, but also offers a smoother drive than the BMW. The higher trim IS C, the 350, is a bit rough, and the optional 18-inch tires don’t help the cause, but the base 250 with the standard 17-inch wheels is surprisingly pleasant for cruising.
The power of the 2010 IS C also lags behind the BMW. The base model 3-Series has 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, versus the 2.5-liter V6 IS 250C’s 204 and 185, respectively. The 3.5-liter V6 IS 350C, however, does put out 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque, which is nearly the same as the higher-trim 3-Series’ 300 and 295. The Lexus engine, however, is not designed for very quick accelerations and fast throttle response like the BMW, though, so it drivers much more leisurely.
Once you get into the IS C, however, these numbers won’t make much of a difference. The car is designed to be a top-down cruiser, and it succeeds admirably in that respect. Will it whip around a canyon road as fast as the 3-Series? Nope. But on your regular commute to and from work, and on the highway, the softer suspension makes for a more comfortable ride. And cruises aren’t about accelerating as fast as possible. The Lexus engine is reliable and has enough pep to satisfy the average driver.
The interior is nicely appointed, too. You almost have the feeling that the Lexus engineering budget specifically focused on interior comfort over sports car-like cornering ability. When the roof is up, you’d have a hard time telling it apart from a regular coupe, and even when it’s down, there is still plenty of trunk space (something that many hard-top convertibles sacrifice). Also, a nice feature is the integration of the radio and air controls with the hard-top roof. When the top goes down, the radio automatically bumps up the volume and the air automatically adjusts. Not the most revolutionary feature, but it enhances the IS C’s focus on driver comfort.
Bottom line is that if you’re looking for a luxury small sports sedan that has great handling (and the firm suspension that comes along with it), go for the BMW 3-Series. If you’re looking for a hard-top convertible that gives you a comfortable ride, decent performance, and, at a starting price of $39,365, costs about $6,000 less than a comparable 3-Series, then the 2010 Lexus IS C is the car for you.