2014 Lexus IS 350C 2-door Convertible

A worthy hard-top coupe

Driving the Lexus IS 350 hardtop convertible, one wonders why most automakers discontinued their drop-top lines a generation ago rather than adopting the strategy implemented by Toyota’s premium brand: building a convertible and building it right. The IS 350 offers the best of both worlds – the security of the aluminum-alloy top, and the thrill of open-top driving when the weather is fine.

The IS 350C is a two-door, compact luxury coupe whose top can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button on the dashboard. The top folds neatly into the trunk, bringing the car’s crisp, clean lines into sharp perspective. Lexus also builds an entry-level convertible, the IS 250C, which gives up 102 horsepower but costs about $4,000 less than the IS 350.

We liked a great many things about our 2014 IS 350C, including its richly luxurious interior, easy-to-use switchgear and touch-screen system, and agile handling. Unlike many convertibles, it offers fairly good visibility, though the large rear headrests and matching rollover-protection system blocks part of the rear window. When the top is up, however, the view to the rear quarters is clearer than most people would expect in a convertible.

Compared with the four-door IS 350, the convertible has a significantly smaller trunk, and even small children can’t use the back seat unless the passengers in front sacrifice some leg room.

The Lexus nameplate and metal top led us to expect the car to be quieter than it turned out to be, but our test car was equipped with the F Sport package that included beefier tires and a stiffer suspension than the base IS 350C. There was some road and drive-train noise, but the fit of the alloy top is so tight, we heard virtually no wind noise even at 80 mph. Still, if we were in the market for the Lexus compact convertible, we’d subject both versions to a comparison test. The F Sport package also added $2,550 to the price and included only one must-have luxury feature: heated and ventilated seats.

The IS 350C is equipped with a 3.5-liter, 306-horsepower V-6 engine and requires premium unleaded gasoline. Standard features include a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, push-button start and stop, power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, power tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Heated and ventilated front seats can be added for $1,040, via an option that includes wood trim inside.

The IS 350C is rated at 19 mpg city, 27 highway. Its reliability is average – good enough for many automakers, but most Lexus models are much more reliable than average, according to Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys.

When we drove an IS 350 sedan not long ago, we noted that getting in and out of the driver’s seat was awkward. The convertible’s design, with much longer doors, eliminates this problem, thanks to the absence of a B pillar.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $53,850

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 306 horsepower, 277 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters

Drive: rear-wheel

Weight: 3,872 lb.

Suspension: double-wishbone front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18-in. F Sport dark graphite alloy (optional)

Tires: front, 225/40R18; rear, 255/40R18 all-season (optional)

Seating capacity: 4

Luggage capacity: 10.8 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 17.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline

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