First Drive: 2010 Lexus IS 350C/250C

First-ever IS droptop
Ten years after the first Lexus IS rolled into dealer showrooms, Lexus is finally following its competitors and offering an IS convertible, and it's a hardtop, just like the ones from BMW, Volvo, and Infiniti. The IS350C and IS250C, which hit dealers in late May, "give us an opportunity to compete in an area we've never competed in before," says Mark Templin, group vice president & general manager of the Lexus division. "We get to unleash our darker side with the IS C."

Marketing-speak aside, Lexus, being last to the table, had the luxury of watching everyone else introduce their convertibles first. Lexus must have been taking notes, because the IS convertible is a sweet piece. The retracting roof opens in only twenty seconds and doesn't produce the same sort of awkward thumping sounds as its competitors while doing so, thanks to a complex system with fifteen electric motors and 37 sensors that monitor top movement. Lexus claims it's the fastest-opening three-piece metal hard top in the world. What's more, once the top is down, the IS C offers the most accessible trunk space in its class.

Rigid and rewarding
The engineering team's main goal was to maintain the IS sedan's driving performance while insuring a great experience for the driver, whether the top is up or down. Maintaining structural rigidity in convertibles is always tricky, but by adding two major cross beams---one under the rear seat, and the other behind the rear seat headrests---Lexus was able to keep the IS impressively rigid. Surprisingly, the only body panel the IS convertible shares with its sedan brother is the hood; all other panels were created specifically for the convertible, including the two huge doors. Which begs the question; will we ever see a Lexus IS coupe? "We're not here to announce anything, but I can't say we haven't already looked into it," says Templin.

Starts at less than $40K
The Lexus IS250C starts at $38,490, making it the only hardtop luxury convertible below $39,000. The IS350C starts at $43,940.

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