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April 15, 2013

Lexus IS C is sporty, luxurious

In the late 1980s, Lexus came along and fixed a problem that no one else had managed to solve: luxury cars break far too often.

It's not that luxury cars were bad before Lexus arrived. They just had lots of bells and whistles that broke after three or four years, when the motorized doodads and electrified widgets met the end of their lifespan.

As a result, Lexus built its reputation on making cars that don't break. It didn't always have the most interesting engineering, like Mercedes-Benz, or the most stunning style, like Jaguar. But it did finish at the top of consumer quality surveys year after year.

The only problem? Cars that are designed to be ultra-reliable can end up being ultra-boring if you're not careful.


That's why Lexus has been injecting its lineup with some exotic rides like the LFA supercar and IS F sports sedan, which fights head-to-head with the BMW M3.

And just a little of that newfound Lexus excitement has filtered its way into the car I drove this week, the IS C convertible.

Like the IS 250 and IS 350 sedans, the IS C is sporty by Lexus standards. It has rear-wheel drive, just like a proper sporty car should, and a suspension tuned to be compliant over bumps but firm enough to actually enjoy.

Compared with a more traditional Lexus, like the ES, it's absolutely thrilling. It's a car with some life and personality in it, and it's sure to make you smile with the top down on a sunny day.

Its hard top is motorized to fold and unfold in just a few seconds at the touch of a button. With the top up, it's comfortable and quiet for long stretches of highway driving, a remarkable feat if you're used to the wind-beaten clamor of soft-top convertibles.

Unfortunately, it loses some of its sexiness with the top up. The convertible's roof lines don't look as sleek as those on the IS sedan, despite the drop-top's two-door layout. With the top up, it makes me pine for the feline grace of the SC 430, an expensive but wonderful convertible that Lexus no longer sells.

The IS C's only other downside is a cramped rear seat, which is far less usable than the one in the IS sedan. Unless the driver and front passenger have short legs and can scoot their seats forward to make space, the back seats are best left for children.

Aside from that, this car is like most every other Lexus: hard to find anything to gripe about. It comes with outstanding build quality, a supple ride and styling that turns heads without being distasteful.

Power comes from your choice of two engines.

A 2.5-liter V6 makes 204 horsepower in the IS C 250 ($43,505), which is adequate but doesn't feel particularly luxurious. If indulgence is what you're after, the bigger 3.5-liter engine should do the trick. It makes 306 horsepower in the IS C 350 ($47,775), enough to give it that rocketship feeling when you pull away from stoplights.

If you want more sportiness, the IS C F Sport model has a suspension and steering setup that were tuned by the same engineers who worked on the LFA supercar. With the bigger engine, it tops the IS C lineup at slightly more than $50,000

Derek Price is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at carcolumn@gmail.com.

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