Some economists are now saying that the economy may have turned the corner and is starting to head in a positive direction. We won’t know for a while if that’s actually the case, but if it is, a dashing new convertible could be a celebratory purchase.
People who may have been holding off buying something “frivolous” would now be able to open up the wallet a little and buy that open-top car they’ve dreamed of. But in reality, a convertible isn’t a completely frivolous purchase. Modern convertibles can actually be fairly practical daily transportation.
An example of a convertible that can “do it all” is the new Lexus IS 250C (and IS 350C). Based on the IS sedan, the new coupe-convertible is the latest model featuring a solid roof that folds away at the touch of a button. When the roof is up, most casual observers will think it’s just a stylish two-door car.
But in about twenty seconds, the IS’s deck lid lifts up, and the roof’s various sections and rear window magically fold away into the space normally reserved for luggage. There are no levers to pull, no handles to twist, or any other manual exertion required. This is the way convertibles have evolved in recent years.
Lexus isn’t really new to the hardtop convertible game. The SC430 debuted over eight years ago, and is still around in pretty much the same form it’s always worn, save for some trim changes. But that luxury roadster is priced at nearly $70,000. The IS convertible starts at a much more reasonable $38,490. It’s also much more practical, with a back seat that can hold two smaller adults in relative comfort.
The IS 250C and IS 350C (the larger number of the latter represents a larger engine as well as more standard features) borrow heavily from the IS sedan and do a good job mimicking its overall design. Convertibles represent a special challenge for automotive stylists, as they have to make sure it doesn’t look too cumbersome with all the space needed to stow the top.
Like pretty much all the folding hardtop convertibles, the big downside to this one is the lack of trunk space once the roof is stowed. After all, those metal and glass sections have to reside somewhere when out of sight, and where they reside is in the forward section of the trunk. When the top is down, you’re left with a space at the very rear just large enough for a not-too-bulky golf bag.
The other issue with turning a fixed-roof car into an open car is that the driving experience can change. The roof is an integral part of the body structure, and lopping it off can make the body wiggle like a bowl of Jell-O when going over bumps and potholes. Great strides have been made in this area by the auto industry in general, and Lexus specifically has really built a tight body structure for this one.
I got to spend a little time in the new IS 250C in the rolling hills south of Newport Beach on a beautiful sunny spring day. The Lexus convertible was a delight to drive, and it’s obvious that Lexus’s designers and engineers really sweated the details. The most noticeable thing about the car with the top down is how little wind turbulence there is in the interior, even at speeds of around 50-55 miles per hour.
The IS 250C’s engine felt slightly strained when climbing steep hills, the extra weight of the convertible design taxed the 204 horsepower of the V6 engine. If you prefer extra power at your disposal, the 306 horsepower of the IS 350C would be more to your liking. As with the IS sedan, the 250 model is available with a 6-speed manual transmission if you’d like a little extra sportiness.
Like most luxury models, the IS convertible can get pretty expensive if you start adding in lots of options. While the 250 starts at under $40,000, the IS 350C costs $4000-5000 more to start with (and has much more standard equipment). If you were to choose every option for the car, the sticker price would climb to the $50,000 range.
The luxury hardtop convertible segment is definitely getting crowded. The Lexus IS joins the BMW 3-series, Volvo C70 and Infiniti G37 convertibles in showrooms this summer, and more are sure to follow along in the coming years.
If you’ve always wanted a convertible and are secure in your financial situation, this new Lexus not only lets you take in the sun and wind while you drive, it also serves as a practical closed coupe too. As I’ve said before about other hardtop convertibles, it’s like having two cars in one.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net.