Dec
31

2013 Lexus IS C

Note: This report supplements Consumer Guide Automotive’s full report on the 2012 Lexus IS C, a premium-compact car that starts at $41,190.

Test car came equipped with: F-Sport Package, HID headlamps with LED running lights, headlamp washers, front/rear obstacle detection, navigation system with premium audio, trunk mat, cargo net. Total MSRP with $895 destination = $55,399.

Powertrain: 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive.

Acceleration: The tester felt quite lively on takeoff and in passing sprints. I’d guess it does 0-60 mph in the mid-5-second area versus 8.4 claimed for the 2.5 V6 IS 250C. Typical of Lexus, the 3.5 engine and 6-speed automatic partner like Fred and Ginger. Each is responsive and refined on its own; together, they’re a treat. Acceleration is linear, hiccup-free, and strong, aided by smooth, progressive throttle action. In fact, power delivery is so satisfying that I never felt inclined to use the standard steering-wheel shift paddles.

Fuel Economy: Circumstances prevented logging as many miles as I’d have liked, but for the record this IS C averaged 17.1 mpg in mostly city driving (Phoenix), a fair bit of which was gas-eating, cold-start, short-hop, errand-type work. The EPA city/highway figures are 19/27 mpg.

Ride Quality: The tester arrived on 18-inch Y-rated Dunlop SP Sport 2050 tires in staggered sizes: 225/40 fore and 255/40 aft. This is the only IS C I’ve driven, but I think most prospects for this model would be far happier overall with the base suspension and tires. The F-Sport Package ride is just too busy, thumpy, and unsophisticated for me, with almost constant minor body motion and little absorbency even on apparently smooth pavement. It’s a muscle-car ride completely at odds with the car’s luxury focus.

Steering/handling/braking: Though the F-Sport’s stiffer chassis settings and larger tires might pay dividends on a race track, I suspect they do little or nothing for actual or perceived real-world handling, at least not enough for typical Lexus buyers to notice. In fact, the F-package arguably makes things worse, as the tester had a whiff of unwanted tail-hop over sharp mid-corner bumps. In short, this option does not make any IS a dynamic peer for an M Sport-equipped BMW 3-Series. It may narrow the gap, but it can’t eliminate it, which helps explain why the 3-Series remains the benchmark “driver’s car” of the premium-compact class.

I had no issues with the tester’s brakes, but found its steering rather lifeless and—perhaps another F-Sport penalty—a bit heavy at parking pace. On the other hand, I was impressed by the solid driving feel with the top up and minimal cowl shake with the top down. If the IS C isn’t as granitic as the rival 3-Series, it’s still very good, especially for a four-seat convertible.

Quietness: The V6 is always audible at full throttle, but it’s a distant and pleasantly “expensive” sound that, at least for me, confirms this as one of the best engines in the Toyota/Lexus stable. Agree with my colleagues that coarse-surface tire thrum is the major noise source, and with the F-package it’s borderline intrusive. At least top-down wind buffeting is modest up to around 70 mph with all side windows up. Top-up wind rustle? Didn’t notice any, thanks to apparently tight seals between the hideaway hardtop and frameless side glass.

Controls: The main report makes all the important points but one—namely that the navigation screen is well-nigh illegible in top-down driving, even on a moderately sunny day. I’m surprised somebody hasn’t yet come up with display technology to solve this problem, not only for cars but cellphones too—although, for all I know, someone may have already cracked it and is just waiting for the right royalty terms to come along.

Details: The test car’s quality was up to expected Lexus standards in every way, but it was kind of hard to tell with a mostly black interior that made for a decidedly funereal top-up environment. Light colors are the way to go if you don’t want a closed-coffin feel.

Room/comfort (front): This 6-footer didn’t find headroom “very limited,” just adequate. Can’t agree entirely about visibility either. The roof’s hind quarters are thick enough to be a hindrance even with the rear headrests flopped down, aggravated by the narrow rear window.

Room/comfort (rear): Will add that entry/exit can be time-consuming without the available “quick-acting, front-seat fold-and-slide activation,” as Lexus describes it. Otherwise, you get a slow-acting power fore/aft front-passenger seat and no “easy access” feature on the driver’s side at all.

Cargo room: Like most “retrac” convertibles, this one has a roller-blind partition that acts as a “safety switch” to prevent the roof from crushing anything in the trunk as it folds. The roof won’t operate without the partition properly deployed, but that requires slotting it in at four separate points, which is somewhat awkward. I’ll also observe that the IS convertible was engineered well after the sedan started production, and this “afterthought” timing doubtless accounts for both the snug rear seat and the scant top-down luggage space.

CP Says . . . The F-Sport option reflects Lexus’ effort to cultivate a sportier, more youthful brand image, and some IS buyers may like it. I obviously don’t, because it spoils what is otherwise a posh, pleasant, and highly refined upscale compact that can be a quite entertaining drive under the right circumstances. I’m talking not just IS convertibles here, but the sedans too (with the V8-powered IS-F sedan a special exception). As for the IS-C itself, it’s compromised by a sedan architecture that wasn’t originally planned for convertible duty. Given that limitation, though, the drop-top conversion works reasonably well, and it delivers most all the usual Lexus virtues. But as the main report says, it’s just “not quite alluring enough.”

But don’t worry, Lexus fans. The IS is being redesigned for 2014 along the lines of the recent LF-CC concept coupe, which looks to have the makings of a more-competitive new IS convertible (at least a more attractive one). Time will tell. Until then, there’s still no substitute for a genuine 3-Series convertible.

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