2014 Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

The Lexus IS has been roaming the streets of America since 2000. That IS 300 came powered by a 3.0-liter, inline-six-cylinder engine making 217 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The IS’ first generation was a groundbreaking one, setting plenty of design standards and even setting a few trends with its clear taillight housings. Then for 2006, the second-generation IS launched with an updated look and a slew of V-style engines. The car came in IS 250 and 350 guises until Lexus launched the IS F , a high-performance variant powered by a 5.0-liter V-8, in 2007. A clean sweep came across the IS lineup in 2008, along with the addition of a hardtop convertible. Still utilizing the second-generation platform and styling, the 2014 IS 350C soldiers on as the rest IS lineup gets a whole new look.

I just recently spent a week behind the wheel of Lexus’ 2014 IS 350C, complete with the F Sport package. Despite its exclusion from the redesign, the IS 350C is still a lovely car to look at and drive. Of course, the main focus surrounds that aluminum-alloy folding hardtop, and with good cause. A short, 20-second transformation makes the two door coupe into a 2+2 drop-top perfect for boulevard cruising and back-road burning.

Click past the jump for the full review

TopSpeed Garage

Exterior

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven
Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven
Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

It retains the looks from the previous IS generation, despite the rest of the IS lineup moving to a new look.

If you’re familiar with the second-generation IS sedan, then the familiarity will continue with the 2014 IS 350C. It retains the looks from the previous IS generation, despite the rest of the IS lineup moving to a new look. However, looks are subjective and can be easily looked past when blasting down the road with wind-swept hair.

Up front, the car reaps the full benefits of having the F Sport package selected. A more aggressive front bumper comes complete with ventilation ducts for the front brakes and deeply-mounted fog lights just forward of the 225/40R18 front rubber (255-series tires live out back). Projector beam headlights help light the road at night.

Its ride height is also noticeable when looking at the gap between the smallish 18-inch wheels and the large front wheel wells.

Around the side, the IS 350C has a rather pretty silhouette with its hardtop in place, though the rear quarter panels do look large in comparison with the rest of the exterior. The car also has an unusually high level of ground clearance. Exiting the car feels reminiscent of exiting a Subaru Subaru . Its ride height is also noticeable when looking at the gap between the smallish 18-inch wheels and the large front wheel wells.

With the hardtop down, the car’s side profile looks tremendously appealing. The large haunch over the rear tires accents the twin hoops over the rear passengers’ headrests. Lastly, the twin chrome-tipped exhaust pipes protruding from under the bumper hint at the horses lurking under the Lexus’ sloping hood.

Interior

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven
Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven
Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

The gear shifter falls directly in-hand, as does the steering wheel and infotainment controls.

The furnishings inside the IS 350C F Sport are elegantly simple yet sporty. Aluminum trim on the dash, steering wheel, and door panels help dress up the cabin, while aluminum pedals take it to the next level. The perforated, black leather seats not only look and feel good, but are also supportive. The seat bottoms and side bolsters are well padded and are comfortable on longer jaunts. Likewise, the leather-wrapped steering wheel is a welcome thing to hold while driving.

The placement of all the necessary controls is well thought out and logical. The gear shifter falls directly in-hand, as does the steering wheel and infotainment controls. An extended road trip in this car wouldn’t be out of the question.

Speaking of that infotainment system, I did find the Lexus Enform system to feel comparatively outdated compared to some of its competition. It’s mostly to do with the graphics and the color selections. The voice recognition software also feels dated. It picked up a lot of what I said, but would stumble over what should have been simple words. I did find the inclusion of hard buttons along the center stack to be useful in navigating around the system.

Two small digital screens show mileage information and technical information on the car’s systems.

My tester did come equipped with the $2,490 navigation option package that not only included the Enform navigation, but also a DVD/CD player, the Apps Suite with Bing, Pandora, Yelp, iHeartRadio, and a bevy of other features like SiriusXM.

Conversely, the driver’s gauge cluster looks rather swanky. Especially appealing are the speed and rev warning light rings that illuminate at your selected ‘top speed’ and at the engine’s redline. It proved a nice touch as the gauges require more than just a quick glance down to read the information. Two small digital screens show mileage information and technical information on the car’s systems.

Like most 2+2 cars, the rear seats are rather tight. There is, however, room enough for a car seat. My two-year-old enjoyed riding in the car as much as I liked driving it. Having her in the car did mean the passenger seat had to be scooted all the way forward, limiting my passenger’s legroom by a significant amount. Entry and exit from the rear seat was also difficult, especially with the top in place. Folded down, the limitless headroom allows for a much easier time getting in and out.

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

The interior held one of my biggest complaints about the car and it involves the cup holders. I know, how American of me. There is only one cup holder positioned behind the shifter. A second one is located inside the center console – yes, inside. It requires you slide back the center console’s cover to reveal the cup holder. The holder works just fine, but it makes using the center console as an elbow holder rather difficult.

Otherwise, the IS 350C’s interior is a great place to spend time. A relaxed driving position surrounded by quality materials and good fit and finish make this drop-top a hard thing to say "No" to.

Drivetrain

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven
Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven
Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

Powering the IS 350C F Sport is the familiar 3.5-liter V-6. In this application it’s putting down 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. It’s mated to a somewhat antiquated six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for its manual mode.

The engine is very smooth at delivering power. Around-town cruising is an easy task with its gradual throttle tip-in and gentle brake feel keeps harsh motions from happening. Step on the gas, however, and the V-6 does a respectable job at pinning you back into the seat. Zero to 60 mph happens in roughly 5.7 seconds with a minimal amount to wheel spin.

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

Passing power is on par as well. With its natural aspiration, it’s almost a point-and-shoot action with no turbo lag to contend with. The drivetrain does come with a "extra power" button on dash that helps tweak certain engine management point to get just a bit more power. The car does feel more edgy in that mode. Normal and snow modes are also available.

Back on that antiquated transmission. Like the IS 350C’s styling, the transmission is also a carryover item for 2014. That’s too bad because I sorely missed the eight-speed auto unit I enjoyed in the 2014 IS 350 F Sport sedan. Manual shifts in the six-speed happen slower and with less purpose. I generally left it in auto mode because manual mode sort of killed the vibe for me.

My observed fuel mileage averaged roughly 21.5 mpg. That’s darn close to the EPA estimate of 22 mpg combined. The EPA also rates the IS 350C at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. I did nearly get my average up to 27 mpg while on a longer stretch of highway, so I don’t doubt the EPA’s findings.

Price

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

Pricing for the 2014 IS convertible starts at $42,860, however, that’s for the base IS 250C. Bottom dollar for the IS 350C starts at $47,140. Add another $2,550 for the F Sport upgrade, another $2,490 for the navigation system with its package of upgraded features, $500 for the Intuitive Parking Assist with front and rear parking sensor, and another $260 for a trunk mat, cargo net, and wheel locks.

All told, my tester lists for $53,850, including the $910 destination fee.

Competition

2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible

BMW 4 Series Convertible

Based on the new 3 Series platform but just missing a couple of doors and a roof, the 4 Series Convertible is a solid competitor the Lexus IS 350C. The BMW BMW also has a 2+2 configuration and comes with a swanky folding hardtop. Also like the Lexus, the BMW comes in two engine trims; the 428i and the 435i.

For this comparison, the 435i is the one to choose. It’s powered by a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder that makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque sent to the rear wheels. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. If an all-season convertible is what you’re after, the four-cylinder-powered 428i is available with BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive system.

Pricing for the BMW 4 Series starts at $49,675 for the 428i and rises to $55,825 for the 435i.

2014 Infiniti Q60 Convertible

Infiniti Q60 IPL Convertible

Infiniti is also in the hardtop convertible business with its Q60 offering. Powered by a 3.7-liter V-6 making a respectable 325 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, the Q60 is the performer of the bunch. It’s also available with a six-speed manual transmission, making it possibly the most fun of the pack. Rated at 18 mpg city and 26 mph highway with the seven-speed automatic, the Q60 still gets decent gas mileage for those long-distance cruises. And like the others, the rear wheels are the ones putting rubber to the road.

Pricing for the Infiniti Q60 starts at $48,550 for the automatic and $53,400 for the six-speed manual.

Conclusion

Lexus IS 350C F Sport - Driven

Overall the IS 350C F Sport was a fantastic daily driver during the week I spent with it. It handled corners, highway jaunts, and a two-year-old in the back seat just fine Sure, the IS 350C isn’t the most ideal kid-carrier, but it worked nonetheless. My observed fuel mileage was respectable, coming in around 21.5 mpg. While $50k is a good chunk of change, the IS proved its worth with a quick-folding top that, when in the up position, convinced me I was driving a solid-roof coupe and when down, made me long for a week’s vacation.

While rag top convertibles are fun, having the extra security, quietness, and weatherproofing from a hardtop seems hard to beat. I know if I ever find myself looking for a drop-top, a hardtop Lexus IS tops my list.

LOVE IT
  • A coupe and convertible rolled into one
  • Strong V-6 with RWD and sport suspension
  • Watching the power top operate
LEAVE IT
  • Must be in Park in order to operate the top
  • Needs Lexus’ eight-speed auto
  • Back seat is rather cramped

What is your take?

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