Lexus IS 350 C convertible road test: A fair (and foul) weather friend

2014 Lexus IS 350 C Cpnvertible

2014 Lexus IS 350 C Convertible.

So what if you live in a place where the winds often howl, the temperatures plummet, the rains pound or the snows stick. Whenever the sun shines and the mercury climbs, all it takes is the push of a button and 20 seconds later you and your 2014 Lexus IS 350 C  Convertible are cruising topless.

And life’s not bad behind the wheel during those seemingly interminable foul-weather intervals, either. After all, thanks to the engineering marvel that is the retractable hardtop, you are still piloting a snug and sporty coupe with decent driving dynamics, a smooth and powerful engine, accurate steering, a smooth-shifting automatic transmission and stop-right-now brakes.

Sure, there are some caveats.

Lexus with hardtop in place.

Lexus with hardtop in place.

There is the matter of space. The front buckets will carry driver and one passenger in relaxed comfort. The back seat is tight, like “Who are they kidding?” tight. You might be able to get the newborn twins back there, but adults will not enjoy the contortions required to get in or the cramped quarters.

It’s best to think of the rear seats as simply extra luggage space because once the hardtop folds into the trunk cargo space is reduced from 10.8 cubic feet to 2.4.

Then there is the minor matter of aesthetics. The hardtop must be divided into three segments so that it can be folded into the trunk. Those three pieces need to be relatively flat or this marvel of modern engineering simply won’t work.

Gone are the smoothly flowing lines of a standard fixed-roof coupe. The result is a car with a slightly awkward demeanor. Of course, that all changes when the top is lowered.

And, of course, there is the  price. The test car carried a suggested retail price of  $53,850.

Lexus instruments.

Lexus instruments.

But before I am justly accused of flailing way at nits, let me quickly concede that concentrating on any perceived faults in this Lexus completely misses the point.

The IS350 convertible is obviously not a substitute for a family minivan, a rugged SUV or even a snug compact sedan.

So, no, it is not built for practicality. In a word, it is made for FUN.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what else makes this automobile enjoyable. Keep in mind that the 2014 test car is identical to the 2015 IS 350 in almost every way. A new accelerator pedal and a couple of minor electronic upgrades are the only things that separate the two.

We’ll start with the engine. The 3.5-liter V-6 generates 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with steering-wheel-mounted paddles, that’s enough powerplant to propel the Lexus from a stop to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 141 mph.

Then there is the optional $2,550 F Sport package, which includes 18-inch dark graphite alloy wheels, suspension upgrades, interior and exterior trim enhancements and heated and ventilated leather-trimmed front seats

Lexus front seats.

Lexus front seats.

In a rare stroke of luck, I found a long stretch of smoothly paved, nearly deserted blacktop with a few challenging curves. Now I’m not admitting to any kind of reckless shenanigans here, but I can report that the performance is as strong as any sane, public-road driver could ever want.

This car may not be king of the racetrack but it can be quite entertaining on life’s backroads. The electrically assisted power steering was satisfactorily responsive and the four-wheel antilock disc brakes returned my heartbeat to normal after I found myself bearing down on one sharp turn with more enthusiasm than common sense.

With the top up, the IS350 ran silent and smooth as we bobbed sand weaved along the tree-lined, two-lane highway. With the top down, wind noise was surprisingly muted. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Lexus back seats.

Lexus back seats.

When you are paying nearly $54,000 for a car that cannot be justified in a strictly rational way, fuel mileage probably is not a major concern. For the record, the EPA estimates that the Lexus will return 19 mpg of unleaded premium in city traffic, 27 mpg on the open road, and 22 mpg overall. I averaged 20 mpg in a variety of driving conditions.

Safety features abound and include a full complement of seat belts and airbags, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, emergency assist button and automatic collision notification.

One thing that can be annoying in a top-down convertible is the inability to properly adjust the audio system when cruising along in traffic at highway speeds. Crank up the volume to enjoy the sounds and you will find the music blaring and annoying fellow motorists when you come to a red light.

The IS 350 has conquered this problem to a great degree. I was able to move along in highway commuter traffic and clearly hear the radio at a volume that did not have to be adjusted when the traffic jams built up.

As is the norm with Lexus automobiles, the IS 350 is more luxury convertible than speedy sportster. Sure it handles well, but there is even more emphasis on passenger comfort and convenience.

Even at the base price of $47,140 it is equipped with a premium 8-speaker sound system that includes Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and a trial subscription to satellite radio, driver information center with trip computer, leather seating, keyless lock and ignition, dual-zone climate control and more.

In addition to the F Sport package, the test car had the optional $2,490 Navigation System, which includes the Lexus Enform system that provides destination services and voice-activated access to various internet sites.

Another $500 gets you parking assist with front and rear sensors.

If you are looking for a car   —- make that a second car —- that is comfortable, luxurious, enjoyable to drive and less expensive than its German competition, the Lexus IS350 2-door convertible could be the one for you.

Turn the page to get the full specifications.