After years of rumors, test mule sightings and heavily disguised prototypes, the production Lexus IS250C convertible debuted just hours ago at the 2008 Paris Motor Show.
When they arrive in dealer showrooms next spring, the US market will get both the IS250C and the more powerful IS350C. The rumored IS-F version has been ruled out.
Both convertibles share the same drivetrain as the IS250 and IS 350 sedans., The IS 250C features a 2.5-liter, 204 hp V-6 mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission; the IS 350C is powered by a 3.5-liter, 306 hp V-6 with a six-speed automatic.
The new IS convertibles' showpiece is a retractable three-panel aluminum hardtop that opens in 21 seconds, faster than any other hardtop convertible on the market, Lexus claims. A three-panel hardtop was chosen to preserve trunk space; with the hardtop stowed, a golf bag will fit with ease in the IS250C's commodious trunk. Two will fit with the hardtop raised.
Golfing aspirations aside, the new convertibles' design strikes a middle ground between innovation and familiarity.
The former is accomplished by the sheer volume of unique sheetmetal. While they borrow their engines from their four-door cousins, the new convertibles are built on a unique platform with doors that are nearly a foot longer than those of the sedans.
The front windscreen has been lengthened to combat turbulence inside the car at speed. While a tranquil cabin at 80 mph is important, the long windscreen has forced a trade-off that leaves the IS convertible looking a bit awkward with the top up.
The strongest design element of the IS sedan came from it's tautly arched roofline. Appearing more coupe like than most of its competitors, the sedan's profile evoked speed even when parked.
It's here where the design of the IS convertible weakens; the taut roofline of the sedan gives way to a flat center section that looks more Quasimodo than Usain Bolt. I'll admit I'm nit-picking on this point, but not without mentioning that if the the car was a few inches shorter, this would be a non-issue.
Fortunately, things improve dramatically with the top down.
The hardtop disappears completely under the trunk lid and a hard tonneau cover, both of which envelop the rear seat in a fashion reminiscent of the 911 Speedster. The trunklid is deeply sculpted, preserving some of the sedan's coke-bottle flair. A new fog lamp design debuts out front; new LED taillamps appear out back, along with an LED brake light integrated into the rear spoiler.
Yet despite the dramatic changes, the new convertibles seem like familiar members of the IS family by using the same hood, headlamps, door handles and mirrors as their sedan counterparts.
As with all Lexus offerings, safety and luxury are paramount.
For the former, a veritable alphabet soup of active safety systems com standard. VDIM and VSC keep the car pointed where the driver intends. When those systems give up, ABS, PCS and SRS all step in to save the driver and passengers from harm. Those riding in the rear are protected by side airbags as well as a pair of integrated roll bars, which are trimmed in leather to match the interior.
Speaking of which, a raft of new features have been added to provide a consistent atmosphere between coupe and convertible driving. The instrument gauges have been revised to increase visibility during top-down driving. The climate control system now offers a speed-sensitive control system that boosts air flow when the top is down as well as adjusting to vehicle speed.
The sound system also uses an active-listening equalizer. When the top is stowed, the system also automatically adapts to the natural loss of bass and boosts low frequency sound to compensate.
Pricing has not been announced, but it is safe to assume prices will be close to the 2009 BMW 3-series convertibles. Expect the IS250C to sticker in the mid-$30K, with the IS350C selling in the mid-$40K range.