Lexus brings out the sun

Its new drop­top is a win­ner, writes PAUL GOVER

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

AS­LICE of sun­shine has cut through the win­ter chill. It’s come from the Lexus IS 250C, a drop­top with a dif­fer­ence or two. For a start, it has four roomy seats. And it’s rel­a­tively af­ford­able with prices from $79,900.

It proves again that Lexus re­ally can do good cars, even if they don’t have a BMW or Benz badge, when it moves away from Ja­panese-bland.

The hard­top con­vert­ible is sur­pris­ingly taut and en­joy­able to drive, though it could do with a bit more punch. And it needs ex­tra boot space when run­ning with the top down.

The C is the sec­ond stretch from the Lexus IS, fol­low­ing the grunty, V8-pow­ered IS-F.

Project boss Ki­iechi Yoneda de­cided to go for an in-house roof job with three pan­els and elec­tric op­er­a­tion— and an overkill on stiff­en­ing.

‘‘Our key­word was ‘open’ — we wanted to max­imise the driv­ing plea­sure with the roof down,’’ Yoneda said in Aus­tralia this week.

‘‘As you’d ex­pect, we started the de­sign from the top down and all ex­te­rior parts, ex­cept the bon­net, head­lamps, door mir­rors and door han­dles, were de­signed ex­clu­sively for the ISC.’’

The sec­ond Lexus af­ter the SC, a lam­en­ta­ble soft cruiser, is in­tended for peo­ple who en­joy driv­ing and not just park­ing or pos­ing.

That’s why it has seven body strength­en­ing pan­els be­low the floor, a tail end set to min­imise cabin buf­fet­ing, and sus­pen­sion that has been com­pre­hen­sively tweaked from the ba­sic IS.

There is a weight penalty of 130kg over the sedan, with 60kg in the roof, 60kg in re­in­force­ment and 10kg in things such as the lug­gage cover and fold­ing rear head­rest.

The me­chan­i­cal pack­age is fa­mil­iar and proven, from the 153kW 2.5-litre V6 en­gine to the six-speed se­quen­tial au­to­matic gear­box and rear-wheel drive.

It has anti-skid brak­ing and elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol.

The three mod­els in the ISC lineup start with the Pres­tige and move through to the Sports and the Sports Lux­ury at $99,900.

The car has at least a $15,000 edge over its re­al­is­tic ri­vals, led by the BMW 3 Se­ries con­vert­ible, and Lexus is talk­ing tough, de­spite aim­ing for only 25 sales a month.

Lexus boss John Roca says: ‘‘I like to think our com­pe­ti­tion is over­priced. Our pric­ing is not apolo­getic. It’s re­al­is­tic.’’ CON­SUMP­TION CO2 EMIS­SIONS the SC, which makes the hair­dresser’s Cel­ica look like a mus­cle car.

Lexus could eas­ily have taken short cuts and cashed in a price ad­van­tage over its ri­vals from Audi, BMW, Benz, Saab and Volvo.

In­stead, the car looks dif­fer­ent enough from a reg­u­lar IS to turn a few heads, the qual­ity is right on the but­ton, there is good space in­side and the drop­top con­ver­sion is seam­less and ef­fec­tive.

Still, the roof will fold only when you are com­pletely stopped and the top-down stor­age is not good.

It may be as good as its ri­vals, but it looks as if you’re be­ing short­changed when you lose so much from the lug­gage space and Lexus puts a pack­age for lug­gage in the back seat.

The ISC gets along well enough, with a neu­tral han­dling bal­ance and solid brakes, though the sta­bil­ity con­trol pro­gram steps in far too early in cor­ners and the au­to­matic gear­box still wants to take con­trol with au­to­matic up­shifts when you want to hold a gear for cor­ners.

Best of all, when you put the top down there is only very mi­nor wind ruf­fling up to 110km/h and you don’t have to shout at your passenger.

The new Lexus is a match for the best in its class on all the im­por­tant con­vert­ible points and, for the price, it’s a clear win­ner.

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