Top down, so­phis­ti­ca­tion up

For open-air op­u­lence, both In­finiti, Lexus de­liver with smooth ride, re­fined styling

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMANCARS - By Pete Szi­lagyi

When step­ping from a re­frig­er­ated liv­ing room into the July af­ter­noon heat, you’re un­likely to think, “Boy, I wish I owned a con­vert­ible.”

Driv­ing with the top dropped on sum­mer days is of­ten painful. Af­ter dark, how­ever, al­fresco mo­tor­ing can be sub­lime. Pick your mu­sic, kick the stereo’s bass level up a cou­ple of clicks, then head for the out­back.

Last month, I did just that in the con­vert­ible ver­sion of the In­finiti G37, an ex­quis­ite au­to­mo­bile spun off the G37 coupe. In past months, dur­ing cooler times, I toured the coun­try­side in Lexus’ com­pet­ing IS 350C, an­other praise­wor­thy drop-top.

The Lexus and In­finiti are in a small, elite group of com­pact lux­ury con­vert­ibles; oth­ers in­clude the BMW 3 Se­ries, Saab 9-3, Volvo C70 and Audi A5 con­vert­ibles. They are known in the car in­dus­try as “near lux­ury” con­vert­ibles — shop­pers look­ing at their win­dow price stick­ers might dis­agree with the “near” char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

These so­phis­ti­cated, classy au­to­mo­biles range from near $40,000 to about $60,000. The Lexus, In­finiti and Volvo have re­tractable hard­tops con­trolled by an army of elec­tric mo­tors and sen­sors.

Watch­ing the Lexus and In­finiti tops fold and drop into the trunks was amus­ing in it­self — the process takes about 20 sec­onds — but their com­plex­ity could mean added ser­vice bills as the cars age.

That added con­vert­ible gear (and gears) re­quired a re­shap­ing of the rear decks and fend­ers of the con­vert­ibles, re­sult­ing in less grace­ful lines than the Lexus IS sedan and In­finiti G37 coupe on which they are based.

Trunk ca­pac­ity in both was mean­ing­fully re­duced to make room for the folded tops, with the Lexus’ use­ful space slightly larger than the In­finiti’s. With the tops up, trunk ca­pac­ity is ex­panded but not fully to the size

Con­tin­ued from D of com­pa­ra­ble sedans and coupes.

Rear seats in both cars were nar­row with limited legroom. Your chil­dren will love them when the top is dropped; the space can be claus­tro­pho­bic with the top up.

The Lexus and In­finiti con­vert­ibles were thought­fully and at­trac­tively fur­nished, with the In­finiti’s cabin more creatively styled and sporty, and the Lexus lean­ing more tra­di­tional. This dis­tinc­tion seemed ev­i­dent in the cars’ ex­te­rior styling, as well.

In­finiti sells the G37 con­vert­ible as a sin­gle model with two trim lev­els. The G37 base is a fairly well out­fit­ted car priced at $45,000. The G37 sport model be­gins at $47,700 and heads north from there, in­clud­ing an added cost for a spare tire.

Once the nov­elty of a con­vert­ible has faded, the G37 will be long ap­pre­ci­ated for its sporty, se­cure feel­ing on chal­leng­ing roads and the har­mony be­tween the steer­ing, brakes and sus­pen­sion.

The crisp drive felt con­ti­nen­tal (a cliché, I know, but de­scrip­tive), and so did the lively 325horse­power 3.7-liter V-6 en­gine and seven-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. This driv­e­train didn’t feel bur­dened by the added 400 or so pounds of con­vert­ible mech­a­nism and re­quired frame stiff­en­ing. A six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion is also of­fered.

Wind buf­fet­ing dur­ing open-air mo­tor­ing was ev­i­dent but not un­com­fort­able, es­pe­cially with the side win­dows rolled up. Ditto for the Lexus.

Lexus went eas­ier on the price for its most ba­sic model, with a 204-horse­power 2.5-liter V6 and six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. The IS 250C starts around $40,000.

My test model was more com­pa­ra­ble in power to the In­finiti. Priced from $45,700 to $54,000, the IS 350C uses a smooth, ea­ger 3.5-liter V-6 with 306 horse­power. The six-speed au­to­matic was A higher-end model of the Lexus IS 350 con­vert­ible comes with a V-6 en­gine with 306 horse­power, slightly less than the In­finiti G37. smart and un­ob­tru­sive.

If you were won­der­ing, nei­ther the In­finiti nor Lexus en­gine could match the BMW 335is con­vert­ible’s tur­bocharged six for sheer en­ter­tain­ment — nor its rar­i­fied price, which starts at $59,000.

The stan­dard IS 350C, a lot of fun to drive al­ready, seemed to es­pe­cially excel at ef­fort­less high­way cruis­ing. Han­dling seemed more or less com­pa­ra­ble to the G37’s — per­haps a touch less re­spon­sive — and the ride was tuned for com­fort more than sport.

As a tall guy, I felt a bit more com­fort­able in the In­finiti, though the Lexus was oth­er­wise su­perbly lux­u­ri­ous. And yes, the Lexus has a spare tire.

An area where both ex­celled was in­stru­men­ta­tion and the rel­a­tive ease with which the nav­i­ga­tion and sound sys­tems could be used. Lots of thought and en­gi­neer­ing went into these two con­vert­ibles on ev­ery level.

LExUS

The 2010 Lexus IS 350C has a re­tractable hard­top that folds it­self into the trunk in about 20 sec­onds. The elec­tric-mo­tor sys­tem works fine but lim­its the space avail­able in the trunk.

Pete Szi­lagyi FOR AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

The 2010 In­finiti G37 con­vert­ible feels sportier than its Lexus coun­ter­part.

LExUS

Lexus takes a more tra­di­tional ap­proach to IS 350C’s in­te­rior, ex­te­rior styling.

Shizuo Kambayashi

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