Top down, sophistication up
For open-air opulence, both Infiniti, Lexus deliver with smooth ride, refined styling
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
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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.
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.
The 2010 Infiniti G37 convertible feels sportier than its Lexus counterpart.
Lexus takes a more traditional approach to IS 350C’s interior, exterior styling.