Friday, 27 July 2012 2:39 PM
What felt like three months of continuous rain stopped as I stepped inside the striking Mesa red Lexus IS 250C SE-L Premier.
That was just as well because I’m a firm believer that you can’t drive a cabriolet with the roof up, although if the heavens open it can actually rise shut in just 21 seconds (the same to retract), the fastest three part roof on the market, Lexus claims. The roof only goes back up if there’s enough room for the boot lid to move back far enough, so if for instance you park too close to a wall, it won’t work, as I found out.
Its purposeful, angular exterior reminds me a little of an American car. It is certainly distinctive.
The luxury division of Toyota is a byword for quality and it is no surprise to find a particularly comfortable interior with ivory leather upholstery. The eight-way electrically adjusted and operated front seats are also heated and cooled.
Parkers, the car experts, say: “With the popularity of upmarket four-seat convertibles like the Audi A5 and BMW 3-Series convertible, it’s no surprise that Lexus has its own version – the IS 250C. It’s based on the standard IS saloon but the majority of the exterior is unique to the convertible – including the excellent aluminium folding roof. Like all Lexus cars, the IS 250C is superbly built and refined, but it seems this has come at the expense of driving enjoyment and it lacks that ‘fun’ factor you’d expect to find in any convertible. On the plus side, all versions come incredibly generously equipped and the metal roof means it can be as secure and as comfortable as a coupe.”
I take issue with the Parkers comment about driving enjoyment as I find it provides an engaging experience. Sure it’s not the fastest from 0 to 60mph but it is a happy motorway cruiser that doesn’t buffet at high speeds, like some and it is happy to be thrown round bends and corners, handling the challenge well, in my opinion, feeling rigid and competent contrary to earlier reports of body roll and a lack of grip. A firm ride helps the sporty feel and the 2.5-litre engine coupled to the six-speed auto provides a decent driving experience. The suspension is firm and overall the Lexus is a supremely refined vehicle.
There aren’t many cars on the market with a foot operated parking brake but this has one located to the left of the foot pedals.
The cruise control on the IS 250C operates at speeds of 29mph and above and automatically keeps the car at a safe distance behind the vehicle in front. However, there is not the option to adjust the distance as can be found on other vehicles from Volvo or Rolls Royce, for instance.
As is the case with all such systems it can be guilty of accelerating and braking too forcefully at times with no extra power for overtaking unless the driver overrides the controls. This could be improved. Although overall, when there’s not too much traffic about, it makes motorway cruising a breeze – quite literally with the roof down. Driving with that hood lowered is such a great way of waking up in the mornings!
Using sport mode on the auto box is a disappointment as it doesn’t seem to make any difference in power. But for those seeking more enjoyable driving selecting the manual gear shifts either side of the steering wheel gives more control.
As is the case with many a cabriolet, the boot is barely large enough for a briefcase and laptop. When locked the wing mirrors automatically fold up, to protect them from any parking damage.
Many, including those brash BBC Top Gear presenters, criticise the IS 250C, slating its price and flawed handling. They believe that the Lexus is no match for a similarly priced fabric roofed Porsche Boxster. Well it depends what you want from a cabriolet doesn’t it? If you want brute force then of course the convertible Porsche will win hands down. But if suave sophistication is more your thing, then I’m sorry but the much more gentlemanly metal topped Lexus must win. Then of course there is the fact that Lexus consistently comes top of the What Car? reliability survey.
Lexus IS 250C SE-L Premier
New price: £46,510
Top speed: 130mph
Combined economy: 30.7mpg
By Tim Saunders