• Feb 3rd 2010 at 11:57AM
  • 84
2010 Lexus IS 350C F-Sport - Click above for high-res image gallery

When Toyota launched Lexus in 1989, it had one goal in mind: Beat the Germans at the luxury game. And for a while, at least, they did exactly that. The LS400 didn't change everything, but it manifested a shift in the luxury paradigm. However, the LS400 was at the top of the heap, competing against the mighty S-Class from Mercedes-Benz and the 7 Series from BMW (Audi and Cadillac were both in their basket case phases and not really competing with anyone). Towards the bottom of the luxury pile sat the Lexus ES 250. Despite being the nicest Camry ever built, it was most definitely Glass Joe to the BMW 3 Series' Mike Tyson in the entry level luxury/performance punch out.

After more than a decade, Lexus eventually realized that no matter how refined it made the front-wheel-drive, Camry-based ES lineup, it simply couldn't compete with the sportiness inherent to the rear-wheel-driven 3 Series. As such, it introduced the sporty IS 300 in 2001. While the IS featured some killer features – chronograph style gauges, pop-up navigation screen, manual transmission, a wagon body style and sporty dynamics – its rear seat was so tiny it got classified as a subcompact. Despite some fans, it just wasn't in the same league as the 3 Series, and as you might expect, sales remained lackluster in the U.S.

Finally, in 2006 Lexus launched the current generation IS. Available with a 2.5-liter (IS 250) or 3.5-liter (IS 350) V6, the second-generation IS became the first Lexus product that could credibly compete with BMW's dominant 3 Series, as well as the surging Infiniti G35. Then came the hopped-up IS-F, with a 5.0-liter V8 that cranked out 416 horsepower, two ponies more than the 414-hp V8 motor in the M3. Lexus need not make any excuses for the brute IS-F. While Lexus continues to shy away from the full-fledged 3 Series battle royal by not bringing out a two-door or a wagon, it has released a hardtop convertible variant called the IS 350C. We got our hands on a nearly murdered-out variant, the IS 350C F-Sport. Our thoughts and impressions are available after the jump.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

As a rule, we're typically not fans of compromised cars. As a second rule, hard top convertibles tend to be compromised. The folding metal top adds weight, complexity, kills luggage space and generally makes the car look awkward, if not outright hunchbacked. When unfolded (admittedly it is a treat to watch such metal tops unfurl), the roof is not as stiff as a true coupe, nor is the cabin as quiet. Granted, there are vehicles like the Mazda Miata Hard Top Convertible that manages to skirt most of these issues, but the folding metal is still a 70-pound weight penalty, which in Miata terms is beaucoup heavy. It should come as no surprise, then, that the IS 350C F-Sport is fairly well compromised, straight from the drawing board. However, the upside is... it's a convertible. We have a real weak spot for droptops. That said we're pretty certain that barring the LF-A, this is the loudest Lexus ever made. Problem is, loud isn't exactly part of the brand's DNA.

That said, it's a decent looking car. With the top up, the folding roof's extra trunk space hump does make the car appear slightly deformed, but no worse than a Volvo C70 or Ferrari California. What it does manage to do is make the rear wheels look tiny – not a good thing when you shelled out $2,196 for those fancy F-Sport alloys and tires. That said, the gunmetal wheels are gorgeous, one of the best looking sets we've seen on a production vehicle – especially when set off by the bright blue F-Sport brake calipers. Be advised, however, that you're talking about $5,575 for the brake upgrade, and all-in you're looking at $12,190 for the complete set of F-Sport mods. While some of the additions are merely cosmetic (e.g. carbon fiber engine cover and shift knob), unlike Audi's S-Line, most are actually performance enhancing (e.g. shorter springs and fatter sway bars).

Inside, it's a totally different story. It's not terrible, but it is like entering a time machine set to the middle of last decade. Since the IS line debuted in 2007, we've met the updated Infiniti G, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac CTS and Audi A4, all of which feature vastly more modern interiors. The BMW E90 3 Series has been around since 2005, but it, too, went through a mid-cycle refresh in 2008 that upgraded its interior. In the Lexus, the switchgear feels old, the buttons are a bit tacky and the seats are just sort of there, not particularly noteworthy in any way. Again, nothing is particularly bad, but it just feels out of date – with one exception.

Special anti-props are reserved for the navigation system, which is as appetizing as last night's sushi. The non-touchscreen is small and almost illegible, especially when it comes to street names. Furthermore, it's very difficult to use. We dare any of you to turn off the Points of Interest (POI) icons in less than 60 seconds. We normally won't fault a car too harshly for its navigation system, however, when said nav is part of a $4,015 option package, we absolutely do. But don't take our word for it. J.D. Powers confirmed our summation in their latest navigation survey where the IS finished mid-pack behind the CTS, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes C-Class. Honestly, we're surprised it's not ranked lower. One more interior thing of interest these days: there was no driver's side floor mat.

As for the driving, the song remains the same. Perhaps it's more a mark of how spoiled we've become, but the 306 horsepower, 277 pound-feet of torque that the aluminum 3.5-liter V6 churns out feels... lacking. That said, we've driven the IS 350 four-door and found it anything but wanting more power, so we'll chalk up the 350C's anemic feeling to its 3,880 pound curb weight. That's more than three hundred pounds heavier than the IS 350's relatively light 3,527 pounds. Also, the 3,880-pound weight is what the standard, non F-Sport IS 350C weighs.

We'd guess that the beefier brakes, thicker sway bars, heavier dampers, high-performance exhaust and cold air intake add an additional one hundred pounds – at least. That said, the forged wheels are 20 pounds lighter than stock and the intake and exhaust add about a dozen horsepower. Still, for a 320-ish horsepower car (Lexus just said it's 3% more powerful than stock) the IS 350C F-Sport feels sluggish. For $62,216, you would think there would be a way to include the 416-hp 5.0-liter V8 from the macho IS-F – especially considering the fact that the IS-F starts at $58,460 and doesn't offer many options. The real kicker is that you just know there's an IS 350C running around Japan laying down fat strips of rubber with the IS-F's motor.

While forward thrust is not the IS 350C F-Sport's forte, its lateral moves are quite excellent. Again, the F-Sported shocks, springs and sway bars greatly improve the steering feel and side-to-side maneuvers over the regular IS. The fat Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires (225/35/19 front, 285/35/19 rear) also help the IS 350C F-Sport grip like LockJaw pliers. Seriously, for the amount of forward thrust you get, this car is laughably over-tired. Massive grip plus a responsive chassis with better-than-average steering feel equals lots of grins on a good road. One caveat: If you find yourself on a road full of constant switchbacks, you begin to notice the car's weight. And a bit of cowl shake/groan. The folding hardtop F-Sport simply doesn't want to change direction all that quickly. Go figure. That said, the brakes are truly fantastic and capable of hauling the portly Lexus to a standstill in a passenger-startling manner.

And then there's the transmission. Up until this point, everything about the Lexus IS 350C F-Sport has been a mixed bag (except the nav system, which is bad). It's a little funny looking, but we love convertibles. It's kinda slow, but it handles well. The interior's bad, but the brakes are stupendous. However, when it comes to this six-speed dog of a manu-matic cog swapper, there are no ifs, ands or buts. It's just really bad, even in Sport mode. Under normal acceleration, the transmission wants to shift from first to fourth gear almost instantly, and you'll find yourself in sixth gear by 40 mph. That's not sporting, let alone F-Sporting. The faux-paddles might be the worst-case scenario of "hurry up and wait" we've ever experienced pulling on. It feels like a full second transpires before your input gets translated into a different gear. And insult is heaped upon injury when you remember that the IS-F's eight-speed paddle-shifted autobox proves Lexus knows how to build the fastest shifting automatic on earth. They just elected to not stick that transmission, or any form of decent gearbox, in the IS 350C F-Sport.

Which leaves us... we're not sure exactly where. Driving around Los Angeles for a week, it became quite apparent that the IS 350C F-Sport has that all important X-factor that Angelenos find so important. Valets went gaga over it, while our friends' wives loved it even more. As for us, we just couldn't get past the dated interior, the lousy transmission and the money. In case you missed it, $62,216 as tested. We already mentioned Lexus's own IS-F costs less, but you could buy a BMW M3 Coupe and still have four thousand bucks left over. Moreover, this is Corvette Grand Sport Convertible territory. All three of the cars we just mentioned feature more than 400 hp and will light your hair on fire in a straight line. The IS 350C F-Sport meanwhile, just kinda loudly humps around town with its baffling gearbox and pretty wheels. All things considered, we're just not that into her.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      The back looks just fat and ugly...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Looks nice !

      I think people on this blog...well some are forget this is a cruiser type kinda of car with added performance. Its no zr1 by any means buy give people who want a smooth and well built car like this more excitement.

      But since its a Lexus AB people hate it right off the back. What a shame because im sure in real life this is a WONDERFUL ride that anyone would be happy with.

      Go job Lexus : )
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is the first article to knock Lexus's navigation system, which happens to be one of the best touch screens in the industry plus it has great voice-recognition technology that allows you to use normal, everyday speech. In addition, to turn the POI off all you have to do is press the voice command button and state "POI off." Come on get a real job.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree.

        Many reviews of Lexus has been said it have the best Nav's on the market. Im serious read into it.

        This is the first review to say that otherwise... I've even used them and they very nice and simple to use.

        There is nothing wrong with the car and its not fair that their comparing it to newer cars. They should leave out the comparison till the next Lexus IS comes out and im sure its gonna be sweeeeet. I already think the IS is one of the best sedans ever made.

        I give this "review" a 65 because it really misses the point of this car. They make the car seem horrible when in reality its no where near being horrible.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The car is quite a looker, and I'm sure there's alot of great information here, but the extensive use of "that said" made the review a bit hard for me to get through. Can we learn some more "this is bad but this is good" and vise versa transitions????
      • 3 Years Ago
      While it is not possible to test drive the F-Sport version, did compare base is350c against 335is convertible and G37 convertible. Here are my impressions. 1) BMW has the best top design, there is actually a usable trunk with top down. Great handling. Good layout. But how can you mess up the engine so much? The turbo power is not there until 6K rpm, that in combination with extra 300lbs above Lexus, means that you have to flog the car to make it go. There is absolutely no reason why turbo should not have been made to kick in a lot sooner. Buyers of 68K cars do not care about 1 mpg difference. 2) Infinity maybe better looking on the outside, but I miss having a trunk in a car. It is kind of a useful accessory, there is no trunk with top down. Top up the car feels claustrophobic. Handles good. Already heavy G37 is made even more massive by the convertible version so power is lacking. 3) Lexus lightest of the bunch. Power if virtually effortless, I got to 95mph on the on ramp without anybody in the car noticing the speed :-). Has a fat butt but enough room left in the trunk for a pair of grocery bags or a small suit case, and gym bag will fit in the "flat" section. Interior is ok. Brakes and handling were subpar but, F-sport fixes that and if it really adds 15-20 HP, it is well worth the price. Seems like the best car in the hard top convertable space at the moment. F-Sport package does not hold its value, so if you get it slighly used, you will get a huge discount. Sewell is selling one for 48K with less then a year and 5K miles on the odo. Too bad toyota cancelled F-sport for 2012.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Very 80s.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So they want $62K for a 320 HP 3900 lb convertible.

      which looks heavy
      feels heavy
      fails on the looks department on most counts

      and they expect to compete with
      - M3 convertible which is cheaper - lighter - handles well
      - 335 convertible which is much cheaper, lighter and handles well

      while they are priced in Corvette Z06 category (almost there)

      Fail on so many counts.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The IS350 was never intended to compete with the M3. And seriously, what idiot compares a 2 seat roadster to a 4 seat convertible touring car??? Come on!

        Have you ever driven the ISC? I have, and it didn't feel heavy. I drive an IS250 and it doesn't feel heavy.

        Overpriced? The IS undercuts the German competition in cost, but doesn't skimp on equipment. The only option my car DOESN'T have is the Nav/Mark Levinson package, and it was 36K out the door. Go get a similarly equipped MB or BMW for 36K... oh wait, you can't!

        I don't think anyone will argue that the brake upgrade and the wheel option are stupid for the IS350, and you'd be better off putting that 8000 dollars or so, toward and ISF instead.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You can't say the IS350c looks heavy when you personally haven't driven it. In addition, the IS350c isn't competing against the BMW M3 even with all the F-Sport upgrades, that's going to be the IS-F C's job in 2011. The BMW 335i convertible is not at all cheaper than the IS350c considering it has a starting price of $51,200. The new 2011 BMW 335is convertible alone starts at around $60k. Get your facts straight.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Couldn't have said better myself.
        • 5 Years Ago
        They always price anything Lexus high to offset the blunders on the Toyota side.
        • 5 Years Ago
        not too mention that the same package in a G37 convertable can be had for much less, and it handles much beter

        this car is definitely fail

        $62k is about $20k too much
        • 5 Years Ago
        Agreed. Lexus (Lexi?) are priced high as they are a big luxury brand, but $62K!!? That is a little overboard for something with competition that out-does this for less. I guess bang for the buck doesn't really find itself in the Lexus market.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I've always been an IS fan but face it, even though the car was always "close" to the mark, it never was quite even with the 3-series. Especially the M3. Now, the IS-F is the latest show across BMW's bow but still, it seems to miss IMO due to the transmission choice. This convertible is probably a good idea but again IMO, it needs a little help in the styling department. That rear boot area is out of proportion, and screams Solara.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm surprised at the criticism of the interior. I have a 2006 IS and while I agree that the nav system UI isn't the best I think the interior surfaces are nice. I have co-workers with Mercedes E550 and Audi S4s and while both are nice there are more hard plastics especially across the top of the dash. First time I rode in the each of them I was worried it would fill me with longing to replace the Lexus but I really wasn't left feeling that the Lexus interior was inferior.

      The line "The non-touchscreen is small and almost illegible.." is really odd since it is a touchscreen and it's a larger screen than the Mercedes. To me the biggest problem with it is how little you can do with it while in motion.
      • 1 Year Ago
      Thanks to all your posting.. this really help me to decide to buy the 2010 lexus IS 350c F-sport... This will be my very first sport car. :-)
      • 5 Years Ago
      M3 convertible - nuff said
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm going to play devil's advocate and argue... I think Lexus knew exactly what they were doing with this car, and all the attention the vehicle got tooling around LA from valets and women is GOLDEN proof.

        Lexus isn't going to sway many die-hard BMW 3-series or Audi enthusiasts on performance alone... if you want a car that competes decently with the Germans, your Lexus dealer will gladly show you an IS-F.

        But for regular Lexus buyers who want to LOOK like they can drag race, but don't actually give a crap about using the faux shift paddles or twisting through the corners in Estoril, this is a perfect way to spend your $60,000+. Look how many people you'll make jealous!

        It embodies everything appearance-conscious Los Angeles is all about. A 3-series convertible is a dime a dozen in LA. It doesn't matter that it's the much more capable vehicle if all you want is for valets to drool over your car and its gigantic wheels and brakes.
        • 5 Years Ago
        This competes with the BMW 328 and 335 convertibles, not the M3. It would be great to see the ISF-C though.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Seriously, M3 convertible? Do you even know how heavy the M3 convertible is? Weight figure taken straight from edmunds: 4145lbs. That's almost 300 lb HEAVIER than this car is. And the reviews have stated that M3 convertible really is for poseurs, because that car is just too heavy to do what the coupe and the sedan can do. The sedan (which is heavier than the coupe) is some 420lbs lighter. E93 M3s weight can be felt even more so than this car when being hustled on mountain roads.

        I've driven an e93 m3 as well so I know, too bad BMW had to go with the folding hardtop, else the convertible would've been at least comparable in weight to the e46 conv...

        • 5 Years Ago

        3 Series Convertible - nuff said
        • 5 Years Ago
        Point taken, but If it was all about weight then I would agree, but the way the 3 handles with the additional weight is amazing.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like this car. But the front license plate KILLS the front end. I wish we would really phase license plates out altogether.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X