The market for cabrios hit the skids hard during the financial crisis, when any wind in your hair seemed suddenly too-lavish, and too-decadent.
Even luxury shoppers pulled back during that unprecedented stock market decline. This makes sense: those in the market were the most exposed to big on-paper losses.
As such, it was a pretty inopportune time for Lexus to launch its best-ever convertible: the ISC.
This amazing machine entered a soft market with competition from the all-star BMW 3 (and now 4 series) droptop, as well as the better-sounding Infiniti G37 (now Q60) Convertible.
So what has Lexus done? Pull out of the market? No sir. As the NYSE passes clear above 17,000 for the first time in history — buyers are back in the cabrio market.
The 2014 model tested here proves Lexus knew how great the car was, and decided to ride out all the competitors’ name-changes, and await the return of the brand’s tannest and hottest clientele.
A week with the 2014 IS350C F Sport proves that Lexus was very right to double down. The IS350C F Sport is effortlessly luxurious, fast and still quite sexy in 2014.
The Lexus ISC offers an F Sport package option for both engine choices, updated equipment, and some handsome LED headlight accents for 2015.
The Lexus ISC is one of the best-looking coupe designs ever to come out of the Lexus style center. It avoids any kind of big-rump effect that plagues many hardtop convertibles, and makes the most of the lean and pure aesthetic of the Lexus IS sedan. With the top up, the car is sportier than any two-door Lex that has ever been, including the first-gen SC300/SC430 and the French Rivera style of the latest SC430.
With the top down, the car becomes a real pin-up. Short overhangs front and rear are joined by a flat and enclosed rear canopy with the top down. A faster windshield angle than the sedan is pert and fresh, while the clean nose design is still classy and handsome even as the new IS debuted its full-frame grille.
So why is all this is the past tense? The current ISC F Sport brings dark charcoal rims, a Z-inset grille that is dark and classy, while the latest Ultra White paint nails the style trends of 2014 and 2015.
It is a clean and beautiful machine that is effortlessly luxurious and premium – even as the new RC Coupe updates the Lexus design chic to another level entirely.
The cabin of the IS350C is available in five colors and trim packages that vary the dash decor accents and the leather colors. These changes totally transform the headliner and dash color as well, which presents a broad swath of luxury choices for shoppers.
The F Sport package feels freshest of all thanks to its silver sport pedals, silver accents and sportier seats and steering wheel. The F Sport is clearly the cooler and more youthful choice versus the standard ISC, which is more traditional in its wheels and grille outside; seats and trim inside.
Some of the LExus touch-screen elements feel a bit dated, but all work well and require no learning curve. This is in stark contrast with the BMW 435i, whose cabin is a mess of new-fangled controls that do not feel intuitive. Even the gear-lever of the BMW 4 series is a tricky thing to use. Who has time for that in an easy luxury droptop?
All the continuous improvements in the design are mirrored inside of the loaded IS350C F Sport, which now brings vented seating and a quicker nav touchscreen.
The back seat is relatively narrow and seats only two, but there is legroom for actual adults.
So, if the Lexus ISC looks hot and feels great from the driver’s seat, how does it actually drive?
It is fast and very quick in the 306-horsepower IS350 guide versus the IS250 with about 100 horsepower less. Surprisingly, the upgrade from IS250 to IS350 is only a $5,000 change — making the more-potent package the clear choice for anyone who likes to floor throttle pedals.
The ISC is quick and feels rear-drive in all its actions. It is quiet and refined like a coupe with the top up, but really feels in its element with the top down. The aluminum top folds nicely into the trunk in just 20-seconds up or down — at the push of s button. A status message in he gauge cluster shows the progress of the top and confirms when it is complete — helpful for stoplights when the light has already turned green.
Here we find a place in need of improvement: the top cannot be raised or lowered on the move. This is regrettable but not a big issue in the grand scheme of things.
The car is fast off the line and feels ever bit as energetic as the BMW 435i Convertible or the G37 Convertible. Where the IS350C F Sport loses points is its mellow engine note. It is almost too refined, and there is little soul coming from the exhaust pipes out back.
Secondly, with only a six-speed automatic versus the 435i’s eight-speed, it takes a big throttle jab and kickdown to move the IS350C forward for passing moves.
Lastly, the IS350C F Sport appears to chug fuel on the move. You can watch the needle fall pretty rapidly, but the economy is actually very good. The hardtop mechanism means the fuel tank is smaller than it should be. This cuts highway range down to a marginal 300-miles or so between fill-ups.
The Lexus IS is remarkably good value versus its competition from Audi’s A5 and S5, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet and BMW 428i and 435i Convertibles.
This review is a bit less of a whole-hearted endorsement than we have given to the latest Lexus ISF, ES300h and GX460 SUV. That is because the car is more complicated and its market standing is a little dated at this point. The F Sport styling helps dramatically, and the new-for-2015 LED accents in the headlights are also very welcome.
But there is a nagging feeling that the car is close to replacement by a future RC350 Convertible.
THe RC350 Convertible, if Lexus decides to produce it, will correct almost everything noted here via a new eight-speed automatic and redesigned exterior and interior. It is a big *if*, however. We have seen no official RC350 convertible messaging or concepts from Lexus.
If that convertible does arrive in 2016, owners of this easy, breezy and beautiful ISC will be the first in line to trade up. This convertible is near-perfect — and will fit into stylish owners’ lives from day one. It is a fashionable car with almost no trade-offs for its summer-loving attitude.
For that, we give the IS350C F Sport a solid B+ grade.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.