By on November 15, 2011
Most folks aren’t into cars.

They do want advice though; which is tricky for the B&B. While auto enthusiasts like us seek the Coltranes and Metallicas of vehicular enjoyment. They prefer… well… Jimmy Buffett. A well executed car that makes them feel comfortable, has a touch of ‘fun’ at times (the non-enthusiast types of fun), and can go about the transport business for a good decade and change with the same tune and minimal fuss.

They want Maragaritaville without the DUI.

All the convertibles in the $40,000 to $60,000 range seek to attract this mainstream audience. Can the Lexus IS250c do it better? And if so, at what price?

First Impressions

Walk around the Lexus IS250c and you’ll immediately notice two things. The first is that the vehicle has lines all over the place… and these lines are asymmetric. While the front and side profiles of the IS250c are evocative of the IS from which it is based, there are heavy thick lines on the front of the roof, sides and rear that almost have a mind of their own.

They curve. They dip. They even protrude when a lighter color is chosen over a darker one. From an engineering standpoint, they enable the Lexus hardtop to retract in a beautifully seamless way. But as a design element they accentuate the bulbous nature of the vehicle. Especially in the rear where Lexus apparently tried to meld the back of a late-90’s Camry with the IS250c.

Getting Comfortable

Most IS250c’s will come equipped with the luxury package. This  includes ‘Semi-Aniline’ leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, a bit of wood trim near the automatic shifter, and LED lights on the front that are found standard on the far less expensive CT200h.

With all the options checked off including navigation and parking assist, the price came to… $48,192… which is precisely where the IS250c begins to lose its competitive edge.

I’m going to be blunt here. For the longtime enthusiast, the IS250c will be a stark reminder of how Toyota is trying to ‘Scionize’ the Lexus division. Padded dashes and copious levels of interior wood have been replaced with two things. A dashboard material nearly identical in texture and color to an industrial grade GMC Yukon SUV, and door panels that are devoid of all the luxurious appliques that once adorned Toyota’s luxury flagships.

Cost containment is right there in your face. The steering wheel… would do fine in the Scion Tc. Not so much in a $48,000+ luxurious convertible. The wood is nice… but thin and scanty. On the positive side, the seats are still superb. The Lexus Enform system is truly state of the art, and the fit and assembly is unquestionable.

A non-enthusiast will look at the seats, slide right in, play around with the multimedia functions during their daily drive, and have fun. But enthusiasts and long-itme Lexus owners may have trouble ponying up so much money for this interior. At or near the $40k mark it is fine. But the inteiror of an IS250c is just not what most would expect out of a near-$50,000 Lexus.

The drive

Off the line a Lexus IS250c will still offer the magic carpet smoothness that is pure Lexus. From 0 to 30 it almost feels like a smooth sail of acceleration  Handling is very tight and direct. The Lexus calling card here is to offer buyers plenty of confidence and just a hint of sportiness. Audi and BMW owners will find it to be clinical and over-managed… but for real world driving by a non-enthusiast it is near optimal.

The IS never felt underpowered while traveling through 600+ miles of interstates, town driving and winding roads. The torque range has a nice, almost Saab like thrust from 30 to 70 mph, and the 204 Horsepower, 2.5 Liter V6 is surprisingly capable of launching this vehicle.

Though some may complain that the ‘numbers’ are at the back of the pack, the real world experience reflect this car’s unique ability to pack punch with excellent fuel economy. The EPA sticker shows 21 city / 30 highway. But my experience with a 50/50 combination of city and highway was… 30 mpg. And no, that is not a typo. I even checked the tire pressure to make sure that nothing strange was going on and everything was stock and spec. Highway driving is in the the thick of the mid-30’s.

Why buy it?

Let’s look at the big reason to buy one of these things; the retractable hardtop. At speed the interior is an absolute tomb of quiet. We’re talking easy, whisper conversation quiet. Most folks won’t even realize that this Lexus has the power to go topless until you deem it so.

Press a single button and within 20 seconds the IS250c transforms itself into a surprisingly quiet convertible cruiser. There is some tire noise and rear passengers will get a bit of buffeting… but don’t worry. You won’t need to take on too many passengers. You can’t.

This convertible is essentially a three seater. Two adults on the passenger side can fit in a pinch. On the driver’s side I had to move my seat up four inches to accommodate my eight year old son. If you want to pay mere ‘lip service’ to the idea of transporting your friends, the IS250c may be just your ticket.

Overall

The truth is the IS250c needs a lot of interior upgrading, more rear passenger room and exterior design improvements to become a class leader. Will the non-enthusiasts who want to have a ‘Lexus’ appreciate this car? Yes. But a Volvo C70 offers a bit more room and a far nicer interior. The Audi A5 and BMW 328i give off the driving feel that appeals to the enthusiast crowd, and the Inifiniti G37 offers a better overall package without the quirks. In the real world of financing and leasing you’re only looking at about a $50 per month difference, so why buy an IS250c?
Note: Lexus provided a free tank of gas, insurance, and use of the vehicle for a week. 
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24 Comments on “CPO To Go: 2011 Lexus IS250c...”


  • avatar
    meefer

    I own an IS250 and agree on the interior. Fine for the price I paid, completely unacceptable in a $50K automobile. Although an ex’s $53K A5 2.0T Quattro vert didn’t impress either (no wood, lots of silver plastic, kickass nav, bleh iPod integration).

    I’d rather have a CPO SC430 than either one of those.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Enthusiast or not, I wouldn’t want a car as forced, fuzzy and my-way-or-the-highway as Coltrane (6-series), at least not for anything resembling the long term. Nor as one dimensionally competent but boring as Metallica (G37). In fact, in a 4 seat convertible, I’d take Jimmy Buffet any day. And so it seems, would every parrothead floating around like driftwood in Sebrings all over South Florida. I’d take Django (911) over all of them, though. Or the Sublime Mustang GT. At least until someone starts building the Rubinstein or Louis Armstrong of ‘verts.

  • avatar
    B.C.

    When you go topless you can’t hide anything, especially if you’ve skimped on the man-made upholstery.

  • avatar
    Fugue

    Those pictures look strangely familiar…

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    My friend has one of these. As the third wheel I am frequently subjected to the back seat on road trips so we can drop the top. Not fun. The mileage is correct however, we always get at least 31 on the interstate driving 75 or so. She had the Lexus hybrid as a dealer loaner one trip and it only got 34 I think.

  • avatar
    Advo

    I’m curious as to why it’s so bad in the back. Is there simply no room for your (height?) frame, or is the wind pretty bad at city or highway speeds?

    Of course, maybe you prefer seeing the world in hard-tops over convertibles, but that would be a personal preference and nothing to take offense at by others who do not agree with your opinion.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Steve – how is trunk space with the top down? One reason I don’t mind owning a soft top is the trunk space is still very reasonable with the top down. As well, I haven’t seen a hardtop convertible that I didn’t think the cut lines detracted from the look of the car.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    I’ve never really understood the appeal of these cars. Why would you want an IS or G37 with its roof cut off, and an extra $10K added to the sticker? If you want a luxury convertible, buy a real one – an XK or an SL. If you can’t afford it, get it CPO. If you want to have some fun, get a Boxster or a Z4.

    These sedans with a buzzcut seem like the worst of all worlds. They aren’t that luxurious, or sporty, or fun, and there’s no more room inside than a sports car so they aren’t practical either.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Davekaybsc: “If you want a luxury convertible, buy a real one – an XK or an SL. If you can’t afford it, get it CPO.”

      Your statement doesn’t make sense:
      1) XK isn’t hardtop, and SL is way more expensive
      2) It’s not fair to compare a new car to an CPO, because you can get the cheaper car in CPO too. What do you have to match a IS 250c CPO?

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Also, as an editorial note, Metallica is not a band one should analogize with something considered “good”. At least not unless you’re talking about cars made prior to 1991. Just ask Metallica fans (those that are left) what they think of Lulu. Coltrane’s later period was also not his best, although that at least works better than Metallica.

    You would’ve been better off with Miles, and maybe a band like Black Sabbath that’s still respected.

  • avatar
    jmo

    How about the roof in terms of creaks and rattles. I had a friend who traded an SL for a Aston as the dealer could never get the roof to stop rattling.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      No creaks or rattles at all… and the vehicle had about 13k on it.

      The robustness of the retractable top, and the top notch engineering, would make me think that noise would not be a long-term issue.

      Lexus has a history of over-engineering the items that tend to wear with time. Feel free to look at the drop dead gorgeous door hinge assembly on an SC400 and you’ll see what I mean.

  • avatar
    JJ

    I wouldn’t soon choose to have a 4 seater vert like this anyway but if I would I’d take all the other options you mentioned over this Lexus.

    I see what you mean though, about enthusiasts and their non-enthusiast acquaintances asking for advice. However, I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions. Enthusiasts (usually) like certain cars because they have some special quality, be it a sweet looking design, a perfect interior, superior driving dynamics, a great engine or whatever else that other cars in the same range don’t offer. Just because non-enthusiasts are unaware or indifferent about these things at first doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate them when confronted with it (when they own the vehicle). So why not point them in the direction of the product you would actually buy yourself in their place? They did ask for your advice because you ‘know about cars’ in the first place.

    Of course there are some exceptions to this, for instance one shouldn’t advise anyone to use, say, a 70s Quattroporte as a daily driver, but in general I don’t see the point in advising your friends and family to drive some blandmobile because it’s reliable (what’s the reliability difference anyway these days between modern cars) and because they’d never know what they’re missing anyway when they’d chosen something more fun.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Enthusiasts tend to be more willing to live with design compromises than the general public… if that means they get better performace in the process.

    Most non-enthusiasts are into convenience and reliability, This Lexus IS250c would be a good match for a couple of empty nest Floridian retirees who are just looking for a nice reliable convertible/coupe.

    It’s not a good fit for an enthusiast who prioritizes power, speed, handling, and a high quality interior. I’m sure there are many vehicles that appeal to both groups (as you mentioned) but tastes and preferences tend to be wildly divergent when it comes to those who have a passion for the automobile… and those simply looking for transport.

    I guess some say Camry… and others say Kizashi.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “Enthusiasts tend to be more willing to live with design compromises than the general public… if that means they get better performace in the process.”

      The so called enthusiasts simply don’t put their money where their mouth is. Or maybe they don’t have that money to begin with.

      If they do, then mannual Saab station wagons would probably be the best selling car.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Steve, I’m not sure I would point to the SC400 as an example of over-engineered wear items. I had an SC300. By age 10, the seals around both headlights had failed, allowing the lights to fill with water (common SC issue) requiring that both headlamps be replaced. Several pieces of plastic and vinyl interior trim had cracked badly (another common SC issue).

    At age 11, the entire door armrest/handle assembly came off. Came off. I went to pull the door shut, and the inside of the door literally came off in my hand.

    In contrast, the interior of my now 8 year old C5 Audi A6 is almost flawless, the only issue being a bit of wear on the leather wrap on the wheel. The leather on the SC300 seats cracked and split apart. A6 seats still look like new, and I’m not somebody who obsessively treats them with Zaino – they were just made properly.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      Are the Audi seats completely leather, or just the inserts? Some Audis have leather inserts for comfort but synthetic material around the edges. It seems to work well in keeping the seats looking new.

      The Lexus seats were probably completely leather.

  • avatar
    swedishiron

    40K+ I want top notch safety and considering Toyota’s lack of concern with roll over protection in convertibles previously (SC Convertibles) and that Volvo pioneered the upward deploying SIPS curtain bag I would definitely pick the C70. I don’t trust Lexus’ convertibles to protect me in a rollover even if they do have roll bars. PLUS Volvo has the factory backed POLESTAR tune to seriously upgrade the power on the C70.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      For me, the first thing I want from a hardtop convertible is an assurance that it won’t leak. That, and the fact Honda/Subaru don’t produce such cars, means the IS convertible is the only choice.

      This car is for touring. If I want involved driving that increases the chance of a roll over, I would choose a real coupe instead.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I’m curious on why a CPO review of this car. I checked the CPO inventory of my local Lexus dealer (RTP NC area, two stores) and there aren’t any (or any IS350Cs).

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Technically I can’t call it a new car review. The model I had access to was an outgoing 2011 model that already had over 12,000 miles.

  • avatar
    Marko

    If you’re going to pay that much more for the convertible, they should at least give it a somewhat improved interior. I agree, the interior is great at the sedans’ price points, but not so much for $50K. It doesn’t help that the SC430′s claim to fame was its interior (though it cost $20K or so more).


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