Lexus IS 350 Convertible Review

Despite some drawbacks (air and water leaks, an easy target for knife-wielding thieves, noise that drowns out the stereo, the need to preserve TV-ready hair, sunstroke in five minutes or less....okay, those last two are strictly my problems), I'm a sucker for convertibles. Always have been. My Uncle Ron drove nothing else...a '55, '60 and '63 T-Bird (the '63 was a Sports Roadster) and a '69 Mercury Cougar XR-7. Riding in Uncle Ron's cars was always a big treat...and that's probably where I got it.

One of the best ways to address most of the above problems is a retractable hardtop. Top up, it's just like driving a fixed-roof coupe...top down, you've got a convertible.

Until now, you could get one from Lexus, but only one...the SC 430. Styling? A matter of taste. Price? 66 grand and change, base.

But this year, Lexus brings a new prize to the party...the IS 350 Convertible. As you can see in the photo above, it's a retractable. It's also, at least in my opinion, a bunch better looking than the SC 430 (also a retractable hardtop), a bunch more contemporary (the SC's been in production 11 years now, with no substantive changes) and a bunch more affordable....with a base price of $43,940. A bit of a bargain can be had by opting for the IS 250 Convertible...you give up about 100 horsepower (getting 204 instead of 306), but the base price falls to $38,940. Whether there's 5 grand worth of enjoyment in the bigger engine is your call.

All we've been exposed to is the 350...and it was a very nice ride. Since it carries the IS badge, there's more of a sporting feel (at least by Lexus standards)...and it's got more usable room (though not tons of it) than the SC430 for the driver and passengers (just don't take that back seat seriously).

EPA estimate: 18 city/25 highway.

With headlamp washers, the Luxury Package (Bi-Xenon high-intensity headlamps, adaptive front lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, leather, wood, memory seats, illuminated scuff plates, and rain-sensing wipers), and a nav system that also upgrades the audio system to a 275-watt Mark Levinson AM/FM/5.1 Surround DVD system, the bottom line wound up at $51,860.

That's up there for the size of the car (apart from the new HS hybrid, the IS is the smallest Lexus) and the level of the luxury, but more than 20grand cheaper than a similarly-outfitted SC 430. Your call.

Here's a cool CGI video created for the Lexus website that shows off the retractable hardtop's operation and other features: