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Hefty Price to Enter Land of Lexus


The Lexus IS sedan gets a sib for 2010, a retractable hardtop version that gives the luxury automaker an entry-level coupe and convertible for the first time.

The IS comes in two flavors: base 250C with 2.5-liter, 204-horsepower, 24-valve V-6, and top-of-the-line 350C with 3.5-liter, 306-hp, 24-valve V-6. The 2.5 offers 6-speed manual or automatic with manual-mode paddle shifting; the 3.5, automatic only.

We tested the 250C with automatic and found its ability to conserve gas is impressive, but its spirit in pulling out to pass is disappointing. If you want fashionable top-down motoring, either does the trick. If looking for a little performance to boot, the 350C is the choice.

The 2.5 is rated at 18 mpg city/26 highway with manual, a more generous 21/29 with automatic. That takes a feather from those who tout manuals over automatics. The 3.5 is rated at 18/25 with 6-speed automatic, only 1 mpg highway less than the 2.5 with manual.

The IS convertible is the coupe version of the four-door sedan. The top is aluminum, joining that on the sporty and luxurious SC430.

IS arrived shortly after rival Infiniti brought out its new G37 retractable hardtop (Rides, Sept. 20). The G, however, is aimed more at performance enthusiasts, with a much more energetic 3.7-liter, 325-hp, 24-valve V-6 with a 7-speed automatic rated at 17/25. The G37 leaps from the light, while its sports-tuned suspension keeps the radials planted firmly for exceptional handling.

The 250C is far tamer than the G, though standard stability control with traction control help keep the IS from needless wandering.

Front seats motor forward to create a wide opening to the back seat, where, sadly, the IS250C is similar to the G37 with its nonexistent room.

Since the hardtop rests almost directly against the rear-seat headrests when the top is up, and the melon stands 2 inches above that headrest with top open, the rear seat is open only to Munchkins. The soft and supple perforated leather buckets are super cozy, so it's a shame that adult limbs below the knees don't fit.

The top quickly opens or closes. The big advantage of a metal top is that it minimizes wind noise with top up and windows open. A pair of roll bars behind the headrests offer protection if you roll with the top down.

There's enough trunk room for luggage and gear with top up, or duffel bag and light gear with top down. Plastic holders and tie hooks to keep things in place, roof open or closed.

Top up or down, the trunk also holds tool and first-aid kits, though it would be much nicer if the first-aid kit were in the cabin and within reach without having to pull over and stop.

Up front, bucket seats are sooo soft, while providing long-distance back and bottom support. Side bolsters are on the slim side and aren't meant to hold you tightly in place, perhaps an admission that you're unlikely to drive too aggressively with the 2.5-liter V-6.

Nice touches include push-button start, locking glove box, slide-open stowage in the center armrest, along with a 12-volt power plug, USB and iPod plugs. But when the armrest top slides open, it tilts back, leaving itself vulnerable to a wayward elbow.

Word of warning: To make up for the loss of two doors, Lexus made the survivors 11.8 inches longer. Try slipping out when parked between two cars, however, and the door feels like an 11.8-foot wall.

The IS250C starts at $39,660; the IS350C at $43,940.

Among the standard goodies are dual-zone air conditioning, Bluetooth phone technology, XM satellite radio and power front seats. To get seats heated/cooled, add the $3,055 luxury package, which also gives you rain-sensing wipers among other goodies. Navi runs $3,890 and adds Mark Levinson audio with 12 speakers and DVD/CD changer.

Lexus says the IS convertible is meant to give consumers an affordable entry-level luxury car. With options, the car stickered at $48,000 plus change, a hefty entry fee.

2010 LEXUS IS250C
Wheelbase: 107.5 inches
Length: 182.5 inches
Engine: 2.5-liter, 204-h.p. V-6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual mode paddles
MPG: 21 city/29 highway
Price as tested: $47,325
(Add $875 for freight.)

$39,660 Base
$3,890 Navigation system, Mark Levinson audio with 12 speakers and DVD/CD changer
$3,055 Luxury package with adaptive bi-xenon lights, heated/ventilated leather memory seats upfront with power slide, illuminated scuff plates and rain-sensing wipers
$720 18-inch graphite wheels

(+) Retractable hardtop for year-round usage and open top cruising
(+) Decent trunk space with top up
(+) Good mileage

(-) V-6 lacks some muscle
(-) 6-speed manual mileage falls short of automatic's
(-) Abbreviated rear seat room
(-) Limited trunk space with top down

Jim Mateja can be reached at transportation@tribune.com.


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