2010 Lexus IS 350C lacks in family friendliness

2011 Lexus IS 350 F

2011 Lexus IS 350 F (Credit: Lexus)

I'm just going to come right out and say that the 2010 Lexus IS 350C was the most fun I've had in a car in a long time. How could it not be fun? It was a sexy little red convertible with plenty of power and lots of luxury. It also didn't hurt that Los Angeles was experiencing a heat wave that brought the hottest day in the city's history while I had a convertible to drive. Suffice it to say, I only put the top up when I parked it for the night. For a week, the wind tousled my hair, my friends were jealous of my glamorous life and I was one hot mama.

The rear-wheel-drive IS 350C is the convertible model of Lexus' popular IS line. It's a two-door hardtop that seats four and has a super-fun 3.5-liter V-6 engine. What's really great about it, though, is that this little beauty is on the softer side of sporty, with a smoother ride than a true sports car. It's not meant to go screaming around the track, but it was plenty sporty enough to tempt me into trouble on the highway or twisty mountain roads. Not that I followed that impulse. Of course. I moderately enjoyed the 306 horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission while gently cruising at respectable, mature speeds up hills and through switchbacks and never once found myself getting overly exuberant. Ahem.

Living with kids in this car took some creativity, but we managed. The IS 350C only has room for my kids or my husband, but not both at the same time since the backseat's legroom is limited. Taking kids to school and running errands was no problem, but the small space left in the trunk when the convertible top was down gave me pause. I also wasn't in love with the navigation system's touch-screen controls, but I was having so much fun just driving a convertible with a V-6 that I was willing to overlook it. While the IS 350C isn’t cheap -- it starts at $44,890 -- fun like this is worth the $49,415 on the sticker of my test car.

EXTERIOR

The 2010 IS 350C is a hot little number, particularly in the Matador Red Mica of my test car. It’s really beautiful, according to everyone I spoke to on the subject. In front, the IS 350C crouches low to the ground, with strong sculpting angling back from the chromed grille to the corners of the windshield. With the top up, the profile is reminiscent of the more expensive SC model. With the top down, the IS looks longer and roomier, even breezier.

There's very little chrome on the IS 350C, which is surprising for a Lexus. Only the front grille is wrapped in chrome, leaving the door handles and windows clean. The Lexus badging is also chrome, but aside from that, the IS is sleek and monochromatic. Twin exhaust tips are also chromed.

Getting in and out of the IS 350C is a breeze when the top is down. It's less so if the top is up, which is another excellent reason to leave the top down. The IS sits fairly low to the ground, so passengers have to slide in and down. When the roof is up, even little ones need to watch their heads climbing in. There's plenty of headroom while seated in front and enough in the back for small folk. The doors are pleasantly solid and not too heavy, but they can be difficult for kids in the backseat to close since it's a coupe.

The IS 350C comes with an entertaining 3.5-liter V-6 engine that makes 306 horsepower. The gas mileage isn't entertaining, however, with an EPA rating of 18/25 mpg city/highway that I wasn't able to duplicate with all of my conservative driving. Premium gas is required.

SENSE AND STYLE Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On

INTERIOR

Inside the IS 350C is a world of black leather and metallic-looking trim. Genuine wood trim is optional. The controls are easy to read and close at hand, but Lexus needs to update the navigation system's clunky touch-screen that dominates the center stack. It requires more of a stab than a touch and gets smudged easily. There are nifty techie features like Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, satellite radio and navigation. The IS has a USB input, but it’s so slow and clumsy to operate that it’s not worth using except as a way to charge your iPod.

Storage is fairly minimal in the IS 350C. There's a small center bin that houses the input ports and a charging point. The doors have narrow bins to hold the mail but no bottleholders. The two cupholders work well, however, so I remained fully caffeinated.

The front seats are comfortably firm, and my test car had the optional heated and cooled seats, as well. As it was more than 100 degrees outside during my test week this was particularly appreciated. Those seats also adjust in 10 ways at the push of a button, and there’s a button on the front passenger head restraint that slides that seat forward and back, making access to the backseat easier.

The backseat is considerably less comfortable than the front. In fact, I let my 10-year-old sit in the front passenger seat, both to give him more room and because he hated the wind in the backseat when the top was down. His 7-year-old brother sat behind him, but I had to slide the front passenger seat forward an inch or two to give him some much needed legroom. Backpacks were stored on the seat behind me and we were off! The IS 350C only worked for us because my kids are older. If they were still in booster seats or infant seats, we would have been far less thrilled. Still, my boys were comfy enough with twin cupholders and rear vents.

Cargo space is also at a minimum. The hardtop folds into the trunk, and there's not a great deal of space remaining. A nifty shield divides the space, so it’s easy to tell what you have room for and what will require the roof to remain up. When the top is up, the trunk is roomy enough for a major grocery trip or sports gear, but not kids' bikes or a trip to Ikea.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

SAFETY

Making things difficult in the IS 350C is how poorly child-safety seats fit in the backseat of this little bundle of fun. Booster seats don't sit flat in the second row's two bucket seats, and they're difficult to buckle as a result. There's no room for a rear-facing infant-safety seat, but I'd never consider putting an infant in the back of a convertible because of the wind and sun exposure. A forward-facing convertible car seat fit, but there's little legroom for kids. While the two sets of lower LATCH anchors are easy enough to reach, if I had kids in car seats the IS 350C wouldn't be my car of choice.

Visibility is great in the IS when the top is down, but when it's up there are some big blind spots. Helpfully, the rear head restraints fold down with a release at the front of the backseats. Also, there's an optional backup camera that gives a secondary view.

The IS 350C has standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control and six airbags, including side-impact and knee airbags for the front rows.

Besides the optional backup camera, the IS' optional safety features include a navigation system, front and rear parking sensors, dynamic cruise control and Lexus Enform with SafetyConnect, which is similar to GMC's OnStar system.

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