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Lexus IS 250C SE-I

Click to view picture gallery“While the Lexus IS 250C is
  certainly no sports car, it does
  make a convincing fist of being
  a rapid, refined and beautifully
four-seater convertible.
  A tourer in the grand sense and
  really rather appealing...”

ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS in an otherwise depressingly meagre year for the Tokyo Motor Show (which opens this week) can be found on the Lexus stand. Toyota's pinnacle brand best known for making leathered-up cruisemobiles for the silver-haired generation has suddenly reinvented itself as a purveyor of Pagani Zondas… Well, almost: its LFA is a 552bhp V10-powered 'hypercar' that will cost over £300,000 when it goes on sale next year.

So if Lexus has discovered that it can make performance cars (and remember it also builds the extraordinary 400bhp IS-F saloon), does the new IS 250C convertible fit into that mould? Is it a sports car, or more like the old SC 430 convertible, which was the very blancmange-like essence of the Americanised soft-tourer?

Well, the IS 250C has looks on its side. It's genuinely attractive. With the roof down, it has echoes of Mercedes-Benz. Raise the roof (a simple electronic exercise, as usual) and it becomes a remarkably harmonious-looking coupé. I got a lot of attention in it, although most of the admiring glances seemed to be coming from 'women who are blond beyond their age'.

If it has the right sporty look, the fact that it's rear-wheel drive should start to excite enthusiastic drivers too. But the feeling doesn't last. This is one heavy machine (weighing in at 1,730kg) and it's powered by a 2.5-litre V6 engine that kicks out a meagre 205bhp. And those horses are mashed through a torque-sapping six-speed automatic gearbox.

Despite the stats, it does feel eager. Lexus quotes a 0-62mph time of 9 seconds but I think it's quicker than that. The automatic gearbox works well when you're pressing hard, but if you feather the throttle it can sometimes get confused and hunt around for the right gear. Lexus has supplied paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual changes and there's a switchable sports mode in automatic, but it's all a far cry from the best German DSG/Tiptronic systems.

Not too sporty, then. However, this is one ultra-refined ride. The engine is virtually silent at idle and super-smooth as you accelerate away. Pressing hard on the throttle produces a turbine-like V6 surge that's never intrusive. There's also zero wind noise with the roof up. Roof down, you get a pleasant swirl of air and none of the buffeting from which some cabrios suffer. There's the inevitable scuttle shake, so if you want to do some serious cornering it's best to have the roof raised.

“On one unrestricted
section of motorway,
I touched 140mph.
And it was all
completely unruffled
Raised the roof certainly was when I dropped in at the Nürburgring en route to the Frankfurt Motor Show — in the pouring rain. Not ideal conditions; but ideal to uncover any faults in the IS 250C's chassis.

My conclusion? It's no sports car. It doesn't inspire confidence turning into bends and the steering lacks incisiveness, with the front-end washing out if you carry too much speed. The rear end did step out a few times during my lap around the wet twisties but the vehicle dynamics system cut in very quickly to rein things in.

Where the IS feels most at home is on German autobahns, where its refinement and pace shine. On one unrestricted section of motorway, I touched 140mph — above the stated max of 130 — and it was all completely unruffled. Just make a note never to use the radar cruise control: it's embarrassingly over-sensitive to objects in the far distance.

Quality oozes out of every crevice of this car. The leather-swathed cabin is tailor-made to seduce buyers away from German brands, and you'll struggle to find a better-built car at this price. Rear passenger space is also quite generous for a hardtop convertible — you can easily fit two adults in the back. And the boot is absolutely enormous, except when you fold the roof down, when it's absolutely minuscule.

The IS 250C is certainly no sports car — buy the LFA to satisfy that particular craving [that's supposing you want to spend £336K on a car, Chris! — Ed]. The 250C does, however, make a convincing fist of being a rapid, refined, beautifully-built four-seater convertible. It's a tourer in the grand sense and, all round, really rather appealing. — Chris Rees

Lexus IS 250C SE-I
| £34,550
Maximum speed: 130mph | 0-62mph: 9 seconds | Overall MPG: 30.4mpg
Power: 205bhp | Torque: 186lb ft | CO2 219g/km | Insurance group 15