WHEN Lexus took its first pop at creating a stylish hard-top convertible, the result was the SC Sports Coupe, a car so ugly it looked like it had been left in the kiln too long.
Thankfully, the SC has now been dumped from the range and its place given to the IS 250C.
Based on Lexus stylish and compact IS saloon, it comes with the same minimal overhangs, broad stance and head-down posture and a three-part folding hard-top that can be raised or lowered in just 21 seconds.
Despite the addition of a slightly a rather swollen rump (to house the roof when lowered) it is an immediately more handsome car than its open-topped predecessor.
Refinement of a hard-top
Packing the same 205bhp 2.5-litre V6 engine as the IS 250 saloon, the 250C aim was to mix the refinement and comfort of the hard-top car with wind-in-your-hair driving.
Extensive reinforcing of the chassis has also sought to preserve the dynamics of the saloon, as lopping off the roof - a key structural element - can often reduce a cars rigidity and lead to less immediate responses out on the road.
On paper though, this is no sports car.
A nine-second sprint to 62mph and 130mph top speed don't translate to performance thrills.
Fuel economy of 30.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 219g/km are also some way behind its direct rivals from BMW (3-Series Convertible) and Audi (A5 Cabriolet).
Two specifications of IS 250C start at £34,550 for the entry-level IS-I and top out with the 43,250 for the SE-L Multimedia, fitted with Lexus Adaptive Cruise Control and Pre-Crash Safety Systems. The latter, more expensive car, is tested here.
Well-specced premium feel
Partly justifying the price of a range-topping Audi S5 convertible, the interior of the 250C is well-specced, well-appointed and has a premium feel.
Like the saloon, I find myself sitting a little higher than I would normally but the position is honed for comfort rather than a sporty stance.
This emphasis on comfort is further emphasised by the broad leather seats that can either heat or cool your posterior.
It's an unusual sensation but, on a hot day with the top down, will provide much-needed relief from the sun.
To save your eyes when reading the speedo or Sat-Nav, Lexus have even gone to the trouble of coating all the interiors reflective surfaces with a special coating to prevent glare while stereo and air-conditioning systems also adapt their responses automatically when the roof is folded away.
With the roof in place, the 250C's cabin was a comfortable and refined place to be.
Only the Casio wrist watch-style clock cheapens the otherwise stylish and well-constructed interior carried over from the saloon.
At a motorway cruise, the convertible is every bit as refined as the impressive as its tin-top sibling.
On Rotherham's roads...
It was only when Rotherham's rutted roads began to do their worst that some slight movement in the roof's joints could be heard.
Lexus has had to sacrifice rear accommodation to ensure that 235 litres of a whopping 583-litre boot remains usable with the roof folded away and though the seats have been moved 30mm in-board to improve headroom, anyone over 5ft 6ins is best staying at home.
Up front, the driver and front seat passenger will have no complaints, though, with super-comfy seats and various climate control systems.
Touch-screen satnav and stereo controls, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the six-speed automated gearbox and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) all prove straightforward in use and keep the 250Cs gadget count high.
A Pre-Crash Safety system also accompanies ACC and will alert the driver to an imminent collision, deploying the pre-crash seatbelt pretensioners and pre-crash brake assist if it senses an impact is unavoidable.
No sports car
The 250C is both safe and refined but any illusions that simply lopping the roof off a car makes a sports car are quickly dispelled out on Rotherham's twisty B-roads.
Despite the addition of underfloor bracing to maintain handling stability and ride comfort, the 250Cs the steering lacks outright feel and, under braking, the front wheels can tram-line, following road imperfections.
Smooth progress is delivered in spades by the 2.5-litre V6 and six-speed gearbox, however, and although it never feels fast, the pace rises determinedly without fuss or fireworks.
Offering refined, luxurious accommodation for two (+two) and top-down cruising for weekends, the 250C is a relaxing cruiser ready to go topless at the push of a button.
It falls short of offering sports car thrills but offers premium comfort and a top spec that cement the values of Toyota's luxury brand.
If Lexus wanted to appeal to a younger, more dynamic audience with the 250C, it might just have stayed too true to form to do so but as a stress-free way of enjoying our belated spring, there can be few more relaxing cars to do it in.
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