The last part of the Byron Bay Odyssey” is about the car itself. Firstly, we could not take a pic of the “2 Bags Test”. The IS failed miserably. Only 2 microscopic bags could be stowed in the boot with the roof down. Roof down? Of course the roof is down. That is the only reason you would put up with the inherent compromises you have to make just so you can take your top off. Below is what the boot looks like with the luggage cover in place ready for the roof to be lowered. Ideally you would leave the cover in place unless you had a particularly busy day a David jones and needed emergency boot space for you purchases. If the slide out cover is not in place, the roof won’t operate and you have to actually schlepp round back to manually slide and lock it. It’s about the only manual function in sight.
Here is the BEEP BEEP button to get in the back seat and a close up of the roof halfway through it’s little dance.
We’ve had 3 convertibles over the last month and all 3 got a lot of looks. I have a theory that it is because those that say they don’t like convertibles are telling porkies, after all who doesn’t want to look cool. Perhaps they can’t afford it, or perhaps they carry loads of crap around them. One friend says the boots are all too small. I pointed out that he has the car washing kit in his boot. It takes up half the space available. I further pointed out that he would double his boot space by taking our the cleaning kit which he never uses. The point being that for most of the time, we don’t use most of the space in out boots. Is lack of boot space important? Not when there are only two of you and when there is a a back seat. It’s annoying finding that you can’t put the roof down unless you move the crap out of the boot and into the back seat where you;ll then be worried about your belongings being strewn from stem to stern on the way home.
What we really wanted to do was answer the questions: Can a couple of boys live with a convertible as their only car. For a month, we did. The interesting thing is that apart from feeling pretty damn cool, we didn’t notice it. There was no compromise to be made. A hard top which does an origami-like disappearance into the boot is a beautiful thing to watch, but I admit you feel just a smidge self conscious when you do it out the front of a cafe on Bronte or Bar in Byron Bay. I’ve driven lots of folding tintops and most have little or no wind noise with the top. This is one particularly good reason soft tops are getting rarer. Also there is the security issue to consider. I know of more than a few chums who have retuned from a good night out to find and new fresh air vent has been cut thoughtfully into the roof by a chav with nothing better to do with his time. Of course it is always above the drivers seat and it has invariably rained, but I digress. I am left slightly bereft at the thought that the romance of the of the days of a slightly dodgy canvas top being the only thing between you and nature, has gone forever. There is no risk with a folding hardtop because with the roof closed, the car is a normal old coupe. But hey-ho you can’t have everything.
I think the looks of the IS are refreshing and a huge imporement over the first model but you’d have to look hard to notice the mid model updates. It’s a little fat around the rear wheel area, like all convertibles with metal roofs, so that’s something you just have to suck up. The front has joined the LED-running-light brigade. It’s very Audi-Mercedeseque and the rear similarly has highly-designed LED tail lights. Regardless of whether you like the design or not, there is no mistaking the high-end feel. That feel is even more obvious inside where only the best cows died in the pursuit of first class finishes. Entry is via the keyless entry/start system. I’ve driven a lot of Toyotas with the system which normally works well, but for some reason the test car developed somewhat of a personality and occasionally got a bit tetchy when locking and unlocking and starting. I was left in the carpark at the Lismore Shopping Mall looking more than a little silly. I became increasingly upset as the each attempt elicited little or no response. EEEK! What if it had not righted itself? I’m assured it’s an easily sorted gremlin and was probably a flat battery in the key.
UPDATE The locking issue was in fact an almost flat key battery.
The sculptured look of the exterior continues inside where Toyota have tried so hard to make the driving experience easy. Everything is electric. The headlight adjustment, the steering wheel adjustment and the seat adjustment. There were squeals of excitement from the other half when the button on the headrest executed the “rear entry” manoeuvre. No tacky click and slide here, no no no. But like all Japanese makers, there is a beep for everything and the seat makes a noise like it is about to reverse over your foot. On that note, the IS250c is marketed as a 4 seater, but I’m not sure who the rear seats are designed for. I personally don’t know any metre-tall midgets so it’s a short trip to the shops only. Since there are only two of us, there is no issue whatever. The illuminated “Lexus” in the door sill though over the top, is rather cool.
I could go on and on about the VDIM which uses VSC, EBD, TRC to keep the wheels doing what they should and about the Radar Active Cruise Control which keeps an eye out for things in your way. However, on a long trip it’s amazing how many people jump in front of you causing the dash to light up light a pensioners Christmas tree and the brakes to slam on. It can be a bit disconcerting when you’ve not touched the pedals for 40 k’s and suddenly your face is heading towards the windscreen. But seriously, you can vary the mount of space in front by using a little button on the wheel so once you get used to it, it really is rather good. The GPS, Audio, climate control etc are accessed via the infotainment system. Volume and temp controls are also below the LCD screen with controls on the steering wheel in case you like more buttons. If you want to manually control the air cond you must go into the menu. Buttons for this and other major functions are either side of the LCD monitor. I didn’t like this at first, but actually you get used to it after a few days then don’t notice it at all. Thus is the advantage of a long test drive.
You do have to upload your contact list into the bluetooth but that’s easy. What is a bit of a pain is that you have to add voice tags because the system uses the car rather than the phone for contacts. Also the infotainment system houses the GPS. For a change it is easy to use and the points of interest are fairly accurate. The routing is pretty good too, but the system won’t let you do anything while the car is moving. What a stupid idea. There is a second seat in the front row after all and if you’re very lucky there is a boy next to you capable of basic GSP skills. Must they dumb everything down? Considering the IS convertible ranges between $83,000 and $102,500, The cheap and nasty dollar-shop digital clock looks more like a bottom of the range microwave than top of the pile Japanese luxury car. The only other thing I thought a dumb idea is the USB input for ipods and Iphones. It, along with the AUX power jack, is in the slide n tilt centre console but is right at the back, Since you can’t open the lid completely, you have to contort yourself like a circus employee and certainly can’t even entertain the idea of doing so while driving. Tough tittie if your phone is going flat I suppose.
Lexus info tells us much was put into making the car rigid. This is a problem common to most cars when you chop the roof off. It makes the car rather heavier than it’s sedan sisters. The 2.5 V6 engine is beautifully smooth but just doesn’t have the low down poke you would want from a sports car. The 233kw 3.5L engine in the 250 (153kw) sedan is a much better choice but can’t be had in the 250c for love or money. Much was also made of the roof and how many arduous kilometres were done in the outback making sure the roof didn’t creek or groan and no water or dust seeped in. Over rough roads though, some of the origami bits inside the roof got a bit obstropolous. They also softened the suspension. It seems much softer than the IS 350 for example. It’s not unpleasant, it just isn’t sporty. Don’t despair though, on the highway it is a different car altogether. On the trip the were bags of power for overtaking but she consumed a fairly teensy 7.5l/100k. The aerodynamics must be appalling with the roof down so that figure is even more amazing. The steering is very BMW-like. It’s direct with beautiful road feel and cornering in great even with soft open-road-touring-type suspension.
The Lexus people make much of the effort they went to make sure roof down travel won’t give you a back-combed coiffure but there are nasty drafts in cold weather. The wind deflector is a must have and in most convertibles, is made of lightweight plastics that clicks in and out but can be left in place even with the roof up.
In case you are wondering if it possible to drive off with the roof half down, yes it is, especially if you are in the dark and in a hurry, say at a set of lights. I drove off in a rush with the boot sitting at a jaunty angle. There was binging and bonging and once again the dash was flashing like a pensioners christmas tree. The hullabaloo continued until I stopped and put the roof right. What a palaver! There must be a simpler way of letting the driver know what’s going on without all the shenanigans
So to wrap up, it’s an all-round attractive package. Good handling and acceptable performance though the 3.5 L is a must have, Surely a big company like Toyota can find a little man from a village to shoe-horn the 3.5L in for them? We know it fits, it’s in the sedan!. The price? It either makes your eyes water or it doesn’t. There is no in-between. It’s more or less in direct competition with the Audi a3, BMW 325i, Merc SLK so it has big shoes to fill. Did I like driving it? Yes I did, very much. What you have to decide, after a long test drive, is do you want a BMW for the badge alone because the Lexus is arguably as good a drive. It just isn’t German but it certainly did make us feel special.