2010 Toyota Prius hybrid grows a bit, adds power and features

By Ann M. Job, AP
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Toyota Prius stays on top in mileage

There’s no sunroof available in the latest Lexus IS cars. But no one is going to complain.


The new-for-2010 Lexus IS 250C and IS 350C are convertibles and the first open-top models in the IS line. With styling reminiscent of the IS sedans, a power-operated hardtop roof that opens or closes in a scant 20 seconds, seats for four, V-6 engines and lots of features, the new convertibles are easy transporters that provide a bonus — a suntan.

Among luxury cars with retractable hardtops, the IS convertibles might be considered affordable, if a price of $40,000 or so can be defined that way.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $39,365 for an IS 250C with 204-horsepower V-6 and manual transmission. Add $1,170 for an IS 250C with automatic.

But arguably the best of the bunch is the IS 350C, with its larger, 306-horsepower V-6. Starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2010 IS 350C is $44,815. This model comes only with an automatic transmission.

These prices compare with the $44,715 starting retail price of the Infiniti G37 Convertible with 325-horsepower V-6 and shift-it-yourself automatic that debuted in 2009, and the $45,375 starting retail price for a 2009 BMW 328i Convertible with 230-horsepower, six-cylinder engine and manual transmission. With automatic, the BMW price rises to $46,700.

Neither Infiniti nor BMW has announced 2010 prices on their convertibles.

The rear-wheel drive IS debuted about a decade ago as Lexus’ smallest car. It was oriented more to younger buyers who want luxury and who might buy a BMW.

The IS was one of the few Lexus vehicles to offer a manual transmission, but sales never reached the levels of BMW’s long-popular 3-Series.

Still, the IS sedans are a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, with a predicted reliability of much better than average.

And the IS sedans’ starting retail price of $32,180 means they have the lowest starting retail price in the Lexus lineup.

The new IS convertibles have the same engines and transmissions as the sedans, so a base model has a 2.5-liter V-6 producing 185 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm, while the 3.5-liter V-6 generates a more healthy 277 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm.

The test IS 350C, with six-speed automatic transmission, zoomed forward effortlessly in both city and highway traffic. Though there was some noticeable heft in this 3,880-pound IS, the engine had enough low-end “oomph” and top-end highway power for comfortable driving.

I pulled out into avenue traffic a couple times and got up to speed before oncoming cars got to me, without a problem.

But I paid for it, averaging just 19 miles per gallon with such heavy-footed driving. The government rating is 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway with the larger V-6.

The IS convertibles are heavier than the sedans because of structural reinforcements such as a metal beam under the back seats, used to maintain rigidity in a vehicle that no longer has a fixed roof.

If not engineered properly, a convertible can feel sloppy in its handling and the windshield can shake. But there was nothing like that in the test IS 350C.

The three-piece metal roof was impressive, too. Many power-operated removable roofs can bang harshly down at the windshield edge as they go back up. But this Lexus was downright refined in its roof mechanics. No wonder — there are 15 electric motors and 37 sensors onboard just to operate and manage the three roof panels.

Frequently, hardtop roofs go into car trunks and leave precious little space for luggage. In the IS, there’s 2.36 cubic feet of space left when the roof is in the trunk.

But when the roof is on top of the car, the trunk is generous, with 10.8 cubic feet of space.

With standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel as well as power-operated front seats, the IS convertibles offer a range of comfortable driver seat positions. But rear-seat legroom shrinks precipitously if the front seats are back on their tracks all the way.

I appreciated that rear head restraints retract for improved views out the back of the car. But the tall trunk lid still left me with no idea what was directly behind it.

Thank goodness the tester came with optional navigation system which includes a rearview camera. But it cost nearly $4,000.

The IS convertible is longer than expected, so it took some time to get used to backing into parking spaces. At more than 15 feet long, it is 2.2 inches longer than the five-passenger IS sedans.

With its roof on and with the familiar IS styling, the car didn’t garner a second look from anyone. Only when the roof was down did some other drivers take notice.

The IS cars are part of the safety recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles announced this month. The recall is to correct floor mats that could cause an accelerator pedal to stick in the wide open position and lead to a crash.

So far, Lexus’ V-8-powered SC convertible continues with a starting price of more than $65,000.

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