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2010 Lexus IS 350 C review:

2010 Lexus IS 350 C

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When Lexus launched the IS in 2005, its cabin tech was cutting-edge for the time, but had then long slipped behind the curve. A few important additions to the cabin tech suite return it close to, but not quite level with, the competition.

The navigation system now stores its maps on a hard drive, and the menu graphics look updated. With its touch screen, it was always a very usable system, letting you make destination inputs on its virtual keyboard. But the system now features live traffic, showing traffic flow and incident information on major roads where available. When route guidance is active, the system will warn about traffic obstructions ahead, but getting it to calculate a detour requires three button pushes. We would prefer either automatic rerouting or the system to surface a detour button as soon as a traffic problem is detected.

Other than the traffic feature, this navigation system is pretty basic, lacking advanced features such as text-to-speech or even 3D maps. The associated voice command system is a workable alternative for entering destinations, and necessary while the car is in motion, as you can enter saved destinations only when the wheels are turning.

This onscreen keyboard is very usable for entering destinations, but gets disabled when the car is in motion.

We were impressed to find that the voice command system extends to a seriously upgraded Bluetooth phone system. First of all, the Bluetooth system now downloads a paired phone's contacts to the car, making them available on the touch screen. Better yet, the voice command lets you dial contacts by name, a system that worked well in our testing.

Stereo Bluetooth streaming is also included as a source for the car's audio system, along with iPod integration, something that had been missing from the IS line previously. Those audio sources are standard, although our car also had the upgraded Mark Levinson audio system, which adds a six CD/DVD changer to the dash. This Mark Levinson upgrade is a 5.1 channel system, and can play video on the car's LCD when it is parked. Other audio sources include satellite radio, MP3 CDs, and a USB port. Only the iPod integration allows music selection by artist, album, and genre.

Dial-by-name is a new and welcome voice command feature for the car's Bluetooth system.

Sound quality from the Mark Levinson system is excellent, well balanced throughout the frequency range, producing clear highs and sufficiently strong bass. There are 12 speakers in all, including a center channel and subwoofer, and we were impressed to see three speaker towers in each front door, with a woofer at the bottom, mids in the center section of the doors, and tweeters up at the A pillars. Even with that array of speakers, the sound is nicely staged, so neither driver nor front seat passenger gets overwhelmed by left or right audio output. At only 270 watts, the amplifier is a little weak--this system won't be setting off car alarms down the street.

In sum
The 2010 Lexus IS 350 C is a comfortable convertible cruiser for two, with room for four but no luggage in a pinch. Its sports car pretensions go only so far, though, just holding up for moderately hard driving. Its performance tech is good--a notch above average--earning that position for the strong engine feel with its adjustable modes. The convertible top negatively impacts its design, forcing a banal drop at the back of the cabin, and completely draining trunk space when folded up. But it earns back a few design points for the very usable interface, the clean-looking interior, and the uniquely Lexus grille. For cabin tech, Lexus addressed some of the most important features lacking in its fixed-roof sibling, but it's still not at the front of the class.

Spec box
Model 2010 Lexus IS 350 C
Trim n/a
Powertrain Direct injection 3.5-liter V-6
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 21 mpg
Navigation Optional navigation system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3 compatible six disc CD/DVD changer
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Satellite radio, USB drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, auxiliary input
Audio system Optional Mark Levinson 12 speaker 270 watt system
Driver aids Rear view camera, Adaptive headlights
Base price $43,940
Price as tested $52,580

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