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2010 Lexus IS C Near-Luxury Convertible

What was tested?: 2010 Lexus IS350C ($43,940).

Options: Luxury package ($3,055), navigation system ($2,340), parking assist ($500).

Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $50,710.

Pros: It has all the great Lexus traits -- dependability, silence and quality -- with the added benefit of a hard top that folds away electronically. With the top up, it's nearly as quiet as the IS sedan.

Cons: Styling isn't as sexy and expressive as some of the competition, including Lexus' own SC convertible that was introduced in 2001.

Lexus has tried hard to inject some excitement into its lineup with a new small car called the IS. For the most part, it's worked.

The IS is the answer to people who say Lexus' cars are too soft and slobbery because they don't try to copy BMWs, which is what most other luxury brands have done in recent years. Lexus has smartly charted its own path of making squishy, quiet, traditional luxury cars that slow your pulse.

The IS, though, is an exception.

It's designed for those adrenaline-loving drivers who want a car to provide some thrills -- the same people who would normally consider a BMW. It's sporty and fun, with an emphasis on balanced handling that makes you want to wring it out on a racetrack.

So, what could Lexus do to add even more fun to the IS? Chop off the roof, of course.

For 2010, there's a convertible version of the IS, called the IS C, that comes with a hard top that folds away at the push of a button. When the roof is up, it has enough sound insulation that it's nearly as silent as normal, non-convertible Lexus cars. But with the roof down, you get the wind-in-your-hair excitement of driving a high-performance luxury vehicle.

If your car decisions are based purely on performance, you won't want a convertible. The fold-away top adds weight and complexity that does nothing but slow the car down. But if you're looking for more of a comfortable top-down cruiser that can also be fun on winding roads, the IS C is for you.

Just like the regular IS, the IS C comes with your choice of two V6 engines: a 2.5-liter version that makes 204 horsepower, and a 3.5-liter engine that makes 306 horses. Both engines have the wonderful buttery feel you expect in a Lexus, the kind of power that feels unruffled and confident under acceleration.

The hard top is a work of art in itself. It takes about 20 seconds to open or close, folding away in a choreographed dance that hides the roof neatly under the trunk.

Inside, you'll find comfortable front seats with a small but usable back seat. Quality is exceptional, almost like the entire cabin is built from a single piece of steel, and the leather seats are baby-skin soft.

Styling is remarkably similar to the IS sedan, despite the fact that only the hood is shared with its sibling. All the other body panels are different in a subtle way, but it leaves no doubt about its Lexus DNA.

Still, it seems to lack something in the styling department -- a picky flaw in an otherwise perfect car. If you look at Lexus' other convertible, the more expensive SC that was introduced in 2001, it has more pizazz, more sexiness and more expression. The older SC is simply a more stunning design.

While the IS C builds on the SC's legendary quality and supple drive, it just doesn't match what you know Lexus is capable of doing -- especially on the roofline and back end. A few more changes could go a long way toward improving the "wow" factor.

Aside from that, it's hard to find anything to complain about in this car. It's a wonderfully silent convertible with good performance, excellent build quality and Lexus' reputation for building bulletproof cars.

It's Lexus' most mischievous car, a great thing for people who want their luxury ride to have a playful side.

Style: 7
Performance: 9
Price: 7
Handling: 9
Ride: 9
Comfort: 10
Quality: 10
Overall: 8