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2011 Lexus IS350C Compact Luxury Convertible

What was tested? 2011 Lexus IS350 C ($45,340). Options: Headlamp washers ($100), luxury package ($3,055), navigation/premium audio package ($4,015), trunk mat ($73), cargo net ($64). Price as tested (including $875 destination charge): $53,522.

Pros: It's the most fun you can have in a Lexus. It's powerful, good-looking and offers the wind-in-your-hair thrills along with the brand's reputation for quality and reliability.

Cons: For $45,000, there are some awfully tempting performance cars from BMW and Audi.

Let's say you've been successful in life and want a new car - a Lexus, of all things.

But you don't just want any Lexus. You want a Lexus convertible, the kind of car that lets you work on your tan while sitting in sublime comfort and never breaking down.

Until last year, that means you'd be taking home the SC 430, a $67,000 dream machine with stunning styling, a retractable hard top, and a V8 engine made from maple syrup. It was the Lexus designed for California cruisin'.

Today, though, you can't get the SC because it died and went to Lexus heaven, where it swims in pools of leather conditioner while listening to harp music played through Mark Levinson stereo systems.

It is survived by a different convertible, called the IS C, that is in many ways better than the pricey SC ever was.

And, most shockingly, it's also $27,000 cheaper.

The IS C is a drop-top version of the two-door IS coupe, and - like the pricey SC - it has a hard top that folds away when you press a button. That means with the top up, it's almost as quiet as an ordinary Lexus sedan. And when you want the top down, it does a robotic dance to fold the roof into the trunk where no one can see it.

Pretty slick.

In fact, it's hard to find much to criticize in a car like this. Some people might want it to feel more like a hard-edged sports car, but we call those people BMW drivers.

Other people might not like how small the back seat is, but it's actually a lot roomier back there than the SC was. The IS C has a back seat designed for dwarfs, but the old SC's was built strictly for quadruple amputees. So that's an improvement.

Most of all, though, you get a sense of perfection in the IS C that's hard to find in other brands. Audi might make more exciting cars, and Mercedes might make more noble vehicles. But those German cars don't seem like they'll last until Jesus comes. This Lexus does.

In fact, it takes the usual Lexus chiseled-from-stone feeling and turns it up a notch. The cabin is a tactile buffet, with supple leather, perfectly fitted trim, and a headliner so soft it defies description.

The IS C gives you a choice between two V6 engines, a 2.5-liter and 3.5-liter, which make 204 and 306 horsepower. My test car came with the bigger engine and, while it lacked the carnivorous grunt of the SC's V8, it still accelerated like a photon: quick as light.

Handling is fantastic, at least by Lexus' sleepy standards. It's more fun than the SC was, and it has a suspension that transitions nicely between comfortable cruising and corner-slicing.

So there you have it. The exclusive, rarified SC has passed its legacy on to the $45,000 IS350 C.

May the SC rest in peace.


Style: 9

Performance: 9

Price: 9

Handling: 8

Ride: 8

Comfort: 10

Quality: 10

Overall: 9