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The IS 300C, an upmarket convertible from Lexus, looks best with the roof down.
The IS 300C, an upmarket convertible from Lexus, looks best with the roof down.

2010 Lexus IS 300C

It looks much prettier with the roof down rather than up, and this is when you realise Lexus has come up with a true head-turner.

My uncle, a 57-year-old farmer in rural Australia, thinks he would like a Lexus convertible. Such a notion only resulted in much eye-rolling from my mother and aunt amid mutterings of a midlife crisis. Sure, the Lexus IS 300C hardtop convertible is certainly aimed at drivers who are perhaps a few years younger than Uncle Doug, but it is still a very grown-up, refined car. While Lexus is not expecting this model to be a high-volume seller in the UAE, there is no reason why drivers who might have otherwise bought a Merc or BMW wouldn't consider this model instead. Especially given the current economic climate where something new, shiny and German might not be feasible.

The IS 300C is shamelessly pitched against the Mercedes SLK or the BMW 5-series and this is pretty obvious from the first glimpse. The chunky rear end and sternly sexy grille confirm there is a definite Teutonic influence at play here. It looks much prettier with the roof down rather than up, and this is when you realise Lexus has come up with a true head-turner. People really do stop and stare - or honk and grin - when you're driving in the open air.

The Lexus brand has done incredibly well in the UAE and with the badge's 20-year anniversary this year, it is fitting that with the IS 300C comes some design tweaks that make it stand out from past models. Inside, the two-tone cream and grey interior is modern but still classy enough to not freak out a more conservative buyer and the seats are lusciously comfortable. The back seat is a little bit cosier - there are two seats separated by two cup-holders but legroom is at a bit of a premium, depending on how far back the front seats are positioned. As a 5'1" lass, the seat behind my driver's seat would be the better spot in the back, but if you're stuck behind a taller driver, it may be a tad cramped.

Still, nobody buys a convertible for a spacious back seat. It is about fun, flirtatiousness and the joy of hitting the road with the wind-in-the-hair clichés in full force, even if the weather right now is not conducive to top-down motoring. And like most modern convertibles, this car converts in about 20 seconds with the push of a button, so it's easy to give into the temptation to drop the top even if, like me, I was driving from the bank to the office at 8.30am and felt the urge for some fresh(ish) air after an impassioned argument about a large hole in my bank account.

Along with the quick conversion, the 12-speaker Mark Levinson stereo is mighty fine as well and you can still hear the music loud and clear with the roof down. Sadly, all my CDs were in my regular car and I haven't got an iPod, so I cruised along Muroor Road with the rest of Abu Dhabi knowing that I was listening to Radio 2. While that was a tad embarrassing, it is also nice to know that with the roof down, the AC is still pretty effective as well, which helps extend the time you can spend driving in the UAE climate.

The ride is smooth and the steering is solid on the IS 300C - basically, it's the kind of ride and handling you'd expect on any Lexus in the range. For some, this is a bonus, for others, this is a criticism. The 228hp engine holds its own at high speeds but doesn't fly like a racehorse out of the traps when you first put your foot down. I'd like to see a few more horses under the bonnet on the next model. I drove an Infiniti, a direct competitor last week, and the 330hp, combined with 366Nm of torque, certainly upped the fun factor.

It is a rear-wheel drive too, which is one of my favourite things on a car, but it doesn't quite give the oversteer rush of other rear-wheel drive machines. But this may be a good thing - the Lexus is a popular car and they can frequently be seen driven at high speeds on UAE roads. While there is not much Lexus can do to stop Lexus owners from racing on the E11, the sturdy suspension and solid engineering means that even if you thrash it on the Jebel Hafeet bends, it's still a very hard car to send flying off the road.

The six-speed automatic was as silken as any other Lexus and there was the obligatory sequential shift or paddle option which wasn't too bad - the preset ratios weren't as annoying as others and I didn't find it too restrictive when I wanted control over what gear I was in. Fuel consumption is impressively miserly too, another important factor when there is less cash to splash. I did nearly 300km on less than half a tank.

In the 1999 movie, Three Kings, the characters argue over whether or not Lexus makes a convertible. The film was set in 1991 and at that stage, there was no Lexus convertible. The first one was released in 2002 and since then, Lexus has gone from strength to strength, although this car has not become a flagship for the company in the same way convertibles are for Saab. Indeed, a movie gag today about whether Lexus makes a convertible would still be relevant. But the IS 300C may help change all that, in a stylish but sensible manner. glewis@thenational.ae

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