Author - John Kucek

Driven: 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV

SAMSUNG CSC
In their press release for the new 2015 Escalade, Cadillac is quick to tout much-improved (and class-leading, if you exclude the Benz GL diesel) efficiency as the truck’s defining point. Improved efficiency is all well and good, and quite necessary for CAFE standards, but let’s be brutally honest here: nobody, and I mean nobody, buys an Escalade based on fuel economy. And that’s OK. SAMSUNG CSC So what else is new about the Escalade, something that might tempt buyers cross-shopping other upscale 7-seaters like the GL550, Range Rover or Lexus LX570? Style, for one. Caddy’s new corporate face has now been slapped on the Escalade, with a prominent waterfall grille framed by twin-tiered LED running lights. It’s a classy yet imposing look, and it works well on the considerable girth of the long-wheelbase ESV model I drove. Around back, full-length LED taillights continue the theme. It’s a look that implies power, an asset the Escalade has in spades. SAMSUNG CSC A new 6.2-liter EcoTec3 V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 torques does its part to motivate all Escalade models through a six-speed automatic. Both rear-wheel drive and 4WD are offered. Though it offers better economy than before through cylinder deactivation and direct injection, the 6.2L also brings 5% more power and 10% more torque. For all its strength, the new powertrain still requires a hefty shove of the gas to summon the acceleration it’s capable of. Once you move through that initial pedal travel, though, the Caddy hauls – even in this 3-ton beast of a hauler, sub-6-second 0-60 times are possible. It also sounds glorious doing it. SAMSUNG CSC The bulk of the redesign efforts clearly went toward the interior, which is a far more modern and sumptuous place to spend time in than before. Better aerodynamics and sealing techniques lead to a quieter cabin, and all the surfaces that passengers are likely to touch are wrapped in either leather, woodgrain or Alcantara. The CUE system makes its first appearance in Caddy’s largest product, as does the full-graphic gauge cluster. We’re getting more comfortable with CUE now through repeated use, though some ghost-in-the-machine type electronic anomalies found their way through the screens from time to time. We’re not sure whether our tester was a pre-production model or not, but it’s likely that a simple dealer reflash would have ameliorated the issues, if other similar reports are any indication. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Whether tooling around town or undertaking extended freeway jaunts, the Escalade is unflappably comfortable and composed. Despite being a truck underneath, the ride is serene, save for the occasional "thwack" from expansion joints – likely due to our truck’s glitzy (and optional) 22” rollers. Torque is prodigious, but easy to meter out from the long-travel pedal. Visibility is good, but blind spot monitoring is a helpful new addition in a vehicle this long. And crucially, the ESV’s interior is positively cavernous, with available space behind the third row of seats humbling that of most two-row SUVs. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC For buyers of the fleet/livery ilk, upwardly advantaged multi-child households, or just those who demand a high level of street presence in a luxurious package, the new ‘Slade ESV is still in a class of one. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10878,10879,10880,10881,10882,10883,10884,10891,10885,10887,10893,10886,10889,10890,10888,10892"]   2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD Premium Base price: $86,790 Price as tested: $90,985 Options on test car:  Kona Brown leather w/ Jet Black accents ($2,000), Power retractable assist steps ($1,695), 22” dual 7-spoke aluminum wheels ($500) Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, four wheel drive – 420 horsepower, 460 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 15.5 mpg Cadillac provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited

SAMSUNG CSC
Hyundai’s midsize sedan has undergone quite the transformation in the last four model years. Take the 2011, for example – radically restyled compared to the car that came before it, the previous Sonata probably had the most pronounced impact on Hyundai’s catapult rise to the American mainstream. Glancing quickly at this new Sonata, it might be easy to label it a more conservative restyling of the same basic car. But to write it off as such would be doing the 2015 model a great disservice. SAMSUNG CSC To start with, let’s talk about the design of this new car for a moment. Whereas the previous Sonata cut away from the midsize pack by being an overtly sporty  shape, this one skews back in the other direction – though it’s no less successful. Our 2.4-liter Limited, sitting on its slightly benign multi-spoke alloys, looks subtly, ambiguously upscale compared to the rest of the “sport”-ified midsize field. Your neighbors could easily confuse it for something far, far more expensive – approach the car from a distance while squinting slightly, and you could imagine the shape to be one of any number of import luxury tanks. Audi A7 in the roofline. Mercedes S-class in the front-quarter view. And more than a bit of current Genesis sedan everywhere else. SAMSUNG CSC In fact, were it rear-driven, this car could have easily substituted for the Genesis as Hyundai’s premium midsize model. It’s got the shape of a much more upscale car than it is, a trend I’d love to see continue in this segment. But where the Fusion successfully pulls off the sporty Aston thing, this design goes straight for the throat of understated German luxury. For those looking for bigger alloys and more suggestive body addenda, the Sport 2.0T Ultimate features all of the same upscale features of our tester with an added dose of power and flashier styling details. SAMSUNG CSC The new interior, which looks so plainly styled in photos, actually feels well laid-out, modern and intuitive from behind the small-diameter steering wheel. Despite being flush with technology, there seem to be fewer ancillary buttons to clutter the space than the 2015 Legacy I drove last month, which felt positively littered with them. The seats are comfy, material quality is improved from the last generation, and interior space is on another level from most midsizers; in fact, it’s the only one in this class technically designated as a “large car” by the EPA, and it shows most noticeably in front leg and head room. SAMSUNG CSC Content levels are typically a  Hyundai strength anyway, but this one is a stand-out value at $32k; it’s hard for me to think of a car that offers more features for the money. Take a look at the equipment list for our Limited tester: a high-quality 8” touchscreen w/ navigation and “swipe-able” menu screens; a well-judged 400-watt Infinity sound system; another high-res, fully configurable 4" screen in the gauge cluster; radar-based cruise control; forward collision warning; blind spot monitoring; a panoramic sunroof; proximity key and “smart” trunk opening; heated, cooled, power front seats with memory and four-way lumbar for the driver; a heated steering wheel and rear seats; rear side window sunshades - the list goes on and on. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The driving experience mimics the new styling, in that it hews closer to understated competence than sporty pretense. Without a Sport 2.0T on hand to drive, I can’t comment on whether the 2015 Sonata’s updated chassis has the chops to take it to the segment’s most competent handlers (widely recognized as the Mazda 6 and Accord). But the Limited can still be hustled down the road in a comfortable, unfazed manner, smoothing out large undulations and imperfections quickly and quietly, without any of the ride floatiness I experienced in the current Passat SEL.  I kept the drive select mode in “Sport” most of the time, which brings weightier steering calibration and more responsive transmission settings. Though even in Sport, throttle response is fairly relaxed, and power delivery from the 2.4-liter four is smooth but forward progress never really rises above the level of “acceptable”. If brisker acceleration is needed, opt for the 2.0T. SAMSUNG CSC By offering a little something for everyone and not just those who value sporty styling above all else, the 2015 Sonata improves on the previous generation in just about every way. If Hyundai continues this kind of rapid development, covering the ground on each new model generation that many manufacturers take in two, you've got to wonder just how good the next  Sonata will be. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10819,10818,10817,10815,10810,10820,10822,10811,10813,10812,10814,10824,10825"]  2015 Hyundai Sonata Limited Base price: $27,335 Price as tested: $32,510 Options on test car:  Tech Package ($3,500), Ultimate Package ($1,550), Carpeted floor mats ($125) Powertrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 185 horsepower, 178 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 29.0 mpg Hyundai provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Cover
When Toyota’s Camry-Wagon-turned-crossover known as the Highlander debuted in 2001, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about its existence. This is, after all, essentially the vehicle that assured the demise of the wagon variant of the Camry around the world, though in the US that body style had been dormant since 1997 anyway. Keen as we car guys are on the station wagon, it’s clear by now that the crossover is here to stay. The Highlander has changed a lot in the intervening years, too – though this 2014 redesign might be the most radical departure yet from that oddball Camry with two rear windshield wipers. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_9 For one thing, it’s big – relatively speaking. It’s up three inches in length and almost an inch in width compared to the previous generation and, depending on model, can seat eight people – more, if some of them are Muppets.  The added width is most noticeable across the dash – your passenger will be a long way from you, as will the stereo’s tuning knob – I’m long-limbed and it was still a chore to reach that thing. But the increased size pays dividends for passengers seated in the middle and third rows – space and comfort are both improved. It’s not quite the largest in its segment, but it’s now at least on a level playing field. After all, this car was once Ford Edge-sized – now, it can stand toe-to-toe with the Explorer. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_035 Powertrains are largely carried over from the previous generation, in the form of naturally-aspirated 2.7-liter four and 3.5-liter six cylinder engines, and a version of the V6 augmented by battery power motivates the Hybrid model on these pages. One notable update is the pairing of a six-speed automatic transmission with the base V6, which was previously only available with a five-speed. A CVT motivates the Hybrid, which is solely all-wheel drive. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_5 EPA mileage ratings hover between 22 mpg combined for the 4-cylinder/front-wheel-drive model and 20 mpg combined for V6 AWD models, though our Hybrid achieves an excellent 28 mpg combined rating, a standout in its class. I was able to nearly match that over a week of mixed-conditions driving, achieving a 26.7 mpg average. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_Hybrid_Platinum_14 This is a physically large vehicle meant for hauling hordes of kids, so its 4,861-pound curb weight is not out of line with class standards – and its 280 combined horsepower does a decent enough job of keeping up with fast flowing traffic or executing a quick passing maneuver. For their trouble, those ponies don’t demand much in the way of “water” when it comes time to saddle up to the pump, either. The only place that poundage exacts a small penalty is in the corners – the Highlander feels every bit its weight when the road starts to squiggle. Steering effort seems heavy for a vehicle of this type, and considering the fact that it’s fully electric, the weighty tuning seems like an odd choice for its intended mission. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_028 Besides the steering, the Highlander Hybrid is pleasant to live with, exhibiting a smooth, quiet ride and the kind of mileage that would shame some mid-size sedans. Though the sticker crowds $50 grand in a hurry when you tick the “Hybrid” option box, you'll find few other vehicles for the same money that can haul 7 passengers in comfort, tow 3,500 pounds, and achieve close to 30 miles per gallon. For those shoppers, the Highlander Hybrid will be just the ticket. 2014_Toyota_Highlander_030 [gallery ids="10806,10803,10795,10802,10805,10804,10801,10797,10796,10798,10799,10800"]  2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum Base price: $50,650 Price as tested: $50,880 Options on test car:  Floor mats and cargo liner ($230) Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, CVT transmission, all-wheel drive – 280 combined system horsepower S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 26.7 mpg Toyota provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.

Speed Read: 2015 VW e-Golf, Jetta and GTI

result
When Volkswagen offered to fly me up to drive a full smattering of their 2015 model lineup around Northern Virginia’s rolling hills and the quaint towns they are dotted with, they were ostensibly asking me to really focus on just two of those 2015 models – the fully electric e-Golf, and the refreshed Jetta. Still, though it already had its official launch and has been on sale for a few months now, I was also eager to sample the current GTI. Here’s a recap of what I drove, put in order from “really, really liked it” to “liked it”. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch, honestly, though I admit to steering clear of models like the Passat and Tiguan, which I’d already spent time in recently, and others that weren’t significantly changed for the 2015 model year. e-Golf - $36,265 So, full disclosure – the car I enjoyed driving the most was actually the 2015 GTI. But it’s too predictable to put that car in first place. Instead, the e-Golf tops this list for the following reason: significance. IMG_5707-17 It doesn’t seem that significant a car at first glance. After all, it’s just a Golf with an electric motor and battery in place of a gasoline or diesel 4-cylinder, right? Well, yes – and VW’s folks would be just fine if you came to the same conclusion. But somehow, the e-Golf manages to be more than the sum of its parts, which is one of the marks of a truly great automobile. You see, the e-Golf surprised me for the simple fact that it is just a Golf that burns kilowatts instead of liquid fuel. It drives exactly like a standard Golf, which is to say comfortably, competently, and without vice – but perhaps even better. Better because of that instant 199 lb-ft of torque available from rest that oooozes you up to 50 or 60 mph with so little effort. And the sheer quietness of the thing! This was my first encounter with a fully electric car, so excuse the fawning for a second, but silence really is golden. It made me smile far wider than I expected it to. IMG_5709-18 Without being subjected to the graunching sounds of an internal combustion engine, you can pay attention to other things – like how well this Golf VII chassis rides. It’s buttery smooth, yet free of float or wallow.  You’ll notice that because the battery pack’s weight is situated low in the chassis, the e-Golf’s cornering attitude is unexpectedly flat and it points into turns eagerly. And you’ll notice that they really got this Mk7’s interior just right, not just in materials or ergonomics, but also design and feature content. 2015 e-Golf Interior How compelling this package will seem to buyers is the ultimate question, perhaps proving once and for all whether shoppers are willing to purchase vehicles of this type on competence alone (in which case, the e-Golf should do quite well) or if a bit of “whizz-bang!” design slickness is a necessary part of it, as evidenced by the other EVs currently on the market. Either way, at $299/month to lease (the required down payment details are not readily available as I write this) and a fast-charge option that can replenish the battery back to 80% charge in just 30 minutes, there’s plenty to endear the e-Golf to the left side of your brain. Hopefully the right will feel the same way. 2015 e-Golf interior 3 GTI 3-door SE 6MT w/ Performance Pack - $29,710 IMG_5703-15 There’s little left to be said of the new Golf GTI that hasn’t already been said many times elsewhere; it’s the best all-around performance package available right now for around $30,000 or less, and I admit that wholeheartedly as an owner of competitive vehicle that occupies the same market territory. The GTI is a fully balanced package, with spirited, athletic handling, a tractable turbocharged engine that delivers just enough shove to put a smile on your face, a snick-snick gearbox and great brakes. Oh, and the rest of the car isn’t too shabby either, especially the wedgy yet finely detailed styling, handsomely trimmed and equipped interior (with great seats), and a more than decent stereo- in Fender-branded guise, anyway. IMG_5698-12 Similar to the last two iterations of the GTI that Volkswagen has sold in this country, now distilled down to the most refined elements of fun, luxury, and value, the Mk7 is a wonderful car. IMG_5699-13 2015 Jetta TDI SEL 6MT - $27,320 There’s more to the refreshed 2015 Jetta than meets the eye, at least in the TDI’s case. It uses the updated EA288 diesel engine that powers the new Mk7 Golf TDI, good for 46 MPG highway (an improvement of 4 MPG from last year) with the six-speed manual my tester was equipped with. IMG_5674-6 The new front fascia, including LED-bedazzled headlights, isn’t readily noticeable at a glance, but side by side with the old car, the new one does come across as slightly more modern. Inside, attention was paid to the areas that had previously been panned in the Mk6 Jetta – namely material quality. The door panels themselves still aren’t the same wonderfully squishy material as the dash top, but both armrests are comfortably trimmed, and piano black and silver accents lift the rest of the previously dour interior. Equipment levels are way up for the money, and are now arguably among the best in the mainstream small-car business. The standard 1.8T engine (not counting the special order, loss-leader 2.0L naturally-aspirated unit) also boasts the segment’s best power and torque figures. IMG_5672-5 Back to the diesel - that new EA288 power unit puts out 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, 10 horsepower more than before thanks to simplified catalytic converters (among a litany of other tiny changes to the fuel and induction systems) that help reduce exhaust back pressure. Power delivery is smooth and quite potent from low revs, tapering off less noticeably toward redline than the previous diesel. The six-speed manual ‘box is smooth and pleasant to row, making it easy to keep the turbo on song. IMG_5684-10 Diesel clatter is almost non-existent, even with the windows down and sunroof cracked, with just a faint turbo whistle under boost and a chattering diverter valve upon throttle lift the only indications that something interesting resides under the hood. Elsewhere, the 2015 TDI is as pleasant on the road as the 1.8T SEL driven later in the day, and outlined below. And the TDI’s trump card – fantastic fuel economy no matter what you throw at it – is still present and accounted for. A spirited 40-minute drive over hilly, winding roads produced a 44 MPG average figure, according to the trip computer. IMG_5682-9   GTI 5-door Autobahn DSG w/ Performance Pack - $33,010 The exact same car as the 3-door GTI outlined above, save for the gearbox, which demotes it a few places on my scale from “great” to merely “quite good”. Both gearboxes have their supporters, some more staunch than others, but the fact that you can pick either transmission and get the same fundamentally fantastic car is encouraging. My interests lie primarily with manuals given the choice, simply for the engagement factor, and when that manual is as good as the one in the GTI, the choice becomes a no-brainer. Still, those who choose the DSG will not be disappointed – it’s a great gearbox in its own right. It’s just a little too competent and polished for its own good, at least for this driver. IMG_5667-4   2015 Jetta 1.8T SE w/ “Connectivity & Navigation” 6AT - $24,470 The fact that the Jetta in popular SE guise resides at the bottom of my list shouldn’t be taken as a ding against it. The 1.8T (170 hp/184 lb-ft) and 6-speed automatic are a perfect match for the volume model’s relaxed demeanor, and the improvements for 2015 are noticeable from behind the wheel. It’s just that the other four models above are a little bit more engaging. Still, there’s a lot to like about the new Jetta SE and SEL. IMG_5677-8 First of all, the thing is quiet – to use an over-quoted description, it’s bank-vault quiet at speed. Tire and wind noise are both well muffled up to and beyond 60 mph, and cracked pavement and undulations are dispatched with well-damped precision. The body leaned gently in bends on our tester’s 17-inch wheels, but this isn’t the performance model, anyway – the GLI is more apt to be judged on those merits. Weekend cone dodging wouldn’t interest this Jetta in the way it might a Mazda 3, at least not right out of the box, but that’s of little consequence to the Jetta’s target demographic. The interior renovations and better-honed driving dynamics truly recall the character of the Mk5 Jetta – that of a competent, comfortable, and solidly-built German sedan that drives like a bigger, more expensive car than it is. The rough edges of the early Mk6 Jetta seem to have finally been polished over completely, and VW would likely let the evidence of interior cost-cutting and bargain engineering recede into the rearview mirror – where they truly belong. IMG_5676-7   Volkswagen provided food, lodging, and travel to and from Virginia for the author for this event.

Driven: 2014 Infiniti Q60 Convertible

SAMSUNG CSC
When development work concluded on the V36 platform, which forms the basis for the 2014 Q60 seen above, it’s easy to believe that Nissan’s engineers had little inkling of the radical brand changes that would occur at Infiniti during their new model’s shelf life. Indeed, during Johan de Nysschen’s two-year tenure as the brand’s chief, much was changed – including their entire system of model nomenclature. Thus, the G37 convertible became the Q60 convertible that I recently spent a week with – but make no mistake, the G37 is still alive and well in this car. SAMSUNG CSC Let’s start with the four-seat coupe segment’s main draw – looks. People shopping this class are willing to trade a bit of practicality for something less tangible – an X-factor, if you will. The Q60 coupe and its two-door competitors have that in spades, but there’s usually a little something that’s lost in translation when coupe becomes hardtop convertible. A slightly contrived roofline with the top in place, or perhaps an ungainly hump at the back to remind you where the roof now resides. Not so with the Q60 – it remains as lithe and organic a shape in convertible form as in coupe. It’s a design that hasn’t become stale in the least, despite five model years on the market (under two different nameplates, no less). SAMSUNG CSC Inside, perhaps a couple of graying roots can be seen, but only because the interior’s design lacks the broad swath of glass that passes for a dashboard in so many near-luxury cars these days. Instead, the Q60’s infotainment system is operated through an intuitive combination of hard buttons and a well-placed rotary knob, a layout seen elsewhere in the Infiniti lineup for some time now (though the newer Q50 sedan employs trendier touchscreen panels – I’ve not yet sampled it, so cannot comment on effectiveness). It works well, and the rest of the interior is comfortable and attractive. SAMSUNG CSC Sampled solo, but especially in comparison to the Lexus IS 350C I sampled last week, the Q60 has an urgent, responsive on-road demeanor. Downshifts from the 7-speed torque converter automatic are delivered with less prodding from the gas pedal, and the steering is organic and features actual road feel, a trait that’s rapidly diminishing in new cars. The interior is less isolated from noise generated by the 3.7-liter V6 than in the Lexus, but that can be forgiven thanks to the engine’s pleasant snarl under acceleration. When the roof’s lowered, you’re treated to the signature VQ exhaust bark normally reserved for bystanders. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The only aspects that somewhat dampen the fun are created solely as a result of opting for the convertible top – namely weight (as in more of it) and stiffness (as in less). There’s some cowl shake over large road imperfections, whether the top is in place or stowed, and the hardtop and its associated hardware saddle the Q60 convertible with a few hundred pounds of extra weight versus its coupe counterpart. Neither trait is likely to sway any buyers – these are characteristics that all four-seat droptops share to some extent, a direct result of being designed as a fixed roof vehicle first and being made into a convertible second. It does, however, make me question why I haven’t ever checked out a G37/Q60 coupe before this – the coupe must be really good to drive if this convertible is any indication. SAMSUNG CSC With the top dropped, the cooled seats on full blast, and the stereo (featuring well-placed speakers behind front occupants’ heads) cranked, there’s little wonder as to why these dual-character hardtop convertibles have become so popular with shoppers – and so important to their manufacturers. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="10723,10722,10721,10720,10717,10716,10719,10718,10714,10715,10713,10712,10711"] 2014 Infiniti Q60 Convertible Base price: $48,805 Price as tested: $56,555 Options on test car:  Technology package ($1,250), Premium package ($3,400), Navigation package ($1,850), Performance 19” tire & wheel package ($650), Interior accents package ($600) Powertrain: 3.7-liter V6 engine, 7-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive – 325 horsepower, 267 lb-ft. torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy:  21.1 mpg Infiniti provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2014 Lexus IS 350C F-Sport

IS-COVER
Introduced as a 2010 model, the hardtop convertible version of the Lexus IS isn’t yet “old” by industry standards. Still, a replacement looms on the horizon in the form of the upcoming RC coupe and likely convertible spin-off. Its main competitor from the land of the rising sun, the Infiniti Q60 (nee G37), is also nearing replacement, though neither of these cars could be called dated from an aesthetic perspective. I drove the IS 350 and Q60 convertibles back to back to find out what makes these two hardtops tick. IS-2 I’ve made no bones about my belief that the current (2014+) IS sedan is among the best in the entry-luxury sport sedan business. Before this IS 350C, though, I hadn’t spent much time in the second-generation IS. Byron has driven – and enjoyed – the current IS F, but the IS 350C targets a much different demographic. That demographic is quite prevalent here in South Florida, with the IS and other four-seat hardtop competitors seen at just about every intersection. Despite familiarity, the IS C’s shape is still attractive, though like most convertibles, the aesthetics improve greatly once the roof is stowed behind the rear clamshell. The more aggressive fascia and dark graphite wheels of the F-Sport package (as featured on our car) substantially freshen the original design, which was introduced in Paris in 2008. IS-5 Inside, it’s clear that the design is a generation behind its sedan counterpart, but it’s still comfortable and well-assembled in typical Lexus fashion. The touchscreen interface has been updated to mirror the rest of the current Lexus lineup, but the surrounding hard buttons and the rest of the dash layout are very clearly still linked to a platform that was introduced in 2005. That said, the sport seats gained with the F-Sport package are well-bolstered and hug in all the right spots, and heat or cool on command. The folding hardtop is a single-finger affair that operates quickly and without issue, transforming the previously quiet and isolated cabin into a sun-worshipper’s dream - though still by and large draft-free with the top down and side windows raised. IS-6 IS-4 Though it packs a couple hundred extra pounds over its sedan counterpart due to the folding metal roof and associated body stiffening measures, the 3.5-liter 2GR-FSE powerplant and its 306 horsepower still moves the IS 350C with alacrity. Mid-fives to 60 mph and low-14 second quarter mile times are achievable, and the V6 goes about its business with a smooth, quiet demeanor. Perhaps the only penalty for that sweet-spinning six and the six-speed automatic it’s attached to are slightly thirsty consumption figures – I saw 21.7 mpg combined out of my week with it. That’s not out of line with other six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive platforms, at least in naturally aspirated form. But it is something to consider if you don’t need the extra thrust of the larger V6 – after all, Lexus also offers the IS C in 2.5-liter V6 “250” guise. Though by the time the next generation rolls around, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to expect a turbo 2-liter four to stand in for the base V6. IS-1 For those who desire a four-place coupe that allows occasional topless motoring, but without the compromises inherent in a rag top, current choices are somewhat limited. That’s likely the reason the current IS C and Q60 solider on more or less untouched by their creators – direct competitors in the marketplace are few. The BMW 4-series is obviously the closest challenger, but it’s pricey – a 435i equipped similarly to this IS 350C would run nearly $10k dearer. The Mercedes-Benz E350 is comparably sized but a price class up, and it’s still a rag top. As is the Audi A5. The VW Eos is a hardtop but not in the same luxury realm. That leaves the two Japanese competitors to do battle in the mid-$50K price arena. How does the Infiniti stack up? Stay tuned for my driving impressions on that car next. As for the IS 350C, it provides ample reason (especially in F-Sport trim) to snap one up now rather than wait a few years for its RC replacement to arrive. IS-7   2014 Lexus IS 350C Base price: $48,050 Price as tested: $53,850 Options on test car:  F-Sport package ($2,550), Navigation system ($2,490), Park assist ($500), Trunk mat, cargo net & wheel locks ($260) Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive – 306 horsepower, 277 lb-ft. torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 21.7 mpg Lexus provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.