2014 Lexus IS 350C: Day 1 driving the USA Pro Challenge

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The 2014 Lexus IS 350C, via the manufacturer’s description, is an entry level retractable hardtop offered by Toyota’s upscale line. It’s hard to think of a $55,000 car as an entry level machine, but I’m not here to squabble.

The two-seat V6, 306 horsepower automatic is The Weekly Driver’s test vehicle during the USA Pro Challenge, the weeklong professional bike race in Colorado. I’ve just finished a nearly five-hour stint in the car from the Denver International Airport to Snowmass Resort.

The navigation system detailed a 203-mile route with a 3-hour, 38-minute journey involved. But my trek included a few quick small-city diversions along the way for restroom, stretching and coffee breaks. (OK, I checked email, too.)

The day’s adventure, primarily along Interstate I-70 and Hwy. 82, tallied 229 miles and took about 4 hours and 45 minutes.

Day 1 of driving the 2014 Lexus IS 350C at the USA Pro Challenge
Day 1 of driving the 2014 Lexus IS 350C at the USA Pro Challenge. Images © James Raia/2014

Unlike I-5 in California, which can progress for hours on long, flat stretches, I-70 provided a quick indoctrination. It’s an always-changing route into the Rockies, but the IS 350C never flinched. From Denver, the “Mile-High” city to Snowmass, I climbed to more than 11,000 feet of elevation on long, steady ascents and also into lower elevation cities with sharp winding descents of more than 7 percent.

The 2014 Lexus IS 350 C hardtop convertible
The 2014 Lexus IS 350C retractable hardtop.

Colorado weather can change suddenly, but cloudy blue-ski and windless conditions prevailed with the exception of three brief sections of light rain when huge drops hit the windshield hard.

With the air conditioner on the entire route, the IS 350C accelerated with a steady growl. I’m not an aggressive driver, and I chose the slow lane on some 75 mph speed limit sections. On other, less strenuous sections, 85 mph seemed ideal. The Lexus always hugged the road tightly, particularly on some descents through majestic rock formations.

On the final climb steep climb to the Westin Resort at Snowmass Village, I passed a road sign that read, “Caution: Elk Migration Corridor.” It seemed like a keen welcome to a week’s stay in Colorado.

Lastly,  I kept the hardtop up throughout the opening day of the trip. Tomorrow, stage 1 of the race begins and ends in nearby Aspen. If the weather holds, I’m going for the sunscreen, a cap and a short day’s drive to see what this convertible is all about.

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