Car reviews - Lexus - RC - 350
Standout looks, all-round GT performance, sharp pricing
Room for improvement
No manual option, no hybrid option
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26 Nov 2014
LEXUS says despite its push to attract a new type of owner, it will never adopt a strategy or product which would alienate the present loyal following that it has worked so hard to build in its quarter of a century.
Which is precisely why the new RC 350 model is available in three very different levels of equipment, it says.
Entry level Luxury versions (only Lexus could call their base version Luxury) open the proceedings, F Sport variants directly target the new more youthful market, while the Sports Luxury RC 350 brings features to appeal to the more traditional Lexus owner.
Our day started in the $74,000 driver-focused F Sport, which has a selection of performance-enhancing technology unique to the variant.
As the expression goes “first impressions last” and the way the RC 350 looks certainly stays with you. Frankly there is nothing else on the road that looks quite like it - even from a distance.
Its vast company trademark spindle grille is the largest on any Lexus since the L-finesse design feature was introduced and, while some believe it is a bit of overkill, we think it is doing a great job setting the Lexus range apart from everything else on the road in a time when many car designs are becoming so similar.
There is no mistaking the RC’s face with its organic lines, weird three-cell LED headlights, slim blade-like LED running lights, brilliant chrome-look highlights and a range of special five-layer paint jobs in deep luscious colours.
At the other end the same striking design approach has been applied with challenging angles, parts that appear to have grown there and features that are more than just a slight nod to its hyperactive LFA older brother.
Overall though, the RC is every bit a coupe with good proportions, frameless doors, long bonnet and a planted stance on the road. If its drive is as attention-grabbing as the looks, Lexus is onto a good thing.
Heading out of Melbourne’s suburbs and into more rewarding countryside driving allowed us to sample the RC 350’s cruising ability, which should be exemplary given Lexus’ reputation.
Unlike many other marques Lexus hasn’t employed clever sound canceling technology to improve cabin comfort for no other reason than it doesn’t need to. Even riding on big 19-inch wheels with diet tyres, noise levels when cruising on even poorly maintained roads were minimal.
Ride quality was also surprisingly good despite the sports tuned chassis with interior comfort enhanced by the Moonstone leather seats and allowed an excellent true coupe reclined seating position with deep footwells and versatile adjustment.
The general cabin feel is one of high quality and a nice demonstration of minimalist design but the RC 350 interior still manages to be classy and beautiful through clever layout rather than resorting to chintzy materials and too much equipment on show.
Electrostatic temperature control switches with no moving parts, matte aluminium radio dials and a clean track-pad controller are all good examples and the frameless electro-chromatic rear-view mirror is modern and sharp.
The touch-sensitive track-pad replaces the more mouse-like solution of other Lexus models and is easier to use, but otherwise the RC cabin is largely reminiscent of the IS sedan on which the coupe is partly based.
Such was the serene cruising ability, we almost forgot Lexus’ claims that the RC coupe brings a new excitement to the brand with high performance and a uniquely developed chassis for maximum enjoyment. Fully depressing the accelerator is a good way to remind yourself though.
Its 3.5-litre V6 has no turbochargers to dampen throttle response or induction note and the engine reacts quickly to instruction returning a satisfying soundtrack with some noise fed into the cabin via a pipe through the bulkhead.
Normal aspiration has also resulted in a powerplant that loves to be revved and the strong V6 comes alive beyond 4000 and rewarded us with capable acceleration all the way to the 6400 rpm redline.
The eight-speed automatic transmission does a decent job shifting by itself but grabbing a handful of gears with the steering wheel paddles was the best way to get every drop out of the refined drivetrain.
Gear-shifts happened quickly, moving both up and down through the ratios with a blip from the throttle smoothing proceedings when changing down at speed.
Despite having eight cogs to choose from we found the lower ratios were pushed a little too far apart which is good for top-end touring comfort but less fun at lower speeds when the first three gears come into play.
It would be very unlike Lexus to fit any of its vehicles with a manual gearbox but we couldn’t help feeling the engine would be delightful to wring out with a box full of ratios in the left hand.
The 233kW/378Nm V6 is a good match for the RC’s size and weight but we would like to see a more frugal hybrid version for which Lexus is so well known made available.
But power is irrelevant without a chassis that can effectively send it to the road. Here the RC 350 does equally well.
Unique to the F Sport variant is variable rate suspension, variable ratio steering and rear-wheel steering, and twisting the Drive Mode selector to F Sport + set all three along with engine and transmission to the most sporty settings for a blast through mountain passes.
Pushing hard into sharp corners does cause some body roll in the RC but not excessively so or to an unnerving extent, and feedback through both steering and the excellent sports seats was reassuring.
With constantly changing roads the well balanced chassis felt exactly as a rear-drive coupe should and on the limit allowed a slight wash-out from the front wheels followed immediately by oversteer - a sign of good front to rear balance and the recipe for fun.
Steering feel was at times a little light and lacking communication but for a majority of the conditions and roads we liked how much the RC 350 talked back through a thoroughly developed chassis.
Even large imperfections in the road couldn’t phase the RC’s ride, eating up both fine vibration and larger lumps without upsetting the road-holding and handling to any great degree.
Rear wheel steering is very effective and unlike some clever vehicle technology, is easy to appreciate. Turning in is notably fast and, at a point where a normal steering system would be running out of capacity the Lexus allowed us to dial in more turn without breaking traction.
The system enhances the feel of rear-drive rather than insulating the desirable qualities and sensation from the driver.
When fully switched on, traction control did intervene more than we thought the conditions and driving style warranted, meaning either we were being more heavy handed than we realised or the ESC program is a little sensitive.
F sport versions have a single gauge dash arrangement displaying the all-important engine revolutions per minute and all other vital statistics displayed on the full-colour screen immediately surrounding it.
However, with the push of a steering-wheel button the tachometer eerily slides a few centimeters to the right revealing more vehicle information. Gimmick? Maybe. Useful? We nearly wore it out.
With Drive Mode in normal some of the fierceness and urgency of the variable systems faded allowing a smoother ride requiring less concentration to maintain a comfortable ride for all aboard and very like the ride of the entry level Luxury RC 350 variant.
With an inch smaller 18-inch wheels, the base spec coupe is clearly more focused on the cruising acumen of the RC range and lacks the rawness of the F Sport, but with the same engine and chassis tuned for reward, piloting the entry level coupe was great fun.
Its higher profile tyres smoothed the ride and transmitted even less noise from rough surfaces and with many of the features of more expensive options the Luxury does deserve its variant name.
Cabin fit out is just as well finished as the more expensive versions and for a vast majority of motoring, drivers of the most affordable RC 350 would be at no disadvantage. We might miss that addictive single sliding tacho though.
We found it hard to detect much performance advantage over the sedan sibling IS 350 but that needn’t be a criticism. Both cars have respectable sporting credentials and are great fun to steer. Choosing an RC is a matter of style.
As with any coupe, a small sacrifice has to be made for an aesthetic advantage over four-door equivalents but performance doesn’t necessarily share the benefits. If you love the way the RC looks then a small practicality penalty is the only small price to pay over the more sensible sedan - and $600 on the entry level Luxury.
We enjoyed piloting the RC 350 package through both straight B-road journeys and twisty mountainous sections equally and that is the Lexus coupe’s best attribute.
It may not quite match the poise and precision of the BMW 4 Series but as an all-round proposition for covering long distances in comfort and the occasional blast through winding roads, packaged up in one of the most strikingly styled bodies available, the Lexus RC 350 is irresistible value.
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