Car reviews - Lexus - RC - 350
Crisp handling, flexible engine, unique dash design
Room for improvement
Oversensitive touchpad, foot-operated park brake, lack of storage space
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19 Feb 2015
By NEIL DOWLING
Price and equipment
The RC350 F Sport sits in the middle of the three-model range priced from $74,000 before on-road costs with a decent jump from the entry-level Luxury version’s $66,000 plus on-road costs, and under the enriched Sports Luxury at $86,000. All share the same engine and transmission so performance, including fuel economy, is identical.
Most of the price variance is found in trim, electronics and safety items but the F Sport differs by its mechanical enhancements, notably the rear-wheel steering system.
As a manufacturer, Lexus wins on its level of equipment and the RC350 continues to carry the flag for the marque. Nothing comes close to the offerings in this car compared with near-price rivals.
The F Sport builds on the Luxury, replacing a 10-speaker no-name audio with a refined Mark Levinson 17-speaker unit. It adds an LFA-style steering wheel, and extra safety items.
This is on top of the RC350’s impressive standard fare that includes satellite navigation, touch-sensitive climate controls and cabin lights, heated and ventilated vinyl seats, eight airbags, a seven-inch colour monitor (also used for the reverse camera) and front and rear park sensors.
The $8000 premium over the Luxury model buys the complex rear-wheel steering, 20-spoke 19-inch wheels (replacing five-spoke 18s), a better stereo and some additional safety items.
There’s a distinct feeling that the cabin designers wanted to make the cockpit as simple as possible and were then hit by the full weight of the specification sheet.
The tiered dash, bright and open instruments, console-mounted touchpad, high-placed colour monitor and sexy touch-sensitive air-conditioner controls are so cleverly done that it’s almost wondrous.
Even the instrument panel has a TFT screen so different gauges are displayed depending on the drive-select mode - a switch that changes the drivetrain’s character from sober to party.
But the cupholders are minimal and personal storage space is poor.
The park brake is foot-operated - an American favourite - which is just as well given the lack of console space for a hand lever. An electric park brake would be better.
Despite its low profile, the RC350 seats four adults and though it is cosy in the back, it’s suitable for short distances.
Luggage space is 423 litres, good considering the rear-drive layout and sloping rear glass, but down on Audi A5 (455 litres), Mercedes C350 (450 litres) and the BMW at 480 litres.
Engine and transmission
The majority of components are borrowed from the Toyota shelves and while there’s a sense that it detracts from the premium nature of the car, from a service and maintenance angle, it actually works in its favour.
The engine is yet another incarnation of the Lexus-Toyota 3.5-litre V6 that is employed in everything from a Tarago to an Aurion, RX350 SUV to a Lotus Evora sportscar.
Regardless, it’s a solid and durable mill that’s quite lively - in this case screwed up to pump 233kW at 6400rpm and 378Nm of torque at a rather high 4800rpm.
Lexus claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.1 seconds, a blink faster than the Audi A5 (by 0.3sec) and fractionally behind the Mercedes (6.0sec) and BMW (5.8sec).
But it’s never been a particularly frugal engine and in a 1710kg coupe, it’s chances are again dashed. The 9.4 litres/100km average quoted by Lexus also fails to reflect the economy of the car in the hands of someone thoroughly enjoying themselves - a highly plausible scenario.
The rear-drive layout is one ingredient that the Euros claim is mandatory to achieve the handling nirvana demanded by sports-car enthusiasts, so the RC350 is clearly a win for the Japanese.
The layout should spell oversteer at the limit but even when pushed hard, it’s a balanced chassis and one that is remarkably forgiving – especially given what one expects of a Japanese volume car.
Compared with the other two RC models, the steering ratio in the F Sport is faster with fewer turns required lock-to-lock (2.35 compared with the Luxury’s 2.84).
Ride and handling
Lexus borrowed floorpan pieces from three of its existing models - the IS sedan, the GS and the IS convertible - to create the RC, producing rigidity with a compact wheelbase and yet extra width for improved stability.
It has all the ingredients to be a winner but it’s not just the mechanical layout that cements the RC350 as a fun ride - it’s an armada of electronics.
In addition to the rear-steer trickery, the F Sport has adaptive suspension with a four-mode switch - Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport S+ - that changes the tune of the engine, transmission and steering.
Sport S+ makes more driver-focused changes to the variable-ratio steering, the Lexus Dynamic Handling (only on the F Sport) steering module that integrates the four-wheel steer system, and the adaptive suspension.
The result is a seamless, benign and effective method of making the driver look possibly considerably better than they are.
The electronics help make the RC a car that is quick through the bends, responsive and sharp and above all, comfortable for its occupants.
The four-wheel steering is efficient but you’ll really only pick up its benefits on a back-to-back comparison with a non-rear-steer model.
Safety and servicing
There’s a solid safety sheet here, starting with eight airbags, a creche full of electronic nannies, a hill holder and rear camera with park sensors.
The F Sport has triple LED headlights and 18-LED daytime running lights that are brilliant-white and perfect for a night in the country.
Lane departure warning and a pedestrian-focused pop-up bonnet are common to the three RC350 models but the F Sport adds a blind-spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert.
But now for the cheque book. The F Sport Enhancement Pack adds a pre-collision system for low and high speed that contains automatic braking, active cruise control and automatic high beam.
Buy it for $7300 and Lexus will throw in a moonroof (which is a sunroof without the skin-cancer connotations).
Lexus has a four-year, 100,000km warranty including a four-year roadside assistance program. Though there’s no capped-price servicing, Lexus says it has a pricing menu that outlines future costs for customers. The resale is a strong 56 per cent after three years.
The RC350 F Sport is a premium-quality coupe that will make you smile with its easy-going manners, loads of things in the cabin to play with and an uncomplicated drivetrain.
Price-wise, the RC350 is well positioned but the F Sport version may not be the pick unless you’re passionate about driving. For the rest, the Luxury model may just be the prestige coupe bargain of the year.
BMW 428i Coupe, $81,000, before on-road costs
The sleek 4-Series is better styled and balanced than its 3-Series predecessor.
Turbo 2-litre four is quick but not as smooth and quiet as the Lexus and Mercedes. Price is expensive and options - some almost mandatory - pump the price. But fuel economy is the best here. More a driver’s coupe - a task it relishes - than the others.
MERCEDES-BENZ C350 Coupe, $99,430, before on-road costs
The neat Benz mixes a beautifully sculptured body and fresh interior with a strong aspirated V6 engine. On performance and drivetrain, it’s the closest here to the Lexus, but it’s a $100,000-plus proposition even before dueling the option list. Better as a cruiser than a sports coupe.
AUDI A5 2.0TFSI quattro, $77,300, before on-road costs
All-wheel drive and another sweet body shape (hard to pick a visual favourite here) combine with four-seater cabin to make this a practical rival. The price is right too, though the A5 is also an attractive lure for picking through the accessories. Makes an excellent cruiser or tourer though on poor or wet road surfaces and has remarkable dexterity.
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