Car reviews - Lexus - RC - F
Glorious high-revving atmo V8, true GT comfort, confident grip, cabin quality
Room for improvement
Excessive kerb weight, disappointing transmission
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12 Nov 2015
Price and equipment
LUXURY is something Lexus has worked hard to earn as a synonym over the years and, even though it is now exploring sportier territory with the RC range, it has not forgotten its origins.
Subsequently, the RC F flagship offers a long list of standard equipment bundled into a top quality coupe package for a kick-off price of $133,110 before on-road costs.
That price brings a healthy chunk of safety and driver assistance gear, as well as plenty of comfort and entertainment features, but for those wanting the ultimate RC, Lexus offers the more exclusive Carbon for $147,110.
The extra outlay adds carbon-fibre exterior panels including spoiler, roof and bonnet, with more carbon touches to the interior and extra coverage of synthetic suede.
For our test car, we settled for the more affordable version in sultry Starlight Black, which is a classy and restrained tone but we think the RC F's outlandish looks are best celebrated in one of the loud colours offered by Lexus.
All RC Fs have a glass sunroof which is great for appreciating a balmy day, but the sliding glass pane spoils its head-turning looks when open with a large protruding overhang.
Our advice is: settle for the side windows and keep those striking and next-level Lexus looks unspoilt.
From the moment you board the RC F you are immediately reminded of the long line of luxury Lexus' that have gone before it but mostly its closest relative – the IS sedan.
The Japanese car-maker has managed to straddle the fine line between likeable and memorable design without creating a cabin that is too showy or gaudy.
A unique terraced layout of the dashboard manages to accommodate all of the essentials without becoming cluttered, and has numerous examples of attention to detail and quality such as the solid-state touch-sensitive heater controls, beautiful frosted aluminium radio dials and central analogue clock.
Interior materials are top quality too with sharp silver carbon-fibre trims highlighting the dash and doors, while the timeless black leather interior is lifted by a subtle but cool blue stitching throughout.
Standard in all RC Fs is the Mark Levinson sound system which brings 835 watts of power and an almost unbelievable 17 speakers. In such a cosy cabin we couldn't work out where Lexus had hidden them all, but it is easier to fathom as soon as your favourite track is cued because the sound quality, depth and volume is amongst the best we have ever encountered.
We would have preferred a few more central cubby spaces to stow a phone rather than one of the two cup holders or the little shelf in front of the centre dash screen but otherwise, cabin space has been used efficiently.
While the RC range does offer two rear seats, with minimal leg room and a diving roof line, second row accommodation is not a patch on the front seats.
The coupe's head-turning looks are enhanced by its long frameless doors but their dimensions combined with far-forward front seat position made getting in and out trickier when parking close to other cars.
An automatic window lowering system, which partially opens the window when the door is opened similar to BMW's solution would certainly improve the situation.
The RC F's deeply bucketed seats are as easy on the rump as they are on the eye, looking every bit at home in a high-end sports coupe while providing a perfect driving position. Electric adjustment of seat and steering column allowed the classic deep footwell coupe driving position with excellent support whether cruising or enjoying more challenging roads.
If we had to say something critical of the seating then it would certainly relate to the slightly pretentious harness strap slots in the driver and passenger seats. Seriously Lexus?Unless the Carbon version is optioned, the front seats are cooled and heated, but we found the cooling function a little asthmatic, while the heaters only appeared to warm the base and not the back.
Once the chosen posture had been saved into the seat memory, we enjoyed taking a moment to play with the Multi-Information display, which neatly combines a full-colour digital display and conventional analogue gauges.
Depending on the Drive Mode Select setting, the display alters to show information to either promote efficient driving when in Eco mode, vehicle information when stretching the RC F's legs in Sport S or Sport S + mode, or a combination of the two when in Normal is selected.
Like true driving-focused cars, the tachometer dominates the display as the largest and centrally mounted gauge, but cleverly it morphs into an economy dial in Eco mode. The speedometer is neat and compact but repeats its reading in the centre of the tacho.
Lexus' RC F interior is a masterful blend of modern and contemporary design, comfort, style and clever features. Now on to the oily bits.
Engine and transmission
While other marques, including BMW's M4 and the Mercedes-AMG C63 have given in to the emissions-slashing properties of forced induction, Lexus has stuck to good old atmospheric pressure to fill the RC F's eight cylinders.
With 5.0-litres at its disposal, the Lexus V8 develops its 351kW in a typically naturally aspirated manner which sits very well with us.
At idle and low rpm the big eight is placid and smooth with a useful amount of torque (530Nm peak) on tap, but a stab of the throttle reveals the RC F's other side.
With clever variable inlet geometry and valve timing, the V8 turns from what you might expect from Lexus, into a snarling animal and the most memorable soundtrack.
The V8 note is less exhaust bark and more pure guttural induction sound, and deeply satisfying at all engine speeds. The audible response from under the bonnet encourages the driver to keep their foot buried all the way to the 7300 rpm red line.
With its natural aspiration, the 5.0-litre loves singing in the higher rpm and produces the most effervescent results in the upper ranges with strong acceleration that seems to be most aggressive at maximum revs.
With a tempting large-capacity V8 under its snout, owners of the Lexus should not expect class-leading fuel consumption however, with a good mix of driving from sedate to sprightly, we managed to beat the official combined economy figure of 10.9 litres per 100km by 1.1 litres.
Unfortunately the capable and lively engine was let down by the eight-speed SPDS automatic transmission which provides a nicely ratioed drive and smooth changes but lacks the sharpness of some competitors.
While the silky transmission was adept and placid when cruising, we couldn’t get the box to swap cogs with any urgency when requiring a bit more pace.
Even in the sportiest Sport plus setting the transmission was reluctant to kick-down and shifted lazily in a manner more representative of a more comfort oriented Lexus. We feel more work could have been done tailoring a transmission program for a more sportier edge.
In manual mode, we had more control over when the transmission shifted using the paddles, but commands were responded to with a frustrating delay.
At one end of the powertrain there is a simple but effective engine that clearly looks to a more sporty future for Lexus, but at the other end the, transmission seems to be stuck in its past.
Ride and handling
Lexus has managed to pack a good amount of kit and hardware into the RC F but that has come at a cost of a beefy final kerb weight of between 1780kg and 1860kg depending on the specification.
That is a sizable figure but thankfully, the Lexus hides it well for a majority of driving and road types. With the weight kept relatively low, handling is surprisingly sharp with a nicely weighted steering set up.
We didn't have chance to push the RC F in wet conditions but the tight chassis had lots of grip in the wet and confidence-inspiring road holding. At the limit, ESC intervenes a little too eagerly and then limits power for an overly prolonged period.
Generally though, the chassis set up is comfortable and allows little body roll with the significant mass only rearing its head if pushed particularly hard.
Despite the significant kerb weight, braking is strong and dependable with 380mm iron discs at the front, grabbed by meaty and great-looking six-pot callipers.
Lexus' Torque Vectoring Differential does a good job of delivering power to the blacktop and, while we couldn't notice a difference between the various modes, the clever diff is a good stopgap between restraint and full traction control intervention.
The RC F has a road manner that is closer to a bruiser GT rather than a knife-sharp sportscar, but that needn't be a discredit. The ability to munch miles of twisting B-road with ease is the Lexus' party piece.
Safety and servicing
Lexus offers a solid range of standard active safety gear, with a reversing camera, lane-departure alert, automatic and self dipping headlights, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise control and autonomous braking above 15km/h all part of the deal.
If that isn't enough to keep you out of trouble then pre-collision braking, a high-strength safety cell, eight airbags including two-stage up front and curtain bags protect occupants in the event of a crash.
Every Lexus comes with a four-year or 100,000km warranty, backed up by DriveCare, which offers 24-hour roadside assistance including off-road breakdown cover for RX and LX owners.
Complimentary loan cars are provided for each service appointment or a home/office pick-up service as an alternative.
If Lexus is trying to appeal to a younger audience then it is going the right way about it.
The RC F's raucous engine note, vicious looks and muscular performance will attract a new sort of fan to the Japanese brand, but Lexus' sports coupe isn't quite up alongside with the German offerings yet.
Its massive weight and laid-back gearbox hold it back from elevating to the true sports coupe status with one foot still in the GT segment, but a lightweight version could well snap at the German's heels.
But, while BMW's M4, the Audi RS5 and the forthcoming Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe may all tussle on the track for tenths of seconds, the Lexus is in many ways the easier car to live with.
It still has bags of pace, conversation-starting looks, a rewarding drive and is certainly the biggest step towards Lexus' first pure drivers car since the LFA.
Audi RS5 Coupe from $157,510 before on-road costs
Of its rivals, the Audi is the only one to adopt natural aspiration. Its V8 is also a high revving unit and the Coupe offers similar two-plus-two offering with likable looks but commands a premium over the Lexus price. The Audi has a far sharper dual-clutch automatic transmission.
BMW M4 Coupe from $149,900 before on-road costs
BMW's M3 invented the ultra coupe segment and its M4 successor intends to hold on to the crown. A turbocharged six-cylinder is potent as well as efficient and its chassis is track-honed. Some may find the pin-sharp responsiveness hard to live with and it comes at a significant cost premium over the Lexus.
Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe (Pricing to be confirmed)
The Mercedes hasn't yet arrived on Australian turf but it promises to be a potent combination of turbo V8 power, silky Merc build-quality and pumped-up coupe styling. Pricing is yet to be confirmed but it is likely to align closely with its BMW M4 arch rival.
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