In a world where Mercedes-Benz makes compact hatchbacks, Porsche makes SUVs and BMW makes scooters, why is it unthinkable for Lexus to create a roaring sports coupe?
Yet, it is, sort of. It is not easy to imagine the straight-laced LS limo having a muscle-bound, tattoo-baring cousin. True, the Japanese marque that has established itself as a modern byword for motoring perfection has wowed us with its LFA supercar. But that was a production run limited to only 500 units worldwide. In other words, it might as well have been made for Martians. The 4.8-litre V10 rocket is so rare that it is largely invisible.
The new Lexus RC F, on the other hand, is going to be quite visible. And quite loud. And quite fast.Built on a chassis that is a hybrid of the Lexus GS and IS, the two-door 2+2 is a refined racer that boasts more than 250bhp per tonne of body weight and a century sprint timing of 4.4 seconds. It is aimed squarely at cars like the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63. And it is pretty convincing, too. The RC F does the quarter-mile dash in 12.5 seconds, just 0.1 of a second slower than the M4.
While it is a fairly hardcore tarmac warrior, it does not require the driver to be a Vettel or a Hamilton.
The most obvious trait that sets the atypical Lexus apart from its Teutonic rivals – or even a fellow Japanese giant slayer like the Nissan GT-R – is ease of use. You may be a driver who has never handled anything more powerful than a Corolla Altis, but you will feel at home behind the wheel of the RC F in no time at all. The coupe is immensely effortless and thoroughly rewarding for drivers with varying abilities and different appetites for excitement.The RC F’s 5-litre naturally aspirated dual-injection V8 is beefy, creamy and soulful. This vehicle is a grand tourer on open highways, a fantastic tool for carving up B roads and a racer for the racetrack – all rolled into one.
Its rich, textured V8 baritone stays in the background at engine speeds of up to 3000rpm, which you would have little opportunity to cross in everyday commutes. But if the occasion calls for it, the purr gives way to a bark that will raise the hair on the back of your neck.
Likewise, its 8-speed autobox, adapted from the Lexus LS transmission, has this split personality. It is super refined and completely unnoticeable when cruising, but once you squeeze the throttle or brake hard, it takes on a different shade.It is also very adaptive. So much so that its paddle-shifters are largely redundant, as the gearbox seems to know the right cog for every situation. For instance, it will shift down by two to three gears in double quick time when you slow down hard to take a corner, setting you up for a speedy exit each time.
On the track or along a winding stretch of country road, this ability sets the RC F apart from other fast coupes. The car corners in a most neutral manner, and its body rigidity shines through along rapid serpentine stretches. The car’s variable-ratio steering is also exquisitely quick and precise when you are driving hard, and suitably relaxed when you are just tooling about. It could however, do with a bit more feel.
This is a car that is decently quick, even in Normal mode. Switching to Sport or Sport-Plus dials up the excitement. Everything becomes keener, stiffer and angrier. Great for chasing down a Porsche 911 Carrera.
If equipped with torque vectoring, the RC F becomes markedly easier to control on the track. Unlike rivals with this stability feature, the one in the Lexus offers three levels of intervention. It is almost impossible to overcook a corner with this option.
A Torsen rear limited-slip differential is also available, but there is little point in having this if a car is already equipped with torque vectoring, which is brilliantly effective and magically unobtrusive in the case of the Lexus.
Its suspension setup, which feels a tad hard in the real world, is ideal on the track. The car is quite forgiving when your lines are not perfect, and is easy to rein in when things go sideways.Those who are used to the heftier feel of European sports cars may find the new Lexus a tad “soft”. But that is immaterial. Yes, the electric steering is feathery. Likewise, the brake pedal is also sprung lightly. But they work just as well. They just need some getting used to. For instance, you may find yourself applying the brakes way too soon before a corner. That was certainly the case when I drove the speedster at the twisty Monticello circuit in New York.
Instead of the hard-stomping action so often necessary in a European racer, all you need is moderate pressure to shed speed quickly in the RC F. It wears massive Brembo brake discs – 381mm in the front and 345mm in the rear, regulated by 6- and 4-piston callipers respectively. It is the Japanese way: low on hype, high on delivery.
When asked why the car is not equipped with a stop-start system, RC F chief engineer Yukihiko Yaguchi calmly said he reduced the idling speed by 100rpm, which effectively achieved the same thing as stop-start. Kudos to him, because stop-start is as irritating as hiccups.Both the RC F and RC350 look good. In fact, they look better in the metal than in pictures. They wear the most aggressive spindle grille Lexus has shaped, with fluid aerodynamic lines carved into their bodywork. The RC350 even has diffuser-like fins on either end of its rear bumper (like the Audi R8), but these are largely cosmetic.
The RC F dispenses with these, as its rear bumper is sculptured to have cleaner airflow/w at high speeds. An active rear spoiler deploys once the car reaches 80kmh, but Lexus does not want to say how much additional downforce this device actually creates.
At the front, the RC F has large air intakes on both sides of the bumper, as well as a vent on its raised bonnet. It looks like a track-ready car, and yet does not appear too rascally to drive to a formal dinner.
Unlike the Lexus IS F, which seemed like an afterthought, the RC F was conceived as a different car from the start. It is slightly longer, wider and lower than the RC350, but shares a common wheelbase.
The wheelbase, incidentally, is shorter than that of the IS. This makes quick and sharp turns tidier. Of course, cabin space is compromised, but the RC is a 2+2 after all. Its backseat is not suitable for long journeys, although there is slightly more space in the back than many European coupes. But the 366-litre boot space is unusually small.
Dimensions-wise, the RC is somewhere between the GS and IS. But in the metal, it appears more compact, perhaps because it’s not as tall as either car.
The RC F sits closest to the tarmac among all Lexus models besides the rarefied LFA. In its cockpit, you get LFA-style meters. And like the LFA, its engine boasts titanium connecting rods as well as intake and exhaust valves – like a track thoroughbred.
Although Singapore prices are not available yet, the price tag of the RC350 is expected to be in the ballpark of the BMW 435i (around $300,000), while the RC F should cost 15 percent more. There is a lighter RC F with its bonnet, roof and rear spoiler in carbon fibre, but that will cost even more. The weight savings amount to around 10kg, which is really not obvious to drivers who enjoy the occasional racing on Sundays.
On paper, the RC F and RC350 may not be as quick as their respective Bavarian rivals. But in real-world situations, a driver in the Lexus has the advantage of a car that is less demanding and more forgiving. This may not seem like much, but it actually makes a world of difference.
Turbocharged and petrol-electric variants are expected down the road, but even then, the one to have and hold is the 5-litre V8 RC F.
TYPE V8, 32-valves
BORE X STROKE 94mm x 89.4mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 12.3:1
MAX POWER 471bhp at 7100rpm
MAX TORQUE 530Nm at 4800-5600rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 256.5bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS Rear
0-100KM/H 4.4 seconds
TOP SPEED 270km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 12.4km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 252g/km
FRONT Double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Michelin Pilot Super Sport
SIZE 255/35 R19 (front),
275/35 R19 (rear)
TRACTION CONTROL ABS with VSC
KERB WEIGHT 1860kg
TURNING CIRCLE 10.8m
PRICE INCL. COE To be announced
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Looks and sounds good, built well, likely to be reliable, easy to go real fast, comfy enough to go real far
–Steering lacks feel, unconvincing rear spoiler, no street cred (at least not yet)