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Lexus RC F and RC 350 2015 Review

EXPERT RATING
7
Paul Gover road tests and reviews the new Lexus RC F at its international launch.

It's crunch time at Lexus. Two minutes to the siren with a title on the line.

In earlier stanzas, Lexus has produced nice cars, good cars and classy cars. But not one of those had the heart and soul — the chutzpah — to make Lexus more than a bit player in the luxury car business.

Now, with the RC coupe — headlined by the V8-powered RC F — it's make-or-break for a brand that's still looking for the point of difference to get people to overlook an Audi, BMW or Benz in favour of a Lexus. So the RC must be the car you choose, not that one that's left at the end of a computer spreadsheet analysis.

"Lexus RC? That's just another Toyota, isn't it?" a good friend says as I head for the airport and the global press preview drive in New York. Is he right? Or have things changed? That's the big question I'm in the Big Apple to answer.

Lexus says the answers are already written in the sales numbers it has achieved since the original LS400 in 1989, in the edgy design of its newest models including the NX SUV, in the track performance of its LFA supercar and in the commitment to the RC as the hero model to butt heads with the BMW M4 and Mercedes C63 AMG.

DESIGN

But the RC, likely to be priced from about $65,000, must take things further. A lot further into the place where emotion takes over from ruthless efficiency. "The RC is not just a two-door version of the IS. Its global role is to change the perception of Lexus and draw new consumers. It is intended to draw a younger audience," says chief engineer Eiichi Kusama.

It definitely looks sharp and hot, there are V6 and V8 engines, rear-wheel drive for response and enjoyment, a chassis that combines the width of the GS with the length of the IS for grip and go, and the cabin — genuinely roomy enough for four adults — has an edgy new look with class all around.

There are also an eight-speed automatic with sports shifting, sports-tuned suspension and everything else you'd expect in a car pitched ultimately against the M4. But now we come to the roadblock. The starting-price RC 350 has a V6 that's not far removed from the one in the ho-hum Toyota Aurion. The RC F (about $130,000) is fitted with a high-revving and potent V8 that is unlikely to match the instant-on urge of next-gen turbos in the M4 and the coming AMG C-Class coupe.

There is plenty of chat about the RC double act from the head into the New York traffic and point to the hills and a private racetrack — where Jerry Seinfeld exercises his huge collection of Porsches — for some on-the-limit insight.

DRIVING

My first drive is in an RC 350 and I'm impressed. It turns heads in traffic, it's cushy and comfortable, and — for the very first time in any Lexus — it feels connected to the road, and not just sitting on top. The response is good, it's quiet and the audio works well.

But, when I hit the go pedal the sound is more like a Sydney taxi than a sports car. Lexus really needed to extract a rascally rasp from the exhaust instead of the intake groan it has achieved.

Switching to the RC F, the basic feel is much the same but the looks are chunkier. The carbon-fibre bonnet and roof panel save weight and are likely to be popular options. This time the engine sounds great but I have to rev the car too hard to get to the sweet spot for torque and even further to get maximum power. So it's a car you need to really push.

At the track, the real truths become clear. The RC 350 is quick and enjoyable but limited by the engine and suspension that's too soft. It is good to cut loose, it proves the chassis and suspension settings are spot-on for the job yet there is no sense of occasion.

I expect that impact as I switch to the RC F and tap into the 351kW/550Nm, outputs that mean every corner is taken one gear lower than the cooking car — the potential for excitement is far greater. At first, I'm happy. But then I realise the RC F's settings are calibrated to "safe" rather than "special", with a chassis that pushes far too wide in corners. It wants to go straight ahead when I want to turn, and the engine outputs are not accessible enough.

So I ask the head of the F program, the racesuit-clad Yukihiko Yaguchi, how the car was positioned. He says it was benchmarked against an IS track car and he has not even driven an M4.

Pricing Guides

$44,985
Based on 28 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$36,900
Highest Price
$72,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
RC F 5.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $69,990 – 72,990 2015 Lexus RC 2015 RC F Pricing and Specs
RC F Carbon 5.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $80,080 – 92,070 2015 Lexus RC 2015 RC F Carbon Pricing and Specs
RC350 F Sport 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $36,900 – 48,999 2015 Lexus RC 2015 RC350 F Sport Pricing and Specs
RC350 Luxury 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $37,400 – 44,000 2015 Lexus RC 2015 RC350 Luxury Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Pricing Guide

$36,900

Lowest price, based on 32 car listings in the last 6 months

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