First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: Lexus RC

New RC-F model banishes the boring label for Lexus

RC F vent

WHITE PLAINS, NY – Nobody is going to call this Lexus boring!

Toyota’s luxury division has often been criticized for producing bland vehicles, bereft of the stuff that make enthusiasts drool.Exceptional quality, industry-leading reliability and resale value, yes. But with few exceptions, no pizzazz.

lexus rc f.jpgA couple of laps on the track with the 2015 Lexus RC F will put that notion to rest. With its Drive Mode Select set to Sport , its trick torque-sensing differential to Track mode and its quartet of big exhaust pipes singing the glorious melody of a 467-horsepower V-8 egine, boring is the last thing on your mind!

Lexus has done an excellent overall job of competing with the established European (specifically German) luxury manufacturers. It has developed a full set of models spanning the size and price gamut offered by Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But , with a couple exceptions, it has not managed to come up with a halo product that can compete with products wearing the RS, M and AMG badges from the aforementioned competition.

RC F a worthy comperitor

The 2015 RC F is just such a vehicle. Fettled to the extreme by a dedicated team of designers and engineers, this rear-drive sport coupe isa dead-on competitor for the Germans. And like them, it has “lesser” siblings –the  2015 RC 350 and the RC 350 F Sport.Both share the same genes as the F version but swap the honking V-8 for a high output V6. They also are available with a full-time all-wheel-drive system. 

Lexus RC f rear.jpgThe RC F and RC 350 models were developed under the guidance of separate engineering teams, to ensure a clear difference between the regular and high performance versions.

Visually there are distinct clues. Both share the same distinct new body with the gaping Lexus optical-illusion spindle grille, flared fenders and complicated rear end. But they differ in the size, location and purposes of the various scoops and vents that adorn the bodywork.  The F has large intakes on either side of the grille for the oil and transmission coolers, and air extraction vents atop the hood and in the wheel arches. 

The signature L-shaped LED DRLs and tail lights are clearly Lexus. The grille is larger on the RC F while at the other end a quartet of exhaust outlets arrayed at a 45-degree angle flank an aero-inspired lower valance.  The RC 350 gets just a pair of rectangular pipes in a conventional array.

Stylized interior

lexus rc 350 front seat.jpgThe inside is highly stylized, feature rich and a luxurious place to spend some time. Again the two models differ, most clearly in the instrument layout with the RC F's touch pad controls having a more complex,configurable, performance-oriented setup.

The seats differ from model to model with much more lateral support in the RC F. All seats are made through a new process called“Integrated Foaming” which involves putting the seat covers in a mold and filling them with foam, rather than moulding the filling and wrapping it with a cover. This allows for a more complicated design and longer life without wrinkling.

Two bucket seats in the rear are made more accessible thanks to a power sliding mechanism, but they are still best left to the small and agile.

Amalgam of platforms

lexus rc 350 dash.jpgThe RC is based on an amalgam of platforms: the front portion from the GS for a wide track; the middle from the IS convertible for its structural stiffness; and the rear from the IS sedan to minimize rear overhang.

The RC 350 and 350 F Sport are powered by a 3.5-litre V-6 engine producing 307 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque. In rear-drive form it is paired with an eight-speed automatic while the AWD version gets a six speed auto – and a giant hump to clear the transfer case, in the center tunnel right where my right leg rested uncomfortably against it while driving.

The V-6 is a familiar Toyota/Lexus unit, smooth, quiet and plenty powerful – until you have had a chance to sample the V-8!

The 5.0-litre eight is an advance on the one used in the ISF sedan. It has the same block but most everything inside and on top has been altered, including the heads, valves and, connecting rods. The result is 467 horsepower – 51 more than in the IS version – as well as 369 lb-ft of torque and the ability to rev to 7,300 rpm.

It also boasts the unique ability to run on the Otto cycle when working hard, for maximum power, and the fuel saving Atkinson cycle under light throttle conditions. The result is lower fuel consumption despite the additional power.

The RC F accelerates to 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds and at Monticello Motorsport Park near here, I saw 220 km/hr at the end of the back straight, which had been “shortened” by a chicane of pylons to keep things from getting out of hand. The lovely V8 pulled seamlessly all the way. The sound is simple gorgeous, among the top three or four in the industry – I want a ringtone of that glorious sound.

Track-specific technologies

Standard equipment on the rear drive RC F is a Torsen limited slip differential. Optional, as part of a performance package that includes a carbon fibre roof and automatically deployed rear spoiler, is a torque vectoring differential that uses tiny electric motors to operate clutch packs on each half shaft. It can be set in standard, slalom or track modes.This is a serious piece of kit, developed for track days.

The eight-speed automatic is easily the best torque-converter automatic I have sampled on a track, snapping off shifts with incredible speed and responding to inputs from the paddle shifters almost as quickly as the best DSG box. In Sport mode, the RC F uses what Lexus calls G-Force Artificial Intelligence, taking readings from on-board accelerometers to control shift points. Under braking for a corner it downshifts sequentially andwill not shift back up until you are back on the throttle or unwinding the steering as you exit the corner. When that occurs it has an uncanny ability to be in the right gear.

I also turned some laps in an RC 350 F Sport and while notas brutal or aurally pleasing as the RC F, it handled nearly as well with minimal body roll. The adaptive suspension, standard on this model, altered the damper settings according to conditions – with maximum stiffness in Sport mode,.

The RC F has additional structural bracing under the hood and behind the rear seat, negating the ability to lower the seat backs for more cargo space. The Brembo brakes are upsized with six-piston calipers up front and four- in the rear. All the test vehicles were equipped with ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport performance tires – 235/40-19 front and 265/35-19 rears.

On the road the RC F was of course more firm than the RC350, but not unpleasantly so.

This exciting new Lexus should go a long way to revising the brand’s image, especially among the young and enthusiast segments.  It arrives in Canadian Lexus stores inNovember.

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