What is it? Range-topping coupe member of mainstream performance line-up.
Key features: 5.0-litre V8, bold styling, quality finish.
Our View: The Lexus RC F does have its flaws, but it is a car one can live with and still enjoy to the full when the occasion allows.
Type of review: Full road test
Think of Lexus and one does not necessarily immediately see a performance car. While the Toyota luxury brand’s cars are all reasonably potent and the LF A supercar certainly gained a lot of attention, in Europe at least Lexus is better known for its BMW and Mercedes-rivalling premium saloons and its hybrid powertrains.
As a result those buyers who want a performance coupe will not immediately think of the RC F, tending instead to look towards Jaguar’s F-Type or the BMW M4. This is a shame, as the RC F has many characteristics that make it worthy of consideration compared to its more familiar rivals.
It is indeed potent, thanks to the fact that its engine bay houses an updated and significantly more powerful version of the engine that debuted in the performance saloon, the IS F. Putting out 471bhp at 7,100rpm, 54 horses more than the IS F and with 391lbft of torque, this is the most powerful V8 production unit yet seen from Lexus, and it’s combined with such useful technology as a torque-vectoring differential to make most efficient use of that power.
Many premium performance cars are restrained in their styling – not so the Lexus. It is a riot of sharp angles and creases, dominated by the front end Toyota family signature with the Lexus-specific enormous grille.
The headlamps are tiny and triangular, and sweep like the grille down to a point on the front to produce a very aggressive stance.
In profile the typical coupe shape is obvious, as is the fact that this is quite a large car for its class, longer, higher and wider than its perhaps closest rival the BMW M4, but with an 82mm shorter wheelbase. The body, we are told, is heavily stiffened, but its size, combined with the big engine, points to the RC F’s major disadvantage when compared to its rivals – this is one heavy car, its 1765kg kerb weight some 228 kilos more than the BMW.
Access to the Lexus RC F cabin is made easy through the long doors, and while the two rear seats are cosy they are less so than in other 2+2 competitors – the 366-litre boot however is on the small side when ranged against the BMW or Jaguar’s F-Type.
Slipping behind the wheel one finds a comfortable if somewhat high driving position. The fit and finish is as impressive as we have long ago got used to with Lexus – quality surfaces and very well-built switchgear. The major problem, however, is that there are far too many of these well-built buttons – it is a very complex dash layout, despite the presence of a seven-inch screen on which various functions can be controlled by a rotary knob on the transmission tunnel. This is, however, imprecise and at times frustrating in its operation, while various of its functions are replicated with buttons. Lexus could certainly take lessons from their rivals in this area of technology.
No complaints about the audio – the Mark Levinson sound system remains a highlight of any Lexus.
It is in the power department where Lexus moves furthest away from its rivals, choosing five litres of normal aspiration over smaller capacity units with forced induction. As mentioned the engine is significantly upgraded over its previous incarnation, extending to new internals.
The V8 unit mates to an eight-speed Sports Direct Shift transmission that offers five operating modes, from Eco to Sport S+, along with manual shifts.
Like all proper sports cars, the Lexus RC F puts its 471 horses to the road through the rear wheels. Lexus has tried very hard to ensure these horses are used to their best ability – a limited slip differential is standard, while our test car included the expensive but desirable option of a torque-vectoring differential. This itself has three modes – the Standard default mode can be changed to Slalom for sharper steering response, and finally Track, which focuses on high-speed cornering stability.
On the road
The big V8 muscle-car DNA is obvious from the moment one presses the start button – the engine comes to life with a deep-throated rumble that is instantly attention-grabbing. However this can be almost misleading, as on the daily run this head-turning car behaves very responsibly indeed, purring through traffic with smooth gear changes and a ride that is stiffened as one might expect, but not uncomfortably so.
Push on a bit and the car becomes less precise, the gear changes sometimes hunting a little. This is a minor irritation that is not completely rectified until the most potent of the drive modes is selected, by which time one should really be exploring the car’s limits on a track.
The Lexus RC F is a potent sports car, but it requires heavy use of the right foot and the high-end of the rev counter to really deliver a satisfying performance driving experience. And of course this costs – five litres of muscle means one pays in economy and the 26.2mpg combined cycle fuel consumption figure is significantly below its rivals, the CO2 emissions another significant penalty.
As recompense, however, the Lexus does deliver a fun handling package which just gets better the more one pushes on. Cornering is precise and confident through well-weighted steering, the extra bulk of the car helping it plant itself firmly into a bend with an aerodynamic package that includes an active rear spoiler adding useful extra poise.
With a £60,995 starting price the Lexus is in the same bracket as its rivals, and while the running costs might dissuade some from going Japanese the equipment list could well win them back. The options list is short, the standard specification long and including such niceties as dual-zone climate control, top-quality semi-aniline leather, LED lights and such like, while also including a host of neat touches. The door mirrors, for example, will swivel downwards to give a better view of the kerb when reversing. The wiper blades are graphite-coated to flow more smoothly, and quietly, when the screen is only partly wet. Throw in renowned Toyota reliability and the RC F has a reasonable amount going for it.
No matter how hard it tries Lexus will always struggle to convince buyers that it deserves a place in the performance car park, but the RC F helps the cause. The car does have its flaws, but it is a car one can live with, and still enjoy to the full when the occasion allows.
Lexus RC F – key specifications
Test date: October 2015
Model tested: Lexus RC F
Options Fitted: Torque-vectoring differential £3,500; Pre-crash safety system/adaptive cruise control £1,295; Paint £625
Price: £60,995; £66,415 with options
Insurance group: 48E.
Engine: Petrol V8 32-valve.
Power (bhp): 471 @ 7,100rpm.
Torque (lb/ft): 391lbft @ 4,800-5,600rpm.
0-62mph (sec): 4.5.
Top speed (mph): 168.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 26.2.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 252.
Key rivals: BMW M4, Jaguar F-Type, Audi RS5