A decade of decision-making around emissions regulations has taken a huge toll on the existence of the high-revving naturally aspirated performance engine, but somehow the 2018 Lexus RC F still continues with a classic 5.0-litre petrol V8 unit.
In 2008 this engine type debuted in the IS F, Lexus’ first sports sedan, back when the BMW M3, Audi RS4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG used 4.0- 4.2- and 6.2-litre V8s. The former two have since shifted to six cylinders, while all turned to turbocharging.
Interestingly, though, the Germans are continuing to move to hybrids as well, in a quest to lower fuel usage, where this Japanese brand has been a petrol-electric specialist for years now. It seems with the likes of this RC F, Lexus can keep its 5.0-litre V8 singing because its overall fleet emissions can be balanced out with hybrids.
The question is, though, can this ‘atmo’ coupe continue to compete with turbo rivals?
The RC F is three years old, however this year a launch control function and active steering assistance for the lane-departure alert has been added, while inside a larger touchpad interface mixes with a larger 10.3-inch centre screen, up from 7.0 inches.
There’s also a new Zinnia Yellow colour, as tested here, but otherwise the changes are as small as they seem. That is reflected in the pricetag, however, which only moves up $149 to $138,100 plus on-road costs.
Meanwhile the as-tested RC F Carbon retains carbonfibre for its roof (which drops a sunroof) and active spoiler, but loses the lightweight material for the bonnet, which was previously standard. But its pricetag does drop by $6248 to $152,300 (plus orc).
Even so, a $14,200 surcharge separates the duo, which seems too steep. By comparison a BMW M4 coupe dropped from its $166,430 (plus orc) launch price in 2014, to $139,529 (plus orc) today, complete with more power but less standard equipment. Yet Lexus has hardly changed the price, outputs or kit over that period.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.0/5
Lexus’ coupe feels more compact than its rivals, despite stretching across the same two-door medium-sized footprint as an M4. In a sports car context that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the driver sits low, in a racecar-mirroring position.
It certainly feels snug up front, with the superbly small steering wheel (wrapped in perforated leather) complementing the form-fitting seats that boast a broad range of adjustment, high-quality semi-aniline leather trim and heating/cooling functionality.
If the inclusion of seat ventilation indicates Grand Touring (GT) aspirations, however, then that thought is banished by the back seat, which is the tightest in the class. The bench is decently comfortable, but there’s a complete lack of legroom and headroom.
An M4, and especially an Audi RS5 Coupe, seem like sedans by comparison, while the 366-litre boot is only about Toyota Corolla-sized as well.
So the focus is clearly on the driver and forward passenger, and indeed up-front the perfect fit-and-finish is a fine reminder that this is a $150K Japanese premium car.
The larger centre screen is a welcome improvement on the pre-facelift RC F, too, yet conversely interacting with it still proves to be the biggest disappointment of all.
The touchpad interface, which moves a mouse cursor, is tricky to use on the move, and there are too many menus and sub-menus anyway. Not that Lexus allows a driver to access them at speed, where even mixing-and-matching the Custom mode for the Drive Select function is blanked out. It’s a lose-lose, sadly: traditional users will dislike the complexity and more progressive tech-heads will find it retrograde.
Unlike most rivals there’s no head-up display and the automatic high-beam isn’t adaptive, only flickering up then down when forward traffic is detected. The lane-departure warning also only buzzes the steering wheel then nudges it if lane-wander occurs – a far cry from some rivals’ ability to keep the vehicle nicely lane centred.
Otherwise, the only complaint is that some of the dashboard plastics and finishes seem too generic for the price, especially given that most are shared with an RC200t F Sport at half the price of this RC F Carbon, right down to the (fabulous) chronograph-style speedometer and tachometer cluster.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
Forget dashboard surfaces: there is absolutely nothing generic about Lexus’ glorious naturally aspirated V8 engine. It makes 351kW of power at a sonorous 7100rpm, and the 530Nm of torque (from 4800rpm until 5100rpm) is superb for a 5.0-litre unit.
A 4.5-second 0-100km/h claim is average these days, but best ditch a numbers game. (Okay, just quickly, the 2.9-litre V6 RS5 Coupe and 4.0-litre V8 C63 S claim 3.9sec, and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder M4 Pure claims 4.2sec – each using two turbos).
Flick from Comfort, to Normal, to Sport then to Sport+ mode and the eight-speed automatic is on tachometer red-alert. The way it downshifts under brakes into corners then allows a brief nudge of the rev limiter under acceleration is masterful.
The result is not only a perfectly primed sports car drivetrain, but an absolute cacophony of valvetrain flutter and spitfire shrill that leaves you looking like one of those smartphone emojis with eyes replaced by love hearts.
Right in the moment the RC F never feels slow, however it can otherwise feel sluggish and occasionally heavy.
Around town especially, the auto can get caught in second gear without enough engine revs to feel sprightly, yet clearly deciding that downshifting back to first would be too aggressive. Sometimes when overtaking it can pause for a moment, too.
Most impressively, suspension smoothness is only slightly differentiated between Comfort and Sport, so either is fine depending on a slight preference for compliance or control, but in some ways that buttoned-down security provides some downsides.
With a tare weight of 1820kg, this Lexus is almost 300kg heavier than an M4, which otherwise doesn’t ride nearly as well. But especially in longer sweeping bends the RC F can feel pushy. It’s actually best at a tight uphill mountain pass where weight transfer can be used to a driver’s advantage, slewing the coupe quickly around yet ultimately being backed by immaculate suspension control.
Thankfully a smart torque vectoring system (with Standard, Slalom or Track settings) also helps engage with the rear-wheel drive configuration without inciting – by Lexus standards – too much intrusion from the electronic stability control (ESC). Even so, a Sport ESC setting would be welcome as a halfway to the Expert (or ESC off) mode.
Add rather slick and quick steering, and this supposedly too-heavy coupe can actually shrink around its driver and feel surprisingly nimble and nice. Its Brembo brakes are great, and on-test it used 12.4L/100km – barely up on its 10.9L/100km claim and in the ballpark of what newfangled, downsized turbo engines would do.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety Features: Eight airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, collision warning alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor and lane-departure warning with active steering assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Four years/100,000km.
Servicing: Lexus Encore Privileges include free 12-month/15,000km service, access to service loan vehicles and wash and vacuum included.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
An RS5 Coupe is the ultimate all-rounder, yet that’s not damning it with faint praise – it really is superb to drive and live with.
An M4 Pure is feeling its age, a cut-price racetrack special that lacks the steering, ride and turbo engine finesse of its much more expensive M4 CS stablemate – otherwise known as Corrective Surgery…
The RC F comes closest to the C63 S in terms of its brawny character, and the AMG just feels so much faster yet more brutish to drive. It’s ‘next level’ in price too, though.
- Audi RS5 Coupe
- BMW M4 Pure
- Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5
Not much needed to change in three years with the eminently likeable and charming RC F. It certainly doesn’t need to slavishly follow others down the turbocharging route, especially given how utterly smashing its 5.0-litre V8 is.
And while a markedly reduced kerb weight would be nice, its steering, ride and handling remain great.
In contrast to the positioning of this RC F Carbon, however, what Lexus really needed to do was cut the pricetag more substantially. Quite simply, this cramped two-door feels more like a $125K-plus proposition than a $150K-plus one.
Four years ago the IS F sedan got down to just $126K and that was when it was a lot closer to direct rivals in terms of performance. It isn’t that the RC F can’t challenge an M4, because for overall driver enjoyment and in different ways, it can. Yet positioning this smaller, slower, still-sweet coupe well below it would make a great deal of sense.
- Interested in buying Lexus RC? Visit our Lexus showroom for more information.