What’s Hot: Potent V6, agile handling, eye-searing looks.
What’s Not: Interior surprisingly lacking, cramped rear seat.
X-FACTOR: The price makes it a bargain among premium coupes, and agile handling makes it a champion.
Vehicle Style: Luxury coupe
Price: $74,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 233kW/378Nm 3.5 litre petrol V6 | 8spd sports auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.4 l/100km | tested: 14.7 l/100km
"Lexus" and "luxury" go hand-in-glove - it's a given. But it also does "luxury sports" and it does it a little differently to its (mostly) German competition.
The newest addition to the Lexus portfolio, the RC 350 coupe, does plenty to enforce that difference. You’ll see it in the RC’s crisp lines, you’ll feel it on the road, and you’ll see it when you sit inside.
TMR delved deep into the character of the mid-spec RC 350 F Sport to find out where it fits in the realm of sporty premium coupes.
Lexus expects the F Sport to be the favourite amongst the three-model RC range, and it’s not hard to see why when you look at the images of this eye-catching Infrared two door.
But, a week at the wheel can tell you a lot about a car, and the RC 350 has plenty to tell.
Quality: Lexus prides itself on quality, and the company is rightfully recognised for its long-lasting, hard-wearing interiors.
We were a little surprised to find that some of the finishes of the RC don’t quite match those of its competitors.
In both the BMW 4 series and Audi A5 range you'll find plenty of high quality hides and lashings of wood or metal trims. The RC however relies more on plastics - they are well finished but lack the polish of the Euro rivals.
Oddly we found some dud pieces too, the overhead grab-handles creaked when pulled on, and the foil trim around the driver’s window switch was starting to bubble.
There’s also the nickel coloured metal-look garnish across the dash and steering wheel. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it’s a little more Toyota than Lexus and drags the interior presentation down.
Comfort: No shortage of comfort inside the RC, with powered seats and steering column offering plenty of adjustment.
Most will find the front seats supremely comfortable, with just the right bolstering to hold securely but without compromising comfort.
Rear seat space is a little tighter than you will find in a BMW 4 Series (for instance); only shorter adults or kids will be able to endure a trip there.
Entry is aided by power-sliding front seats that slide forward once the backrest is tilted. Once enclosed in the rear though there’s not much in the way of outward visibility thanks to the thick C-pillars.
Equipment: Standard inclusions in the RC range include front and rear park-sensors, reversing camera, heated and ventilated powered front seats, LED headlamps and DRLs, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with keyless entry and start, and cruise control.
The infotainment system is displayed on a seven-inch screen, accessed via Lexus Remote Touch - a touchpad controller that takes the place of Lexus’ previous joystick controller.
The latter, that touchpad, is frustratingly difficult to use when on the move.
There’s also Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, USB auxiliary inputs, and ten speakers.
Step up to the F Sport and you’ll gain tri-LED headlamps, F Sport-profile steering wheel, sports instruments, lane change and rear cross-traffic alert, 17-speaker audio by Mark Levinson and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Storage: Boot space measures 423 litres, and despite a high load-lip is otherwise a very useful space. Rear seats offer split folding for larger items.
Inside the cabin, storage spaces are a little tight; the glovebox and door pockets are compact, but the centre console is a little more generous.
The two front cup-holders, with their two-piece folding securing fins are a classic example of over-engineering - to their credit, no beverage ever slipped out of them.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: If this Lexus coupe is ever going to convince BMW buyers to cross the tracks and buy an RC, the drive impression is where the battle will be won and lost.
It’s no secret that the motoring world holds the 435i in high esteem. To topple the Beemer, the RC 350 is going to have to be darn good.
And it is. For starters the 3.5 litre naturally aspirated V6 pumps out 233kW at 6400rpm and backs that up with 378Nm of torque at 4800rpm.
Unlike the flat torque-curve from turbocharged BMW and Supercharged Audi V6 coupes, the Lexus is 'peakier' but will happily sing its head off at higher revs.
Looking for a smooth drive to work, keep it under 2000rpm and you'll barely notice the buttery-smooth engine up front.
Open the taps on an open stretch of road though and the RC responds with a rising, intense bellow. Above 5000rpm, it's a veritable operatic chorus.and things begin to happen very quickly.
So, yes, the RC can be very quick; it loses a little to the BMW's razor on-road focus, but is exactly as you would expect of a thoroughbred sports coupe.
To go with the fun and theatre of its performance capabilities, the RC’s F Sport instrument cluster borrows from the LFA.
Instead of traditional gauges, there’s an LCD screen with an outer ring that glows as you approach redline and a shadow mark that lingers after an upshift to indicate the peak RPM achieved.
Depending upon your mood, and where you are driving, there’s a rotary dial in the centre console that allows you to select from Eco, Normal, and Sport. F Sport models though get an extra 'Sport+' mode.
Each step changes the gearbox characteristics, and progressively firms the steering and active dampers.
The biggest change the system makes is to the transmission shift points. In Sport and Sport+ modes the box is so quick-witted and sharp shifting that it almost negates the need for the steering wheel mounted shift paddles.
If you’re keeping an eye on fuel, the RC 350 is less impressive.
With mixed driving we returned an unimpressive 14.7 l/100km.
Weight is the RC’s enemy, harming fuel efficiency while also taking the edge of peak performance.
The engine itself lacks fuel-saving tech like 'displacement-on-demand' or 'idle stop'. On the other hand, all the money you save compared to buying a Euro goes a long way towards buying petrol.
Refinement: The only real noise that permeates the cabin is the engine if you use the throttle with intent. It’s a welcome noise too - hard edged, but high-tech and appealing.
Tyre and wind noise are commendably low. A real feat when you consider the RC uses frameless windows (often a source of noise seepage).
To top it off, the mechanical refinement is equally as sophisticated. There is no coarseness nor engine vibrations, nor unsettling shifts from the silken eight-speed automatic.
Ride and Handling: The greatest point of difference between F Sport models and the rest of the RC range centres around the handling package.
To live up to the sporting intent of that F badge on the flanks, there are adaptive dampers (also found on the Sports Luxury model) and dynamic rear steering.
Adjustment for the suspension is via the drive mode selector.
There’s a firmer feel to Sport and Sport+ settings, but to be totally honest every mode felt firm yet capable of dispatching most imperfections.
The real highlight is the dynamic rear-steer system; at speeds up to 80km/h it turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts, shrinking the turning circle and making the F Sport feel supernaturally nimble and direct.
At higher speeds the rear wheels follow the direction of the fronts, for increased high speed stability.
Feel through the wheel isn’t as alert as we would like, but the fast rack and alert front-end more than makes up for that. You will find yourself hunting for the windiest roads possible, just to revel in the incredible agility of the system.
It is not the sharpest steering around, but gets the compromise right between everyday driveability and race-track
Braking: Smooth stopping at commuter speeds is no problem, but up the ante into harder stops and the F Sport brake package can still deliver without fade or loss of pedal feel.
The brake pedal, however, like the steering, is just a little detached for 'feel'. That said, the 357mm front and 310mm rear discs, clamped by four-piston and single-piston calipers respectively, are untroubled by the RC 350’s weight, even when giving it a bit of a sling.
ANCAP rating: The RC range is yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: All RC models feature eight airbags, a reversing camera, front and rear sensors, vehicle stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist.
Additionally, pre-collision warning, active cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam can be added to F Sport models for $7300.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Lexus warranty cover spans four years or 100,000km, whichever occurs first. Four years' roadside assist is also included.
Service costs: Lexus is yet to unveil a capped-price servicing scheme. Charges may vary between dealers so consult your local dealer for full details.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
BMW 428i/435i ($80,500 - $108,500) - As a price match, BMW offers the 428i. It is sharper at the wheel, marginally, but lacks the outright punch of the Lexus V6. A performance match can be had in the 435i but the yawning price-gap means the two are unlikely to be cross-shopped.
The 4 Series offers a bigger back seat, and better fuel efficiency. Although the 4 Series is considered a benchmark for handling, the RC is breathing down BMW’s neck when it comes to on-road entertainment. (see 4 Series reviews)
Audi A5 3.0 TFSI Quattro ($99,300) - The asking price for an Audi is above the Lexus, but with the advantage of Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. There’s also less power, but more torque, from the A5’s supercharged V6.
Inside, the quality and design of the Audi trumps the RC, but the design isn’t as new and it isn’t as bold as the new Lexus, inside or out. (see A5 reviews)
Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI ($72,900) - Mercedes is yet to show its new generation C-Class coupe, and soldiers on with the current model for a little longer. There’s no longer a V6 version at present, but perhaps the torque-laden turbo diesel might do the trick?
The C’s advancing age shows in the face of newer opposition, but at the very least you can use that as a bargaining point to drive a hard bargain. (see C-Class reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Value isn’t always something that crosses your mind when it comes to luxury coupes. They are, by their very nature, an extravagance.
But the Lexus RC 350 is a little cheaper than its key competitors, something that your accountant will approve of, and it backs up its price advantage with a thoroughly enjoyable road manner.
Perhaps not a sports car - the RC is a little too heavy for that - but a tourer of the highest measure. The four-wheel-steering system of the F Sport model, in particular, is a real highlight.
There’s an excitement in this car - the noise and the handling work together in a properly sporting fashion.
Drive it, we think you should; missing out on the opportunity would be a disservice.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Lexus RC Luxury - $66,000
- Lexus RC F Sport - $74,000
- Lexus RC Sports Luxury - $86,000
- Lexus RC F - 5.0 litre V8 - $133,500
- Lexus RC F Carbon - 5.0 litre V8 - $147,500