What’s Hot: Head-turning styling, willing V6 engine, exceptional value
What’s Not: Gearbox calibration and ratios, steering feel
X-FACTOR: Decent performance and very well-equipped - all with an ultra-competitive price tag.
Vehicle Style: Luxury coupe
Price: $66,000 (Luxury) to $86,000 (Sports Luxury)
Engine/trans: 233kW/378Nm 3.5 litre petrol V6 | 8sp sports auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.4 l/100km
Lexus has had a luxury coupe on offer since the very early days of the brand, but a genuinely sporting two-door companion to the IS sedan is something that’s been lacking.
Not any more.
But also consider that the RC 350 boasts a 233kW V6 engine up front and a whole host of luxury equipment as standard, and the value equation becomes jaw-droppingly good.
The equivalent BMW, the 435i, will set you back $108,530, while the Audi A5 3.0 TFSI and Mercedes-Benz C 350 Coupe are both just over $99k.
However on-paper specs and attractive pricetags aren’t everything, especially in the luxury sports coupe segment. The proof is in the driving, and we spent a day doing exactly that. Here’s what we discovered.
- Standard features: Satellite navigation, LED headlamps and DRLs, 7-inch infotainment display, power steering column adjustment, heated and ventilated power front seats, reversing camera, 10-speaker audio with digital tuner, Bluetooth, USB audio input, front and rear parking sensors.
- F Sport adds: 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio, F Sport steering wheel, 10-way adjustable drivers seat with memory, high-grade LED headlamps, F Sport instrument cluster.
- Sports Luxury adds: Semi-aniline leather upholstery, “Shimamoku” interior trim, auto high-beam, collision warning system, smart key card, moonroof.
With four leather colours and four cabin-trim options there’s more scope for personalisation than there usually is inside a Lexus, and the ambience is definitely up-spec premium.
The dashboard is identical to the IS 350, but the integration of Lexus’ third-generation Remote Touch infotainment interface (which debuted recently in the NX) sees the centre console become cleaner and less cluttered.
The seats are also unique to the RC, feature deeper bolsters, are heated and ventilated as standard and slide forward electrically when the backrest is tilted forward to aid entry to the rear seats.
Speaking of which, rear seat space is acceptable - though legroom is far from generous.
Boot space is good though, measuring 423 litres with the rear seatbacks in place - enough for two golfbags to easily drop in.. Drop the split rear seats and you can carry items up to 1.5 metres in length.
As a space to be in, the RC is certainly pleasant.
Material quality is top-notch and there are soft-touch surfaces everywhere, but the design and layout of some switchgear isn’t quite as well-executed as some of the RC’s German rivals.
That said, the standard leather is superb, while the semi-Aniline leather in the range-topping Sports Luxury is wonderfully supple.
And build quality is impeccable no matter the variant.
Opt for the F Sport, and the unique steering wheel and reconfigurable electronic instrument panel gives the RC a special ambience.
The F Sport is also the model that Lexus expects most buyers to go for.
ON THE ROAD
- 3.5 litre petrol V6, 233kW @ 6400rpm, 378Nm @ 4800rpm
- Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
- 0-100km/h: 6.1 seconds
- Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension. Adaptive dampers on F Sport and Sports Luxury
- Electronic power steering. Rear steering on F Sport
- Brakes: 334mm front rotors and 4-piston front calipers on Luxury and Sports Luxury, 356mm front rotors and 4-piston front calipers on F Sport. 310mm rear rotors on all models
- Wheels: 18-inch alloys on Luxury, 19-inch alloys on F Sport and Sports Luxury.
Lexus says it designed the RC 350 to be agile in corners, stable at high speed and a sharper instrument than the already-impressive IS 350.
To do that, Chief Engineer Eiichi Kusama melded the double-wishbone front suspension of the GS sedan with the heavily-reinforced centre section of the IS Convertible and the multi-link rear suspension of the IS sedan.
Kusama-san is no stranger to making RWD performance cars either. As the former chassis engineer of the last-generation Toyota Supra, he knows how to make a heavy coupe handle.
Coupled with a steering rack and suspension geometry that’s entirely unique to the RC, the result is a car that’s more torsionally rigid than its sedan cousin, and a better basis for a performance coupe.
Does it work? Yes, but it doesn’t feel quite as sharp as its core rival, the BMW 435i, nor as neutral in its chassis balance.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Body roll is noticeable enough, but there’s good cornering grip on offer and plenty of compliance to deal with bumpy roads.
The ride is supple, not stiff, and the compromise between handling and comfort is about spot-on. Lexus has wisely elected to reserve a firmer chassis set-up for the upcoming RC F performance flagship.
But until the RC F arrives early next year, the RC 350 F Sport is more than capable of being Lexus’ sportiest offering.
Though it has the same 233kW/378Nm 3.5 litre V6 as the Luxury and Sports Luxury, the F Sport also gets the bonus of rear steering.
By turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at speeds below 80km/h, the rear-steer system (dubbed VGRS) aids turn-in and steering response.
It works tremendously well and helps tuck the big RC’s nose into tight corners.
Dial the drive mode selector to Sport S+, and the effect is even more pronounced. The adjustable dampers also stiffen up slightly and the gearbox mapping becomes sharper.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to sample the base model RC 350 Luxury. Given it rides on 18-inch alloys rather than 19s, has less grippy rubber, smaller brakes and misses out on both adjustable dampers and rear steering, we’d expect a slightly different driving experience.
Criticisms? Well, the electric power steering doesn’t convey much in the way of feel.
On a couple of occasions the front end broke into understeer with little warning (the roads were slick though), and while it was easily corrected we’d prefer more feedback at the wheel.
The eight-speed gearbox's spread of ratios is also a little awry.
On some of the more challenging roads in the drive route (we were giving it some serious urge, mind you), we often found that second gear was too short and third gear too tall.
We found ourselves either revving too high in second (where the auto-upshift-at-redline feature would kick-in), or not revving hard enough in third.
Were this engine turbocharged, there would arguably be enough low-end torque to eliminate this problem.
As good as this naturally-aspirated engine is, its power delivery doesn’t give much below 4000rpm, and it needs gearing to suit - or a turbo to compensate.
And considering its rival the BMW 435i dashes to 100km/h a full second faster than the RC 350, the Lexus could definitely use a performance pick-me-up.
ANCAP rating: The Lexus RC 350 has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Eight airbags, stability control, ABS, traction control, EBD and brake assist are standard, as are front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
The F Sport adds blind spot monitoring and lane change assist, while an optional enhancement pack brings active cruise control and a lane departure warning to the RC 350 F Sport. Active cruise and lane departure warning are standard on the Sports Luxury variant.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The RC 350 goes up against established offerings from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, but at a significantly lower cost when compared with models of equivalent power output.
In its category, the RC 350 is easily the most sensible choice. Only the Infiniti Q60 beats it on price, but is a much older product.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There’s definitely more ‘pros’ than ‘cons’ when it comes to the Lexus RC 350, and if the bold styling sits well with you then it’s well worth a look.
The value-for-money on offer is incredibly enticing too, and may even see Lexus pinching more than a few customers from its European competitors.
It certainly deserves to sell well, that much is apparent from our first drive.
But as a performance offering, it’s not entirely resolved.
The chassis shows promise and will no doubt shine in the V8-powered RC F, but it’s the RC 350’s ageing engine and gearbox combo that is its weak point.
With more performance-oriented gear ratios, the RC 350 would have a great deal more pep. More torque from the adoption of turbocharging would also give it the muscle to go toe-to-toe with the BMW 435i.
As it stands, the RC 350 is a great car at a fantastic price. Right now it’s more of a cruiser than a slayer of mountain roads, but we see great potential in the RC.
Now, bring on the RC F.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Lexus RC Luxury - $66,000
- Lexus RC F Sport - $74,000
- Lexus RC Sports Luxury - $86,000