THE LEXUS RC COUPE LANDED LAST YEAR TO CHALLENGE THE TWO-DOOR DOMINANCE OF AUDI'S A5, THE BMW 4 SERIES AND MERCEDES-BENZ C-CLASS COUPE.
It hasn't set the market on fire, selling 475 units to October, or one third of the sales of the latter two Germans. Lexus is banking on the new 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder variant, complementing the burly 3.5 litre naturally-aspirated V6, to do something about it.
The RC 200t starts at $64,000 plus on-road costs – exactly $2K less than last year’s RC 350 entry sticker-price, plus Lexus has now added active cruise control, collision warning alert and auto-braking as standard.
Vehicle Style: Sports Coupe
Price: RC 200t Luxury - $64,000; RC 200t F Sport - $73,000; RC 200t Sports Luxury - $83,500 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.3 l/100km | tested: 9.6 l/100km
With cheaper pricing and more equipment, Lexus forecasts 40 percent of its RC coupe sales will be for the new turbo.
The Japanese brand accepts that turbo engines are ‘in vogue’, while stopping short of confessing that a big V6 can turn some buyers away. The RC 200t now matches the four-cylinder turbo configuration of the $76,910 Audi A5 2.0 TFSI quattro, BMW's $69,500 420i and the $70,900 Mercedes-Benz C 250 coupe.
Average combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres is 2.1 l/100km thriftier than the 233kW/378Nm V6, although the turbo’s outputs of 180kW/350Nm fall short.
A claimed 7.5-second 0-100km/h for the 2.0 litre is also 1.4 seconds adrift of the 3.5 litre found in the $3000-pricier RC 350.
- leather trim, heated/ventilated and electrically-adjustable front seats, electric steering adjustment, active cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, auto on/off headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 8.0-inch colour screen with USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite navigation and 10 speakers
- Options fitted (if applicable): none
- Cargo volume: 423 litres
As with the RC 350, the RC 200t is available in three grades – Luxury, F Sport and Sports Luxury.
Sitting above $64,000 RC 200t Luxury, the $73,000 F Sport adds 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio, blind-spot monitor, rear traffic alert and sports front seats and tiller.
Find another $10k, and the $83,500 RC 200t Sports Luxury adds semi-aniline leather seats, real wood/alloy ornamentation, auto high-beam and lane departure warning.
For better, and worse, the coupe feels mostly all its own inside.
The better part includes a low and snug driving position, and excellent front seats. The downside is very ‘snug’ rear legroom, to the point where this coupe is basically unusable as a four-seater.
There are some cool touches to the interior design, such as the touch-sensitive climate ‘slider’ controls, which raise or lower temperature when sliding your finger up and down a vertical chrome button.
However other parts of the interior are less convincing – such as the irritating ‘haptic feedback’ touchpad Lexus persists with to access its otherwise ergonomically sound infotainment system. Even then, the graphics on the 8.0-inch display pale against its older Audi rival, and particularly the BMW 4 Series.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: Eight-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension type, front and rear: independent front and rear
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering type, turning circle: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 10.4m
- Towing capacity: n/a
It’s all about the new turbo with the RC 200t. Before turning a key, however, a shock comes in the form of a 1675kg kerb weight that is only 5kg lower than that of the RC 350. A Benz C 250 with 1.8 litre turbo is 65kg lighter than a C 350 with 3.5 litre V6.
The weight penalty may be down to extra built-in refinement. Lexus claims it delayed its turbo engine program because it wanted to achieve levels of quietness that its rivals couldn’t deliver. Drive a BMW 2.0 litre turbo petrol and, on light throttle at low speed, its clattery nature could fool you into thinking there was a diesel up-front.
The RC 200t is superbly refined and deathly quiet in the same place its 420i coupe rival is slightly noisy. (And the Germans are all a little noisy on coarse road surfaces.)
However that BMW rival weighs even less than the 1515kg C 250, at just 1450kg, and its 135kW/270Nm outputs are enough to have it feeling sweetly flexible. Even with 180kW and 350Nm, the Lexus is two-tenths slower to 100km/h.
The RC 200t doesn’t rev as quickly as we’d hope, and its eight-speed automatic upchanges at a soft 6000rpm where most rivals stretch towards 7000rpm.
Using the manual facility – via steering wheel mounted paddles or the gearlever – only extends that reach to 6200rpm and the auto often denies a downshift coming into a corner as a result. No such problem in the revvy, speedy RC 350.
The RC 200t F Sport also lacks the four-wheel, variable-ratio steering that transforms the RC 350 F Sport from merely good to brilliant. Disappointingly, Lexus says it simply hasn’t engineered the system to work in 2.0 litre turbo guise yet.
This update adds a limited-slip differential and ‘sound generator’ to both F Sport grades, and all RC 200t grades get a ‘performance’ front damper that the brand says is there mostly to quell vibrations (the RC 350 Luxury and Sports Luxury ditch it, because the V6 is smooth enough).
We tested the RC 200t Luxury, and, on standard 45-aspect 18-inch tyres, it rides extremely well and fits the ‘sports luxury’ brief to a tee.
The RC 200t feels nowhere near as alert and involving as an RC 350 F Sport, however.
And while all RC coupes are agile when changing direction, the front-end feels dull and the regular steering light and disinterested.
ANCAP rating: The Lexus RC 200t has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Eight airbags including dual-front, knee, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Audi A5 is getting old, but remains a slick option. The BMW 420i is both an efficiency star and driver’s dream (yes, even in base spec). Meanwhile, either grab a bargain on the current C-Class coupe, or wait for the new model around the corner.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There is a place in the premium coupe segment for the Lexus RC coupe. As an entry-level two-door, the RC 200t Luxury is packed with features and is extremely quiet and comfortable in both its seating and suspension.
What we know, however, is that the RC 350 F Sport bundles those same virtues in with real driver appeal, thanks to its four-wheel, variable-ratio steering.
That model costs just $3000 more than an RC 200t F Sport that disappointingly lacks those chassis items, and is also slower and less responsive.
It means the new turbo on the block can only be the pick of the range if you’re after a low price and maximum efficiency with a Lexus badge.
MORE: Lexus News and Reviews