Fast looks coupled with a comfort setting: How does that work for the new Lexus sports car?
Pros: Relaxing ambience, balanced chassis, good value.
Cons: Little low-down shove, least playful edition, limited cabin storage, quirky touch pad controller.
This is the third proper coupe from Lexus, following on from a bloated boat – the SC430 – then the LF-A, which was utterly extreme in the other direction, being an open chequebook V10 carbon fibre supercar.
RC is expected to be more of a success than the SC and more a stayer than the limited-count LF-A. It has landed in four versions, with the RC350 on test the lower bookend, at $125,500, of a set that ultimately reaches to the RC-F Carbon Edition at $174,900.
That the RC is presented in such broadly disparate levels - and engine flavours – reminds that Lexus is out to woo a very wide customer base, from casual cruisers to hard-out performance fans.
Even the two lower-ranked V6 editions are quite obviously different to one another, with the cheapest more comfortably considered as a grand tourer alternate to the compact IS executive sedan.
True, it doesn’t look too soft; it has a solid stance and the shape injects enhanced brand passion. Yet the Limited clearly isn’t as bovver boy belligerent as the top dog model, simply through presenting a cleaner silhouette. Some will say the car’s lines are sweeter for being unadorned with aero-enhancing addenda, but ultimately it is a less interesting car to mull over.
All the same, some of the detailing will have design buffs drooling. One example is how those LED tail-lamps are designed to replicate the Lexus logo. Facing up to the RC is a challenge because that spindle grille face is rather, er, bold. But there can be no arguing that it stands out with this feature and those slim, blade-like LED running lights.
Powertrain and performance:
The 233kW/378Nm V6 is well known. It already runs in several Lexus models and (though perhaps they’d prefer this wasn’t mentioned) some Toyotas as well, though this version has a bespoke fuel injection system.
It’s obviously not as intoxicating as the RC-F’s V8, nor does it have the low-down, rocket-off-the-line kapow of some rival turbo-assisted sixes, but it has rev-ability and is nonetheless a good match for a car of this dimension and not inconsiderable (1740kg) weight, though start to push and the fuel burn rises commensurately.
The engine noise is tuned for driver satisfaction foremost, Lexus being another brand that likes to amplify its engine noises through the stereo system. It’s much quieter on the outside, so don’t expect others to applaud the ‘fruitiness’.
The eight-speed automatic transmission does a decent job shifting by itself. Given the manner in which the chassis best communicates, the steering wheel paddles will likely get less of a workout here than in the alternate editions, but they’re nice to have.
Sporty, not sports: Keep that thought in mind and the RC350 become an amiable enough companion, not least if your idea of a good ‘clear the cobwebs’ run is nothing more than an amble to a local café or winery.
To gain clear insight into the RC350’s sporting character, I set it a stern test: Driving the very same route that had very much revealed the star quality of a certain Toyota-badged coupe. The Lexus didn’t fail, but safe to say it is not an 86 in larger, more glammed scale. Not even close.
If press-on driving is your desire, then the next step-up F-Sport has to be the better bet. The additions of variable rate suspension, variable ratio steering, an F-Sport Plus setting to sharpen the gearbox and throttle response and also a rear-steer influence make it a sharper blade. This one’s more cruiser than bruiser.
This might seems at odds with the sports car ethos, yet it will very likely win favour with established customers, especially from the older set. At the same token, though, it is the model that also is least convincing in promoting the brand claim that RC will bring ‘new excitement’ to the bent-L brand.
Ride, refinement and quality:
While it hardly lacks for grip or balance, the body roll in sharp bends reveals the comfort focus in this specification and there’s little feel to the steering. The ride quality is a standout. That ’86 road’ contains a lot of surface imperfections and very few of them left the RC out of sorts. Minor surface imperfections, meanwhile, are smoothed out really well. But a sports car? No.
Practicality and packaging:
The interior emphasises the comfort quotient. Obviously it’s an intimate cabin so it seems odd that the seating position is a bit high. Those front chairs are less heavily bolstered than those offered in the range-topper but are possibly more comfortable for those long drives.
The back seats are beautifully shaped and made, but the relative ease of access via a ‘one touch’ front seat movement and near-vertical entry is pointless: There’s no space back there.
This might be an ‘entry’ model but the semi-aniline leather, soft surfaces, real wood and metal highlights and beautiful finishing will win appreciation. And it’s really loaded. The seats can be ventilated or heated and are eight-way powered while the multi-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system is as good as any in this category.
The cabin is reminiscent of the IS sedan on which the coupe is partly based. The double-decker dash is interesting and the digital displays are swish but the third-generation Lexus Remote Touch interface, now a track pad, is so annoyingly difficult to use accurately as to fuel conjecture that Lexus is still avoiding the best and most logical system – a mid-placed multiple axis knob – only because certain others have settled on this convenience.
Also continuing to annoy is that the sat nav and Bluetooth functions only operate fully when the car is stationary plus the cup holders are a bit tight. I do like the electrostatic temperature control switches with no moving parts and the frameless electro-chromatic rear-view mirror is modern and sharp.
How it compares:
The RC is is out to rattle the Audi S5 and RS5, BMW 4-Series and M4 and Jaguar’s F-Type Coupe - cited rivals that, in typical Lexus manner, are pretty much matched or beaten on spec, price and performance. Yet the RC350 is not the edition to cause the Euros to lose much sleep.