The RC F represents Lexus’s first performance coupe since the LFA and their first foray into the world of luxury performance coupes. This highly competitive segment puts the RC F in the sights of cars like the M4, ATS-V, and C63 AMG; cars with far more horsepower or performance heritage. As Lexus dives into the deep end with the RC F it has to be exceptional at so many things just to be competitive in this highly contested segment. After spending time behind the wheel of the RC F on the crowded streets of Manhattan, twisting back roads of the Hudson Valley, and track at Monticello it’s clear Lexus is very serious about the RC F and the future of their fledgling performance brand.
The Lexus RC F was a misunderstood car when it was first released and represented a huge course correction for the brand. In order for Lexus to compete in the world of luxury cars, they realized the need for a performance halo brand to get consumers excited and draw in the enthusiast demographic. The Lexus RC F is a departure from the beige sensible Lexus’ of old and welcomes in a new age of flamboyant exteriors and loud V8s. The RC F is equivalent to the librarian showing up for work one day with pink hair and some tattoos. After being called boring for decades Lexus finally let lose in a big way.
To create the RC F, Lexus took a page right from the classic tale of Frankenstein, collecting various body parts for their creation. The platform is composed of the front of a new GS, the center of the old IS C, the rear of the old IS F, and the drive train used in the GS F. When combining so many various body parts, it’s a wonder the RC F drives this well. This is not the ideal way to build a sports car that deserves a light weight bespoke chassis, but the engineers did their best and even threw in a fantastic 5.0 liter V8.
The current crop of F performance models uses the 2UR-GSE 5.0 liter V8 engine which debuted in the IS F in 2008. Since then the compression ratio has been raised to 12.3 to 1 increasing power to 467 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. This old school naturally aspirated V8 engine is the centerpiece of this performance coupe offering response and sound that its forced induction rivals simply cannot match.
During spirited driving, the linear power band and lack of turbo lag make this a very predictable car since there isn’t a sudden rush of boost to upset the chassis balance. Get this V8 above 4,500 rpm and the induction sound fills the cabin all the way to its 7,300 rpm redline. With all the benefits of an old school V8, Lexus packed in a lot of interesting technology to improve performance and fuel economy during low load situations. This V8 can make use of the Atkinson Cycle while cruising to save fuel and avoid the gas guzzler tax. On the highway, it can still return 25 miles per gallon making it easier to justify, but don’t expect to drive slowly as revving this engine out is very addicting.
Mated to the 5.0 is Lexus’s trusty 8-speed automatic transmission that saw duty in the original IS F. This torque converter now sends power to the rear wheels via an optional torque vectoring rear differential which uses clutches to modulate the power. Shifts are very crisp in sport + mode and the transmission will readily obey your demands when using the paddle shifters. Gearing is quite long and favors fuel economy over all out performance making is easy to reach over 80 mph in fourth. This gearing learns towards fuel economy, but doesn’t let you wind out the engine unless you are in the business of collecting points on your license. Overall this is a great unit ready to obey and it’s seamless during city traffic conditions, but it’s not as fast its dual clutch rivals.
Driving the RC F you can quickly see where this car fits in the ever-evolving marketplace of luxury performance coupes. Today this is the most affordable way to get a luxury car with a massive V8, torque vectoring rear differential, and active aero. On paper, the RC F doesn’t sound like a contender in this marketplace, but it deserves at least a test drive. It is far better than any statistics will lead you to believe. On the track, it accelerates hard and stops even harder thanks to those massive Orange Brembo’s and the clever rear differential fights understeer and keeps you on the racing line.
The RC F’s biggest weakness lies with its infotainment system which requires far too much effort and precision to operate. The main screen relies on a laptop-style trackpad that requires accident inducing levels of concentration to operate correctly and promises to age very poorly. The GPS map is also very low resolution and the entire system needs a rethink. If you had time to learn the system it may be useable, but a few days behind the wheel only made me more apprehensive to use it.
The digital gauges are the best screens in the interior, changing for the different driving modes as you cycle through them. It features a dynamic redline to let you know when the engine is warm and also displays performance data. They are clear even in direct sunlight or while wearing polarized sunglasses and are sharp and easy to read.
The interior space itself is also very cramped and the back seats look like a good place for someone with no legs. This small interior comes as quite a surprise since the car looks very big judging from the exterior. This is a car that can be used every day, but would not be ideal for someone with a family or more than one friend to drive around.
Although it is far heavier and less powerful than its competition the RC F offers features the Germans simply cannot. That extra weight means it feels substantial moving down the road sealing you off from the outside world with thick glass and sound deadening. During highway cruises, the RC F is a quiet place to be as the V8 effortlessly pulls you down the road and at low RPMs it fades into the backdrop. The RC F lacks some of the poise and sharp response of cars like the M4 or ATS-V, but the RC F is made for a different type of performance.
The RC F is the Japanese muscle car of your dreams hearkening back to the original goal of the Toyota Celica. Although the RC F is not a direct competitor to America’s muscle cars, it carries over the best characteristics to make this a very entertaining luxury coupe to drive. It’s hard to beat the RC F’s throttle response out of corners where competitors spend far too much time spooling up their turbos waiting for a tire melting rush of torque. It’s a very easy car to drive quickly and promises to keep you safe during all types of performance driving. The car’s extra weight may not help its performance, but this was never going to be as precise as BMW M3 which was race bred long before Lexus even existed. The RC F was meant to steer the brand into the world of Luxury performance cars and, while it may not be perfect, it’s telling of good things to come.
Lexus’s first modern foray into the world on performance luxury cars was not a home run, but it’s a start. This Frankenstein project proves that Lexus can build a fun-to-drive coupe and compete in a market space dominated by the Germans for years. If Lexus can refine the RC F and fix the interior’s issues, expect the next generation to be a real contender for the top of this coveted segment.