2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport
by Randy Stern
I don’t normally review coupes, but when I do…
Like most enthusiasts, I love coupes. It is not often that I get them, so these are real treats when I drive them for reviews such as this one you are reading right now.
A coupe must be one where it satisfies the soul. In my case, it also has to be one that evokes the past – my own – while maintaining the performance I want in a modern car. That leaves a lot to open interpretation, but when the past includes such fine machinery, such as the Datsun 240Z, it pretty much dictates the kind of coupe I would prefer.
These days, not only do I want something that has spectacular handling, great steering weight and response and great performance – I also want the same coupe to be relaxing to drive. Does that mean “having my cake and eating it, too?” Maybe so…but, in the end, a coupe must be one where it puts a huge smile in my face. Just admiring it in my drive should put a smile on my face, too!
We each have our own ideas of what we like. Let me offer my idea of a coupe: a 2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport.
You read that correctly. The new-for-2015 RC returns Lexus to the coupe game, but does so in the face of some stiff competition.
Why would I think that the Lexus RC is my kind of coupe?
It starts by looking at it square in the face. The spindle grille provides a family look to the Lexus brand. In some cases, it looked contrived – forced to follow form in some of its models. In others, it is a natural extension of what to expect from a particular model. The latter is true in the RC. As controversial and debatable as it may be, this face looks the part in this coupe. The careful integration of the spindle grille leads to a classic coupe profile full of modern curves and lines. Those lines and curves leads to a compelling rear end, with false defusers and gills and a three-dimensional tail lamp assembly that is designed to guide airflow off the rear end.
Some have commented on the headlamp detail – a small multi-lens unit that is set back in a scallop from the bumper. Along with the “check mark” LED running lights, the complete lighting package are optical illusions that keep the design compelling. However, it has a surprise for the doubters – it illuminates better than most cars around. Also, those tiny fog lamps are nothing to sneeze at, either. In all, night driving is pure pleasure when these lamps light up.
The F Sport adds its signature details to enhance the RC 350’s style. The grille texture should be familiar to those in the IS, GS and CT F Sports – a cross-hatch design that is aggressive and sets off the front end nicely. A set of 19-inch alloy wheels finish off the F Sport look on the RC 350 making it one attractive sports coupe. Let’s not forget about the color on this tester – Ultrasonic Blue 2.0 Mica. That is the best color to get on the RC 350 F Sport. Trust me on this one…
Step inside a cockpit that is designed to engage the driver. One thing that people seem to miss about Lexus is that with technology and gadgets comes an engagement to ensure the driver can work with the car in synergy. That is exactly how I felt in the RC. The LFA-influenced cabin is designed to be a technology piece, as well as a cockpit for the driver to work and relax at the same time. The touch pad helps in managing the infotainment screen quicker. The shifter is a short throw – for an automatic. Adjust the seats and steering wheel accordingly, along with the F Sport’s TFT instrument cluster – that moves to another configuration with the dial slid to the right side, and it becomes a sports coupe worth driving. I just wish the stalks weren’t so soft to the touch for proper turn signal and windshield wiper control manipulation. That was just a minor complaint.
The F Sport’s seats are perfect for a sports coupe. There is the right amount of bolstering to keep anyone locked in them. The leather is soft and durable – right to the touch and feel. Once it understands your body, it becomes a very comfortable place to pilot this car. These seats are also heated and ventilated – great for all seasons. There is a back seat, though not one for adults to sit. Children that want a ride may find some visibility from the back windows and ISOFIX anchors for their respective boosters. Rear seat access is assisted by a power sliding mechanism on both front seats. Trunk space is deep, but rather suited for a couple of pieces of luggage for an extended weekend – just 10.4 cubic feet of room back there.
In a Lexus, there is the option of a Mark Levinson audio system. In a rather small-ish cabin, there are 17 speakers powered by an 835-watt surround sound system. Add Lexus Enform, the app suite and a choice of audio options, and you have the perfect compliment to a sporting drive. Lexus Enform connects well with the navigation system which is precise and informative.
The ultimate connection is from the right foot to the accelerator pedal. On the other end of this connection is a familiar 3.5liter V6. With 306 horses at ready, the engine is not just the base engine, but the right one for this job. An eight-speed automatic send the 306 horses down just to the rear wheels. This transmission is quick on the shifts – even in Normal mode – which helps to keep the V6 running through the revs. For quicker shifts, a set of paddle shifters are there when you need them.
I mentioned Normal mode. There are four drive modes in the RC 350 F Sport. Normal and Eco are great if you just want to cruise around and relax on the highway. For more excitement in your life, you want to flip the knob twice to the right into Sport S+. Not only are the shifts even quicker and available for more gear manipulation, the steering becomes heavier and the Adaptive Variable Suspension firms up.
If left in Normal or Eco, the ride is solid and comfortable. Any road imperfections are dealt with great ease, as it keeps the RC balanced on the road. There is minimal roll and lean in the turns and steering action is sharp and precise. However, on-center feel is exact, but on the soft side. Switch to Sport S+ and everything changes. The ride is firm, but it still works hard to maintain a level ride through the imperfections. When the road becomes unyielding, you certainly feel the firmness. You go through the curves flat and quicker than you normally expect. Steering is weighted heavily, but giving you exactly the right feel for taking on curvy roads, and making quick lane changes. And, that noise from the exhaust! It is exhilarating!
In any drive mode, the brakes remain the same. They are very good, despite a bit of a soft feel at the pedal. Stopping in normal and panic situations are short and precise. On this tester, the F Sport came with Intuitive Parking Assist and blind spot warning. You can also get the option of a Pre-Collision system, including radar cruise control.
In terms of fuel consumption, I was hoping for better, but I had to be realistic. The fuel economy average of 21.8MPG may seem low, but it would be truer for an enthusiast who would rather use the RC for sporting driving than the daily commute.
The base RC 350 with rear-wheel drive starts at $42,790. From there, you can add all-wheel drive. If you do that, you lose two gears from the automatic transmission. This rear-drive RC 350 F Sport with all eight gears came with a sticker price of $54,815 as tested.
No discussion of the Lexus RC is complete without talking about the RC F. There is a 467 horsepower 5.0liter V8 that replaces the V6. Ground effects are added, including a rear defuser with aggressive four-port exhaust. The seats are more aggressive and designed or track use. Not to mention, everything in terms of driving dynamics were ratcheted another notch. All of this has a starting price at $62,400.
Why This Ride?
- This should be rephrased as “why should I recommend very highly the Lexus RC coupe?” As much as premium-branded coupes of its kind demand a serious approach to driving them – namely the BMW 4-Series, Audi A5/S5, Infiniti Q60, Cadillac ATS Coupe and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe – the RC is rather fun to drive. When you switch between Normal/Eco and Sport S+, there are two cars wrapped into one package that puts a huge smile on my face.
- If you review everything I spoke of, the best summary to make is that look outside to see that RC shine. Again, a huge smile on my face glows when I see it. It has an alluring look full of optical illusions and aggressive details. Knowing what it can do on a nice curvy road or on a good stretch of highway…and, even around town…makes it worth an extended glance back at it.
- It is not the most practical coupe around. But, who cares? You get an RC for the fun factor, the mix of being a true sports coupe and a relaxing cruiser, and the high level of quality throughout. I could gush for days, but I will leave it up to you to experience the RC to find out whether a smile will come across your face after driving one. Frankly, it is my kind of coupe.