Lexus RC F
Ah, Lexus. Always with an envious eye on the critical and sales success of their, mainly German, rivals so never sure whether to stick, preserving their benchmark status for reliability, quality and comfort, or twist, by shifting the emphasis to sporting and performance prowess to boost sales and garner acclaim.
I’ve always felt Lexus should stick. There is a need for a premium brand that errs on the everyday qualities that matter most to the majority of us - comfort, reliability etc. In any case their cars handle plenty well enough and are also plenty fast enough (particularly so with their hybrid engines). But, clearly, for Lexus that’s not enough. Which is why we have Lexus’ new 2+2 sports car, the RC F.
And thank god we do. Why? In a single word, its engine. But we’ll come to that later as there are other factors too. First of all, it’s inspired by the LFA (Lexus’ 2013 supercar rated by Jeremy Clarkson as the best he’s ever driven). That means a number of things. Firstly, it looks great, in the best traditions of Japanese design, being fit for purpose, dramatic and edgy. I’d stop short of beautiful but this is certainly a very handsome and striking car.
Secondly, that LFA lineage and components drawn from the Lexus IS F means excellent weight distribution and balance, rear wheel drive and a chassis/suspension setup that makes an excellent fist of marshalling the RC F’s huge power reserves and its weight (RC F is a tad heavier than the BMW M4, for example). It also comes with four driver modes (from a relaxed economy setting through to a track oriented Sport +), an electronic variable diff and a four stage VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, which manipulates ABS, VSC and TRC) which includes an ‘Expert’ mode that only steps in to prevent a spin. The consequence of all this tech is great grip and traction accompanied by steering that’s nicely weighted and fluid feeling and well tuned to the car’s dynamics.
If you’re starting to worry that Lexus may have sacrificed some of its guiding principles, don’t. They’ve pulled back from turning everything up to 11, to use a Spinal Tap analogy, in pursuit of on limit handling prowess to a more manageable 8 or 9. As a consequence ride is actually rather good and irons out the worst the Vale of Glamorgan’s potted B-roads and the RC F is a comfortable and relaxed cruiser at motorway speeds. The interior, derived mainly from the IS F, is beautifully and well appointed with high spec levels (10 speaker stereo!) and a level of finish that leaves others standing. It’s both cool and a lovely place to be. Seats are particularly impressive and there’s even a decent sized boot, which will comfortably swallow more than a weekend’s luggage.
So, back to that single word. And what a beauty this engine is. Taking its cue from the LFA’s V10, and unlike its main competition, the RC F has a naturally aspirated 5ltr V8. With 477hp at 7100 revs it’s the most powerful V8 Lexus have ever produced but this figure only tells part of the story. Granted a turbo/ supercharger will deliver more torque and mid-range punch but precisely because it’s unconstrained by a turbo or supercharger, this V8 is a free-spirited and free-revving delight able to deliver automotive enjoyment in its purest form. In real world driving, performance is stupendous – it darts from 0-62 in 4.6 secs and will blast past dawdlers in what seems like milliseconds. It also sounds wonderful when you let it sing – it has a deeper more satisfying tone than some V8s which can be a bit high pitched and frenetic. Despite its potential for power and drama it’s actually a docile beast round town and uses the Atkinson cycle (don’t ask – just google it) for better fuel economy. It’s allied to an 8psd auto gearbox that provides seamless, instant changes and is set up to react to subtle throttle inputs. It has a manual override and a paddle change system for a true sporting experience when the mood takes you. Another nice touch is the way it blips the throttle when changing down.
The RC F encapsulates Lexus’ contrasting priorities in one car. The qualities that have made Lexus the success it is – quality, comfort and ease of use, but also those attributes that reflect where Lexus would like to be – excitement, performance and style. It could have ended up a mish-mash but it hasn’t – it’s a great blend of traditional Lexus pampering and outright, fun performance and as a sign of things to come it bodes very well.
Top speed: 168mph
0-62: 4.5 secs