When Lexus was first introduced in 1989 in the United States of America, the idea of a formerly unknown Japanese luxury brand that would compete fender to fender with the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz seemed utterly preposterous.
However, within a few short years, Lexus’ first luxury sedan, the LS, shocked the world with its quality and value for money. The final production model, a result of hundreds of prototypes, the work of over 1,000 engineers, and over $1 billion, pioneered new ground. The birth of Lexus truly forced the German luxury brands to re-invent themselves. No longer was just heritage and pomp sufficient to sell cars.
The whole idea of the luxury vehicle had been re-defined and also included a dealer network that was trained to give both its sales and service customers unprecedented attention.
Fast forward to today and Lexus is now sold globally. It has become Japan’s largest-selling luxury car brand, and has design centres located all around the world.
In 2007, Lexus launched its own F marque performance division to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG and BMW’s M divisions. The debut of the IS F sport sedan came first in 2007, followed by the LFA exotic super car in 2009.
For 2015, Lexus introduced their all-new RC coupe and with it, the equivalent RC F high performance variant.
The company says that RC is short for “Racing Coupe”, and the F is for “Fuji”, the name of the Japanese racetrack where some of the car’s development was carried out.
Love it or Hate it Styling
Lexus used to be accused of being uncreative and heavily “borrowing” from BMW and Mercedes-Benz’s designs. It’s true that in its infancy, the company took a rather heavy-handed approach of being inspired by the Germans.
Given that Lexus is the success that it is today having been created from basically nothing, it would seem that the approach worked.
However in recent years, Lexus designers have really tried their very best to come up with their own designs, some with varying levels of success. The LFA super car looks gorgeous, but Lexus’ signature “spindle grille” design remains controversial.
While some design experts and industry rivals say that the jagged trapezoidal grille is downright ugly, Lexus’ global chief, Tokuo Fukuichi, stands by the design, saying that the stand-out face provides some design shock therapy that was previously lacking with the brand.
This is particularly important in competitive emerging markets such as China, where Lexus sales trail German rivals Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW by a wide margin.
Lexus is banking on the fact that their latest direction in styling will give the company a unique edge thanks to the company having vehicles that stand out from the crowd.
Some say that from the outside, the RC F is perhaps the most dramatic of the current outlandish Lexus designs.
I will admit that painted in Ultrasonic Blue, my test car was very striking. With its sharp angular edges, carbon fibre roof and carbon fibre rear spoiler, this is one hard car to miss as it flies past you.
With its exquisitely complex LED headlamps, it looks like a crazy blend of Japanese anime and Tokyo nights.
Lexus’ spindle grille dominates from the hood line to the lower lip but actually looks good on the RC F.
Just so that your RC F won’t be mistaken for the more plebeian RC350, the grille also comes with a mesh pattern that is exclusive to the F.
However to my eyes, there are a couple of design elements that strike me as disproportionate. At certain angles, the RC’s body looks a bit bulky, creating the illusion that the car is under-tired.
That is to say that the 19” wheels, sizable in their own right, are a bit small for the car.
Also, in certain colours such as Infrared Red, the disparity between how aggressive the front and rear ends of the car seem a bit disjointed.
The latter is much less aggressive to the point that it almost looks a bit out of character when compared to the RC F’s nose.
One thing is certain though. Most consumers get used to polarizing styling cues over time. Remember the controversial E60/E61 BMW 5 Series (produced from 2003-2010)? When it was first launched, pundits and purists cried foul. But look back at the same cars today and they don’t actually look that bad.
As they say, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Regardless of whether you find the RC F attractive or polarizing, the coupe does seem to be a crowd pleaser.
Everywhere I went, whether it was an informal Thursday night car meet or just outside the local coffee shop, I was approached by strangers bearing mostly positive comments about how aggressive or expensive the RC F looked.
Many remarked how it looked fast just sitting there. It didn’t matter if they were car enthusiasts or not. Almost everyone, much to my surprise, seemed to like the blue Lexus.
Lego construction, sort of
Although auto manufacturers tend to create coupes by deleting two doors and taking a few inches out of the wheelbase, Lexus took a more comprehensive approach to build the brand’s first purpose-built coupe since the long-departed SC.
The RC coupe is built on the bones of three different Lexus vehicles.
The now discontinued IS C convertible donates its floor pan, the current model IS sedan donates is rear structure, and the mid-sized GS sedan shares its front clip from the A-pillar forward.
The engineers’ logic makes a lot more sense when given some context. The IS rear kept the car’s dimensions tidy.
The IS C convertible’s centre section had extra bracing due to its compensation for the lack of a fixed roof. Therefore its inherent stiffness and shorter wheelbase made sense to use.
Compared to the related IS sedan, the RC has been beefed up with extra bracing, extra welds, and structural adhesives.
Finally, the midsized GS sedan’s front end, with its wider track, gave the engineers the extra width they wanted for sportier handling, also allowing wider tires to be fitted than what the IS chassis would’ve allowed for.
Compared to the current generation IS sedan, the RC F coupe has a 2.7 inch (68.6 mm) shorter wheelbase, but is roughly 1.5 inches (38 mm) longer, wider, and lower.
Why, you might ask, did Lexus not just make a new platform? The engineering team explained that it was the best solution in order for them to achieve the platform rigidity and dynamic handling that they wanted.
Obviously there was also a cost efficiency component to this decision, weight be dammed.
Oh what an engine
Because the RC F is supposed to be the performance version of the RC coupe, the RC350’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6 is swapped out for a Yamaha-designed 5.0-litre naturally-aspirated V8.
This is not a new engine per se as it was in the previous generation Lexus IS F sedan. However, really only the aluminium block is a carryover. The rest of it has been tweaked and fettled to now deliver a robust 467 hp and 389 lb-ft (530 Nm) of torque.
This represents an increase in maximum power by 12%. The rev limit has also been increased from 6,800 to 7,300 rpms. Impressively high for a big 5.0 litre V8.
All of this extra performance is courtesy of a lot more than just a software tune. There is new engine componentry including the use of new high-strength forged connecting rods, new main-bearing materials, a new intake, throttle cylinder head, titanium inlet and exhaust valves, a new piston rods and crankshaft; the list goes on and on.
The engine will even convert from the traditional Otto cycle to a more efficient Atkinson cycle (similar to a Toyota Prius hybrid) under light loads.
According to Lexus, 0-100 km/hr comes up in 4.5 seconds, and 400 m will blast by in just 12.5 seconds.
Trick rear differential
The standard RC F is fitted with sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport (or Bridgestone Potenza) tires and paired with a rear Torsen limited-slip differential. Check the box off for the optional performance package, as in my test car, and you’ll get a new torque-vectoring rear differential.
This, a first for Lexus, is similar to what Jaguar offers in its Jaguar F-Type, a car that is a lot more expensive than the RC F.
The TVD (Torque Vectoring Differential) uses two electronic clutch packs to over drive the outside rear wheel in turns.
Based on steering and yaw sensor input, the system is designed to get the RC F around a corner in a tighter line by shifting up to 100 per cent of the power to either side.
The TVD has three adjustable modes. “Slalom” is like an autocross mode, tuned to have a lot of darty output for quick tight turns such as figure-eights. “Track” mode is designed for you to be able to get on the throttle earlier and harder on the race track.
In short, it works. You can even be entertained by watching how much power is being shifted to either side via the LCD screen in the gauge cluster.
Grand Tourer or Performance car?
It is natural for those shopping for a high horsepower two door coupe to compare the RC F to the BMW M4, Audi RS5, or the upcoming Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG coupe.
These vehicles share the same basic 2+2 seating layout, produce a generous amount above 400 horsespower, but appeal to enthusiasts who still care about everyday liveability.
However, the big difference between the RC F and the M4 comes down to weight. If this were an MMA fight between coupes, with 400 lbs (181.4 kg) over the BMW, the RC F wouldn’t even be competing in the same weight class.
Despite my car’s carbon fibre roof and rear spoiler, aluminium fenders and hood, the RC F is as heavy as the all-wheel-drive Audi RS5 sans the powered front wheels.
From this alone, it would seem that the RC F’s modus operandi is not to compete with the likes of the aforementioned European vehicles, but indeed to be a powerful, sonorous, V8 luxury coupe. And in that regard, it succeeds with aplomb. But race track monster it is not.
Ride and Drive
The RC F’s stiff platform has allowed Lexus engineers to use more aggressive suspension tuning. There is a front and rear wishbone setup with the requisite retuned and upgraded stabilizer bars, shock absorbers, bushings and new lower control arms versus the standard car.
It’s a setup that is compliant enough for both easy everyday driving and for attacking your favourite twisty country roads.
That being said, the car never feels that racy from the get-go. It’s only at 3,000 rpms and above that you truly feel the enthusiasm of its 467 horses.
The resultant engine sound from the big old fashioned naturally aspirated V8 engine is absolutely killer at those revs, but by then you could be going a little bit too fast for in-town speed limits.
Add the noticeable weight difference when compared to the European coupes and you get a car that is more comfortable on the boulevard and on long distance drives.
It will do what you tell it to when pushed, but it doesn’t necessarily encourage you the same way that an M4 or C63 AMG will. You never get that feeling that you’re that close to the razor’s edge.
Lexus claims that accessible performance is what will define the F brand going forward, and that somehow acceleration that is too voracious will scare off people who can’t drive as well as others. I still think that losing a few extra pounds can’t hurt the RC F.
After a week of driving the RC F, I came to appreciate the Lexus as an everyday Grand Tourer that doesn’t pretend to be a hard-edged high performance coupe that you would want to take on the track every weekend.
It’s an everyday crowd-pleaser that hits that 400+ horsepower mark for bragging rights, but backed by bulletproof Lexus reliability and value-for-money.
For many, this will check off all the right boxes. Despite being a relatively low volume car, I have a feeling that Lexus will have no problem selling as many RC Fs as they can build.