THE words ‘exciting’ and ‘Lexus’ usually sit together as comfortably as ‘Israel’ and ‘Palestine’. This hard-core, V8-powered RC F changes all that.
Eager to shirk its conservative, fuddy-duddy image (even Lexus calls itself a “safe brand”) the RC F not only replaces the iconic, now-defunct LFA as the company’s halo model, but boasts track-honed credentials that put it firmly in the crosshairs of the new BMW M4 and upcoming Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and Audi RS5.
Lexus’s approach, though, couldn’t be more different.
Where the Germans utilise new, high-tech, turbocharged engines, the RC F uses the same Yamaha-tuned 5.0-litre V8 as the old IS F, tweaked to produce 351kW and 530Nm. It’s officially the most powerful V8 Lexus has ever built, but there are brains behind the brawn.
Under low loads, the big bent-eight is the first engine in the world to slide seamlessly from the normal Otto cycle into the Atkinson cycle – a mode previously only available to hybrids – for a 12-14 percent boost in economy.
There’s no dual-clutch gearbox, either. Chief engineer Yaguchi insists they are still too slow and jerky, so Lexus instead opted to mate the RC F exclusively to its ageing, yet smooth-shifting eight-speed torque-converter auto.
But if the drivetrain is nothing new, the same can’t be said of the RC F’s styling. In a world of conservative, muscular rivals, the aggressively sharp RC F is a polarising breath of fresh air. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it has presence.
Don’t dismiss the RC F as simply a door-two IS, though. It rides on its own version of Lexus’s modular rear-drive platform, taking its nose from the GS, its centre from the IS convertible and its rear from the IS sedan.
It’s far from a regular RC, too. Nearly all (70 percent) of the RC F’s adaptive suspension is new compared to the standard RC, it’s even more rigid thanks to additional bracing, and a limited-slip diff is standard (a torque vectoring electronic rear diff is optional).
Translate this to the road and the result is the most engaging, best handling Lexus since the LFA. It might be old, but the big, snarling V8 is a highlight. It barks on start-up and, while lacking torque down low, get it above 2500rpm and it pulls sweetly and cleanly all the way to the 7300rpm cut-out.
It’s an old-school donk with none of the M4’s futuristic urgency or low-down punch, but that only adds to its character. It’s quick, too, hustling the RC F’s not inconsiderable 1800kg from 0-100km/h in 4.4sec.
The gearbox is seamless and unobtrusive around town, yet sharp enough when you point the RC F at a track, even though it’s not as fast or intuitive as a dual-clutch.
Stick it in Sport or Sport + and the torque converter locks every gear from second up, meaning shifts feel positive and mechanical, rather than silky smooth. It makes the RC F a visceral experience, which only improves in the corners.
Turn-in is sharp, the steering well weighted and fluid if not overly engaging, and the firm, track-honed suspension ensures the big RC F has very little body roll.
However, it’s not as focused as the M4 or even the old C63.
At the limit, the RC F has none of the German’s poise or balance and, while that initial turn-in is crisp, get too greedy at the apex or too impatient with the throttle on exit and the nose will push wide.
Still, there’s nice front-to-rear balance, so stab the gas hard and the RC F will indulge even the most ham-fisted driver with lurid, controllable oversteer.
Feel through the brake pedal is excellent, as is the RC F’s stopping power thanks to uprated 380mm slotted rotors up front and 345mm at the back.
Inside, F-specific bucket seats hug the driver, while Lexus’s reputation for quality is evident.
The cabin feels premium and solidly screwed together, but its conventional layout is somehow disappointing given the RC F’s vivid exterior styling. And while an intuitive remote touch interface replaces Lexus’s old, clumsy mouse-operated infotainment system, the RC misses out on new technology found in the coming NX, such as remote phone charging and an electric park brake (RC owners have to make do with a dated foot brake).
It’s not perfect, then, but like the IS F before it, the RC F offers a real alternative to its proven German rivals.
It brings character and stonking V8 performance to an otherwise conservative Lexus range and, while its appeal against its proven rivals will hinge on price – Lexus Oz warns it will carry a hefty premium over the old $130,000 IS F – the RC F proves an exciting Lexus is no longer an oxymoron.
Model: Lexus RC F
Engine: 4969cc V8 (90-degree), dohc, 32 valve
Max power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Max torque: 530Nm @ 4800-5600rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1780kg
0-100km/h: 4.4sec (claimed)
Price: $170,000 (estimated)
On sale: Q1 2015