Driven: 2015 Lexus RC F
By Bradley Iger
January 20, 2015
Ask a random soul what descriptors first come to mind when they think of the Lexus brand, and they’re likely to offer terms like “luxury”, “refinement” and “maturity”. Back in 1989, the first Lexus models made landfall in the US as a premium alternative to the more commonplace vehicles produced by parent company Toyota, with the LS sedan leading the charge – a car which embodied those values and continues to do so today. More recently, Lexus has sought to make inroads in the sport-luxury market, a segment long dominated by BMW’s M division, AMG and Audi’s S and RS lineup. The most recent volley in that direction comes in the form of the RC Coupe, a model with its sights set clearly at cars like the BMW 4-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe. At the time of its announcement, RC and IS chief engineer Junichi Furuyama commented that the RC Coupe was designed to “deliver extra response that exhilarates rather than overwhelms drivers”. If that’s case, then it’s safe to assume that the RC F, the most sport-focused iteration of the RC Coupe which comes packing a 467 horsepower naturally aspirated V8, is for Lexus loyalists who have decided that they’re ready to be a little bit overwhelmed.
What is the idea behind the Lexus RC F?
It doesn’t take too much effort to start drawing parallels between the mission of the RC F and cars like the BMW M4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, much in the way the IS F sedan did with the four door counterparts of those cars several years ago. The RC F derives its 5.0-liter, naturally aspirated V8 from the IS F, tuned here to generate 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque. That powerplant is hooked exclusively to an 8-speed automatic gearbox which sends power to the rear wheels. Handling is bolstered beyond that of the RC Coupe by way of a reinforced subframe, uprated springs and sway bars, Sachs monotube shock absorbers, unique control-arm rear suspension, and a specially tuned version of the Lexus Dynamic Handling system. 19-inch BBS wheels make contact with the road by way of Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 rubber, and Lexus co-developed the braking system with Brembo, resulting in the six-piston front (14.9-inch), four-piston rear (13.5-inch) combination that comes standard on all RC F models.
It’s a comprehensive performance package to be sure, but Lexus didn’t ignore the luxury side of the equation either, and features like 10-way power adjusted sport seats, premium audio and a host of the latest tech and convenience features remind one that despite the added aggression, there’s still a substantial measure of civility to be found when needed.
How does the drivetrain perform?
The V8 on hand here may have its roots in the 5.0-liter that powered the IS F, but it gets a thorough reworking for its new role in the RC F. New cylinder heads, a revised crank, a smattering of forged internals and a higher compression ratio result in an engine that yields an increase of 51 horsepower and 18 lb-ft of torque, along with a redline of 7100 rpm, up from 6800. The engine has a positively rorty bark to it, and its willingness to rev, along with peak power which comes on at 4800 rpm equate to a real gem of a V8. With the inevitable forward march of forced induction and hybrid powertrains, engines like the RC F’s should be savored while they still can be.
As sweet as the motor is, the 8-speed automatic feels like a bit of a concession to Lexus traditionalists. When set to the full aggression of Sport+ mode, we expected shifts with a bit more urgency and authority. While not a deal breaker, the gearbox loses a step or two to the DCTs used in rival mdels, and likely accounts for a few of the tenths of the RC F’s 4.4-second sprint to 60 mph from rest. On the other hand, unlike many dual-clutch units, the RC F’s traditional automatic is devoid of any stop-and-go clunkiness and other quirks that are often a trait of those race-derived units.
How does the RC F handle?
The extensive list of suspension enhancements pay dividends when the road gets twisty. Despite the RC F’s fairly hefty 3950-pound curb weight, turn in is sharp and only the smallest hint of body roll is evident when really pushing the car. Our tester was equipped with the optional torque vectoring differential, which intelligently adjusts the power being sent to each rear wheel based on the mode it is set to with the goal of delivering a seamless optimization of the car’s cornering potential without making the driver feel as though the car is doing all the work. Its three modes – Normal, Slalom and Track – each offer a different approach to process, but none of them intervened in a way that we found distracting while pushing the RC F through the wide array of bends found along Angeles Crest Highway. While there is undoubtedly a preferable setting for certain specific high-speed tasks, outside of repeated laps on a road course, keeping the diff set to Normal is likely your best bet:
The RC F’s steering wheel feels great in hand, offering a commendable dose of weight and a modest amount of road feel. Those substantially uprated brakes come in handy when one needs to reign in this two-ton coupe in a hurry. Perhaps for the sake of around-town comfort, the pedal is not quite as linear as we’d like and requires increasing pedal effort as you dip further into it. Regardless, the brakes never exhibited anything resembling fade, and when authoritively pressed to do so, stopped the RC F with all the prowess one would expect from a sport coupe of this caliber.
How comfortable is the RC F?
Despite the significant changes made to the chassis and suspension, the RC F maintains a civilized ride around town with the driving mode set appropriately. Much of this can be attributed to the adaptive Lexus Dynamic Handling system and its ability to soak up inconsistencies in the road surface with little drama. Don’t expect LS-like levels of comfort though – large potholes and other maladies will inevitably make their presence known in a vehicle with a performance tuned suspension, and the RC F isn’t immune from that. Considering the car’s mission as a legitimate sports car, compromises like this are to be expected, but we did not find the ride quality to be noticeably unpleasant during every day driving, either.
Inside the RC F, aside from the muscular growl of the V8 under the hood, the RC F holds true to its luxury brand roots with a near-silent cabin with well thought out controls and switchgear that feel premium to the touch. Infotainment navigation is done via a new touchpad interface that, while not quite as ideal as a simple touchscreen display, was straightforward enough for us to quickly acclimate to.
How are the design, fit and materials when you see the car in person?
Far more than any of its rivals, the RC F's looks are polarizing. Rarely did anyone look at the car without a strong emotive response for or against its aggressive, angular design aesthetic. Most found the RC F’s looks pleasing, and for what it’s worth, the RC F will likely turn many more heads than, say, an Audi RS5 – several people went out of their way to comment on the car’s looks during the week we had it, and the same cannot be said of some of the cars we’ve reviewed from the RC F’s competitive set. Whether that’s a virtue or a detriment is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.
The interior of the RC F is far more steeped in Lexus tradition, with a bigger emphasis placed on luxury than its external looks might suggest. Subtle touches, such as the LFA-like high resolution digital gauges which are dominated by a large center tachometer that changes color scheme based on the drive mode selected, and the reassuring amount of resistance felt when adjusting the volume knob of the stereo, go a long way to make the RC F feel both premium and special.
The RC F’s base MSRP is $62,400 – a price tag that undercuts all of its main rivals by about $2000 (BMW M4) to over $7000 (Audi RS5). Equipped as our tester was with the torque vectoring differential, Mark Levinson infotainment system, 19-inch hand polished forged alloys, and the Premium Package, which includes heated and ventilated seats, carbon fiber interior trim, triple beam LED headlamps and various safety features like blind spot monitoring and cross traffic alert, the price swells to over $75,000 with destination. While it’s unlikely that cross shoppers would consider, for instance, a base Audi RS5 versus a fully loaded RC F, it’s worth noting that the perceived discount over its rivals can evaporate quickly when you check off just a few boxes on the options sheet.
Regardless, while most of the segment chases the performance metrics, it’s clear that Lexus has its own sports coupe playbook. It’s one that perhaps shows a little more concern for the comfort and luxury that built the brand, but still provides enough accessible real-world performance to make the RC F a thoroughly entertaining car to drive. Externally the RC F might look like the wild child, but amongst its peers it’s one of the most grounded of the bunch.
2015 Lexus RC F
Price: $62,400 (base) / $75,210 (as tested)
Engine: 5.0 DOHC V8
Output: 467 HP / 389 LB-FT
0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds
Fuel Economy: 16 city / 25 highway / 19 combined