The new Lexus performance flagship


EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL:A lot of car companies have spent millions trying to do the things that BMW and Mercedes do, or at least trying to counter what they do. One of the things that the Germans do quite successfully is build hot versions of their regular sedan and coupe models. A few years back, someone at Lexus was able to convince the brass at Toyota that a hot version of a Lexus sedan/coupe is a necessary part of achieving the whole unassailable, unquestionable, hyper-profitable sports-luxury brand thing, and so first we got the IS F and now we have the RC F, a likably bizarre entry into the hot rod sedan/coupe segment.

Toyota's appetite for eccentricity has been somewhat limited over the last couple of decades, so it's refreshing to see that the RC F's stylists were allowed to have some fun. Walk right up to either front corner and stare down at the hood/headlight/fender/grille area. Within seconds, you forget what you're looking at. The corner becomes this wild, surrealist sculpture. The RC F doesn't't quite "melt" like some other Japanese cars -- the styling looks intentional. But as you walk back along the car, the weird elements compound. What looks like a somewhat oddly styled yet conventional car becomes a misinterpretation of a European sports-sedan form that is uniquely, joyfully Japanese. Look at how the previous-generation IS F follows the “regular model with racy details” formula that the Germans employ, then look at the RC F. It's a departure, to say the least.

Whimsy is indulged again inside, at least on the seats. They carry an organic stitching pattern that is attractive and exotic. However, once you're seated, the excitement is pretty much over. The rest of the interior isn't spartan, per se. It's plain enough to be called plain, but not so plain that it's plainness could be considered notable or interesting. It may be some kind of ironic statement about design that I don't understand.

As far as driving, the RC F is similarly undramatic. It'll slide in a totally approachable, controllable way. It's not slow but it's very heavy. The razor-wire drama of say, a BMW M3 is nowhere in sight.

It's a brave effort from Lexus, but the the only parts of the RC F that really made an impression on me are the cool seats and the exterior styling, which is, if I'm being kind and optimistic, avant-garde.



ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: During my tenure at Autoweek, there have been a few cars that stick out in my head. One of those cars is the Lexus LFA. It was a perception-altering car. Powered by a Formula One-derived V10 engine, it sounded absolutely wicked at full tilt on a straightaway. The thought of that glorious soundtrack still gives me chills. It also made me look at Lexus/Toyota a little differently. Before the $375,000 Lexus supercar came out, there wasn't much to get excited about in the Lexus/Toyota/Scion portfolio. Sure, there was a Scion tC on the low end and there was the 5.0-liter V8-powered IS F, but not much else. The Supra was and remains gone from the lineup, and neat things like the all-wheel drive Celicas were very distantly in the company's rearview mirror. Instead, Toyota was focusing heavily on hybrids, which makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Sadly, the enthusiasts were left to seek out more exciting rides from other automakers.

So the LFA definitely got people talking about Lexus. It was a halo car that brought a very distinctive driving experience along with a shockingly high price tag. The big challenge is funneling the LFA's performance traits down into the regular cars throughout the Lexus lineup. And to a certain extent, I think Lexus has been making progress with products like the GS and the IS. Now comes the RC lineup, looking to steal some sales away from the likes of the BMW 4-series, the Audi A5/S5 family and the Cadillac ATS coupe. In particular, our RC F test car will attack the performance-focused models like the BMW M4, Audi RS5 and Cadillac ATS-V coupe.

One thing is for certain: the RC F definitely has standout looks, including an aggressive front end seemingly inspired by the Predator movies. There are so many lines and different surfaces up front that it's difficult to pick up on all of them fully in photographs. It's got a nice, sleek profile, and the flared bodywork gives it a more menacing look. The interior reminds me a lot of the LFA with the overall dashboard shape, carbon fiber trim and supremely comfortable, supportive seats.

At the base of the RC coupe is a Mr. Potato Head platform made up of portions of the GS sedan in front, the current IS sedan in the rear, and in between, the floor from the from the IS C. The RC F gets upgraded with different under-floor braces.



Under the hood sits an upgraded version of the 5.0-liter V8 that powered the IS F. The block remains the same, but everything else gets updated including new heads with titanium valves, larger throttle body and lighter connecting rods. The changes are good for a 51 hp bump over the IS F for a total of 467 hp.

Other performance goodies include a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, firmer springs with adaptive shock absorbers and larger Brembo brakes with six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers.

To really get to know the car, we headed out to Michigan International Speedway to put the RC F through our Autofile track test regiment. There's no launch control on the car, so it took quite a bit of work to extract a 4.5-second 0-to-60-mph run out of it. The quarter-mile was covered in 12.9 seconds at 111.8 mph, which is far from shabby. It is, however, a step behind our long-term M3 (an M4 with two extra doors) which got to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 12.0 seconds at 119.6 mph. Our M3's dual-clutch definitely helped with launch control compared to the RC F's torque-converted automatic with no launch control.

Around the infield road course and slalom, the RC F doesn't feel as nimble as our M3. A quick gander at the spec sheets between the two cars reveals that the RC F is carrying around quite a bit of extra weight -- 3,958 pounds compared to the M3's 3,595. An extra 363 pounds is not a small amount. However, shod with some good 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, the RC F is still a competent handler. It's tuned to understeer initially a little, but chucking the car into a corner and using a little throttle helps get the rear around corners in an entertaining manner.

Steering features tuning that offers a weighty feel and quick response to inputs. The brakes on our test car definitely have seen better days, with warped front rotors causing quite a bit of juttering under light braking. No doubt a fresher example will perform much better.

Overall, the RC F is definitely suitable for track work, but unlike the M3/M4 which seem to be more like precision instruments, the Lexus feels a bit rawer with that V8 roar and heavier feel. It's a car you have to wrestle around the track. It's certainly quick and driving it is plenty of fun, which matters most to me in a performance car.




On the streets, it's comfortable enough with a ride that doesn't abuse occupants. The eight-speed automatic features quick, well-timed shifts in automatic mode. Manual shifting is also OK for a torque-converted unit with good response both on the track and the streets.

It's a fitting performance flagship for Lexus, though. It's not unobtainable to 99-percent of the car-buying public like the LFA was, and has the looks to draw curious people into Lexus showrooms for a gander. Maybe they won't plop down for a performance two-door coupe, but once in, a salesman can try to entice the customer into a more practical IS F Sport or GS F Sport.


EDITOR WES RAYNAL: This 2015 Lexus RC F is a weird car. I just don't know what to make of it. There are things about it I like and things I can't stand. I'm 50/50 on the shape. From some angles it is fine and some not so much -- too busy, especially up front.

I like the notion of a normally aspirated V8 up front. The car's quick; I like that, too. Actually, I should say it's quick-ish: If you're used to Lexus sedans, the RC's get-up-and-go is a surprise. The engine is smooth as proverbial silk, as is the transmission. I got to say, though, it doesn't feel like there's 467 hp under the hood. The car drives heavy. Get the tach swinging past 3,500 rpm and there's some scoot, but below that, not so much.

Also good are the seats. They're firm and comfortable. Build quality seems up to Lexus standards, even in this car with its key tag clearly marked “prototype vehicle.”

I mostly like the steering -- it's firm and direct. The ride is mostly fine as well with minimal body roll.

I guess my main beef is the interior's touchpad interface. When I first got in the car, I thought “oh good, no more knob/mouse-like thing to control the screen.” Then I tried the touchpad. It's just awful -- too sensitive. The slightest touch makes the indicator on the screen fly all over the place. Maybe I'm not using it right yet, but just scrolling down the radio stations and landing on the one I wanted was too difficult. It needs to be trashed in place of basic rotary knob.

People tell me you got to drive the RC F on the track to really appreciate it. OK, I didn't do that, and maybe then I'd like the car better. For now, though, would I take this over a Mercedes C63 AMG? Not a chance. I got to give Toyota credit for building this, though.


ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I was excited to drive the new Lexus RC F, considering I had a great time in the IS F, its sedan twin. When I heard the respectable quarter-miles times we did with it, I was even more excited.

This car is fast: 467 hp will do that; unfortunately it was raining when I was given the chance to drive it, so I really had no chance to give it the beans. Still, the few times I did put the pedal to the floor, the RC F snorted, downshifted, spun the tires a little and then got up and went. The exhaust also starts bellowing at about 3,500 rpm--taking about one second longer than I'd like it to. The eight-speed isn't as quick as it could be, either. We know companies can do this right -- Jaguar, BMW, Dodge -- it just needs to feel a little more aggressive.

The driver's area is like a cockpit. All the gauges and controls are angled towards you, and there's not a lot of room to move around. The seat is suitably shell-like for high-speed driving, but only a little bit less comfortable than usual Lexus seats.

I love the customizable gauges, a la the Lexus LFA. As you move closer to sport-plus mode the tach gets progressively more aggressive-looking. The central screen works well with the personal mouse pad pointer thing, but it might take some getting used to. It did send me an Apple iPhone error a few times while I was trying to play some podcasts.

As for the the sheetmetal: Some love it, some hate it. Some, like me, are in between. The overall shape is good, but the front end seems way over-styled. There are too many creases, too many winglets, too many intakes. And that orange paint, holy smokes; it looks like a delicious creamsicle. Not sure if that's good or bad. The rear end is just about right, and I like the accenting color pop-up spoiler. The rims look cool, too. I'd like to see this car in blue, or black or white, and maybe with a chrome grille instead of the black one. Then maybe, just maybe, this car won't turn as many heads as a Lamborghini Murcielago.

2015 Lexus RC F
Options: Carbon package including torque vectoring differential, carbon fiber roof, carbon rear spoiler, unique wheel design ($5,500); premium package including blind spot monitor BSM with rear cross traffic alert RCTA, premium LED L-shaped headlamps, heated/ventilated front seats with driver seat memory, carbon interior trim, park assist ($4,400); navigation system, Mark Levinson premium surround sound system ($2,840)

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