I feel sorry for the Lexus RC-F. When Lexus released this oddly styled coupe in 2015, everyone immediately compared it to a BMW M4, and collectively pointed and laughed at the car for being heavier, softer, and slower than the Bavarian opposition.
Here’s how you should see this Lexus instead: it’s a Japanese V8 muscle car, an Asian Camaro. It’s the ride of choice for some badass manga hero who wears a high collar leather jacket, is 18 for some reason, carries around a sword twice his size, and the only way he knows how to drive is sideways.
The Lexus RC-F isn’t trying to beat the Germans at their own game. It does its own thing in an unusual but intriguing kind of way. It’s large, fast, clumsy, and unapologetically in-your-face.
(Full Disclosure: Lexus Canada wanted me to review the RC-F so badly, they lent me one with the performance package, clean and with a full tank for gas for a week. They also agreed that I take the car at Sanair Super Speedway to test out its claimed performance.)
What Is It?
According to Lexus, RC stands for “Radical Coupe.” That face certainly is, especially coming from a carmaker typically known for selling Camry-based snooze-inducing luxury SUVs.
The Lexus RC itself is a rear-drive coupe that was originally supposed to be the two-door version of the IS compact sport sedan, but ended up being an entirely different car much the same way the BMW 4 Series isn’t just a 3 Series with two fewer doors.
The RC goes even further. It isn’t a two-door IS, it was built using three— yes three—existing Lexus vehicles. It’s a god-damn Frankenstein. The front end was ripped out of the GS midsize sedan for handling purposes, says Lexus. The mid-section comes from the last generation IS convertible, for its chassis rigidity and short wheelbase, and the rear, well that’s all the current IS.
What you end up with is a juicy ragout of Lexus parts that holds together using new-age laser welding techniques and fancy adhesives. Let’s hope that crazy glue holds up well.
On to the RC-F: it’s heavily modified by Lexus’ F performance division, which isn’t quite AMG or M but still does interesting shit. A naturally aspirated, 5.0-liter V8 and an eight-speed automatic transmission were dropped under its hood. A torque vectoring differential was squeezed between its rear wheels, and 19-inch aluminum wheels, stickier rubber, a stiffer suspension, massive Brembo brakes, and cooling ducts were grafted all over its body to complete the performance package.
The end result, according to Lexus, is 467 HP and 389 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration to 60 mph from a standstill is achieved in a claimed at 4.3 seconds.
Yes, that’s slower than a BMW M4 or even a Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe. But put that aside for a bit.
Why Does It Matter?
BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and even Infiniti have all long offered a luxury sports coupe in their lineup. Except for the short-lived IS convertible, LFA supercar, and the SC, which was cool until it wasn’t, Lexus hasn’t had a consistent, two-door offering for quite some time now. The RC should then be a crucial car to help Lexus solidify its brand image towards consumers.
Yet it does so with a face only Godzilla’s mother would love. Whatever you think of it, admit it: this thing looks like nothing else on the road at the moment.
But the fundamental reason why this car matters a lot, for me at least, is the fact that it’s the only fast luxury super-coupe out now that comes with a naturally aspirated V8. That’s becoming increasingly rare in the segment. Even Mercedes-AMG has dropped its 6.2-liter brute in favor of a twin-turbo V8.
The RC-F may look like it’s from 2045 Tokyo, but its drivetrain has one foot solidly grounded in the past.
The Lexus RC-F is a gasaholic. It drinks gallons of premium fuel without apologizing. You’ll tell me that’s normal for a high-performance V8, but the RC-F takes it to another level. Even when feathering the throttle, in Eco mode, with the wind in my back, catching the draft of semi trucks, the damn thing still couldn’t get more than 21 mpg.
To put things into perspective, that 707 HP Hellcat I drove a few weeks back pulls 25 mpg on the highway.
Then there’s the extreme heft of the thing. The car weighs 4,048 pounds for Christ’s sake. That’s 400 pounds heavier than a BMW M4. Four hundred! A Honda Ridgeline pickup weighs 4,423 pounds, which is the equivalent of me and two bros riding in the RC-F. It’s obese.
This means that on the track, the car does unusual and clumsy things. It’s all easy to control though, but if you happen to lift off too early when exiting a corner, or simply attempt to over-correct it when it runs out of grip, for example, that fat ass will let you know it’s back there, violently whipping you into place.
Was it my neck I just heard break in half?
Finally, the infotainment system is garbage. Ŀexus replaced the little mouse-thingy for a touch-pad with cross-hairs on it. It’s worse! You can’t access anything quickly on that screen. The system lags and never shows you the information you actually want. The interface is a mess, distracting, confusing, and downright useless.
But it’s hardly all bad. The seats. OH MY GOD THE SEATS! Insanely comfortable. Stunningly attractive. Smooth. Soft. Warm. Cool. Aggressively bolstered and relaxing as hell. This is what Lexus does best; a car in which you could basically live in.
During casual highway cruising, the big V8 shuts up and sleeps below 2,000 rpm. The eight-speed automatic does its thing in the background, shifting forever, but you never sense it.
The cabin is as quiet as a vault, the suspension, when set to Normal mode, is soft and compliant. The Mark Levinson sound system is absolutely epic. It’s all beautifully well crafted in there, like a Lexus ought to be.
The rear seat is very cramped. I tried to sit back there. I fit, but if you’re six foot or taller, your head will hit the roof, so you’ll have to tilt your head sideways. Not cool. Also, those electrically-controlled front seats take forever to move forward, so whatever you do, don’t sit a pregnant woman back there.
The RC-F has a trunk and it’s decently sized for grocery bags and other useless cargo you need to carry around. It’s daily-able.
A knob dial on the RC-F’s center console allows you to calibrate the car to different drive modes: Sport and Sport Plus. The latter is where you want your Gundam fighter jet on wheels to be, as it radically stiffens up the adjustable dampers, hardens the steering wheel and opens up the active exhaust. The interactive gauge cluster’s center tachometer changes color, increases the size of the fonts, and adds flashing shift bars on each side.
Both hands firmly gripped on the wheel, transmission set in manual mode, traction control off, fingers ready to pull the steering-mounted paddle shifters, I smash the accelerator pedal, and the Japanese 5-0 immediately wakes up.
There’s no turbo lag, no laggy throttle response, just a raspy intake note with a satisfying growl released from the quad exhaust pipes. Low-end torque is weak, but the big Lexus has tons of grip, so the car hunkers down and launches hard.
As the revs climb, the retractable carbon fiber wing pops up in the rear-view mirror, and the engine suddenly starts to bark, sounding twice as loud. Is this a simulated engine sound? It’s not. It’s a sign the intake noise flap has just opened. What I’m hearing is all motor. And it’s totally gratifying.
In the higher rev range, the engine note mutates into a deep, constant and linear mechanical bellow until that V8, seemingly unstressed, crosses the 7,300 RPM redline and hits the limiter in a Lexus-appropriate butter-smooth demeanor- GRAP - PEPAP. My ears are wet. Are they bleeding? No. They’ve just experienced an aural orgasm.
I pull the right paddle shifter, the automatic gearbox hands me over another gear on a silver platter. The RC-F tightens its necktie, and the entire process is repeated.
On the track, the RC-F is a big elephant, but well-planted on the tarmac. There’s no denying the amount of grip this thing can deal with. The Michelin Pilot Super Sports definitely help make this brute corner fast, the limits of adhesion are high and the car is supremely stable during hard braking. And it is nose heavy, but the adjustable torque vectoring differential, when set to track mode, helps minimize the effect as long as you keep playing with the throttle.
Whatever you do, don’t lift off. Once you’ve found a way to respect the weight, and compensate with the extra power, it’s easy to fling around, confidence-inspiring, and not scary at all.
The Lexus RC-F has one hell of a temper. It’s like a big friendly giant that tries to scare you but then pats you on the back. It’s not trying to out lap an M4 or out-accelerate an AMG Mercedes, but rather does its own thing covered in a veil of civility, being the distinct, weird, and totally awesome super coupe that it is.
This car isn’t cheap. Prices kick off at $64,165. My tester, which came with the performance and technology package, stickers at $74,495. And my RC-F still didn’t have all the options ticked off.
But you do get a lot of performance for that price. I mean, if you can get past the minute performance stats, the RC-F will still hang with high-end sport cars like a Porsche 911, which costs quite a lot more. And history suggests a Lexus should be easier to maintain than anything German.
In comparison, a BMW M4, which probably remains this car’s most obvious competitor, starts at $66,400. Equipped one the same way as the Lexus with a Competition and Executive package, and you’re at roughly $78,050.
Fine, that selling price is abnormally close to the Lexus for a much more established, attractive and better performing coupe. But the Bimmer fails at delivering the RC-F’s eccentric and over-the-top character. In that respect, if uniqueness matters more than performance numbers in your virtues than the Lexus RC-F is worth a shot.
Plus, it has a V8. A real V8, no turbos. That’s nice, and so rare these days.
The Lexus RC-F is far from perfect. It is porky and clumsy compared to its competition. But it will still throw some solid punches and deliver a distinguishable thrill behind the wheel. On the road, it’s quiet, smooth, totally high-tech, and if you’re an attention freak, people will definitely notice you and ask questions.
Will the RC-F age well? Probably not. But we will look back at it as another one of those quirky, weird, ballsy attempts at selling a performance machine. Aren’t those the cars we end up loving in the long run? I say yes. In fact, those are the cars that might actually save the future of the auto industry for real car enthusiasts. Maybe this isn’t the top choice in its segment, but I’m glad it’s a thing.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.