Just hearing the word Lexus tells you what kind of car you think you'll get. It'll be reliable and luxurious, but also sedate and, well, boring. But what about the Lexus RC F, an M4-rivaling, beluga-snouted sports coupe with a thundering V8 and a throttle pedal that might as well be labeled "drift switch?" Is there any way to make that boring?
(Full Disclosure: Lexus had their global launch of the RC here in New York. Instead of doing the full program, I met them at Monticello Motor Club and drove the RC F, and only the RC F, on track all day. Why drive the F-Sport when you can go full F?)
Lexus decided to Bill Belichick the BMW playbook with the introduction of the RC. Instead of calling it an IS Coupe, Lexus has gone for a new name and some design flourishes to differentiate it from its sedan sibling. Like the IS, the RC has distinct styling. Also like the IS, you either love it or you hate it.
I've come down distinctly on the side of dislike. Even in F guise, with the quad tailpipes, carbon roof, bigger intakes, aggressive wheel and tire package, and seemingly wider stance, the RC seems like designers had a major disagreement that resulted in a cartoon car. The front end of the RC was described by people at the event as a proboscis monkey, a beluga whale, a Norelco razor, and just plain ugly.
The theory that I've come up with for Lexus design is that a restrained design came first, and then someone saw it and said "can you please add more styling? It needs more styling!" So then the designers go all coo coo bananas and we have a car that looks like it can eat you.
What's good about it is that it's unique. What's also good is that when you drive it, you aren't looking at the outside. But the interior is a bit of a mixed bag. The seats and wheel are fantastic, as are the digital gauges, which are clear and super easy to read. The infotainment system though, it's like a mouse touchpad and can be confusing. And there's a rotary dial to change drive modes, which, if you're used to Audi's MMI or BMW's iDrive, you'll try to use to switch the radio station. It does not switch the radio station.
Instead, it changes the character of the RC F and its glorious 467 horsepower, 389 pound foot, 5.0 liter V8. In a world where every single performance brand is going turbocharged and downsizing engines, a big, naturally aspirated V8 is refreshing. It's not the single torquiest V8 in the world, with most of the thrust seeming to show up around 3,200 RPM, but it is still fast and still makes a great noise.
All that power is routed to the rear wheels through an excellent eight speed automatic with a third gear that is just a little too tall to be perfect at Monticello. And unlike everyone else, this is not the ZF unit that we've come to know and love in basically every car. Like the Cadillac CTS, the RC F has the Aisin transmission. It's still a gem.
Hydraulic steering is not something that the RC F has in its arsenal of performance options, and it shows. Steering is lifeless and bland, but it is accurate. A chicane was placed on the circuit on the long straight to slow us down, but it just became a 100 MPH chicane as the day went on, a high speed lane change exercise. On Monticello's fast, winding course, it's never hard to place the RC F where you need it in a corner. For corner entry, the predominant attitude is understeer (in fact, the bias is so strong towards understeer that cars were eating front tires, not rears, on the track), which I attribute to the heavy lump of a V8 up front. So how do you fix that?
Well, when it starts to push, give the throttle a lift to bring the tail in line. Then, when you feel the front hook up, get on the throttle. Hard. If you have all the aids off, you'll be greeted by a sweet, controllable slide that one driver told me looked "awesome" in his rearview mirror. Looking awesome is a good thing. The aids will let you do a tiny slide, but will immediately shut you down when it thinks you're getting a little too wild. But for being a big 467 horsepower bruiser, the RC F is a gentle sweetheart at the limit. Going for bigger and bigger slides were all greeted by the same controllable recovery.
Once you get in a rhythm, the RC F is great at making you look like a sliding hero. Is that the fastest way around the track? Not close, sunshine. But shit is it fun.
The other way to fix the understeer is by choosing the optional torque vectoring differential, which Lexus calls TVD. A regular Torsen diff is standard, and I have to say that is the setup I preferred. TVD feels more artificial, you can tell when it's working. On a longer sweeper, it helps turn the car and get it to the apex, but everywhere else I prefer the more natural feel of the Torsen, which was also easier to drift.
The issue I found was weight. The brakes responded well on track, but in the first run of the day, I had the pedal go to the floor on the second lap. I don't think it was the pads giving up, but rather the street-spec fluid boiling trying to get this heavy coupe stopped. I ended up taking it easier on the RC in certain areas of the circuit in order to maximize the fun times.
Is the RC F better than a BMW M3? I haven't driven the M3 yet, but I find it hard to think that the RC F would be better. But is that the point? Everyone in this class needs their unique calling card. The Lexus is more blunt instrument than precision tool. You can't treat the RC F like it's a serious track day weapon. With that big snout, carbon roof, and exaggerated design features, it obviously has a sense of humor, which is something Lexus has never really had. And if you can't have fun in the RC F, then you really don't know what humor is. That makes the RC F easily the best Lexus I've ever driven.