By Frank S. Washington
White Plains, N.Y. – Lexus of late is beginning to address an Achilles Hill that it has endured for years – its cars. But don’t get it twisted; Lexus cars have earned reputations for great builds, great quality, great materials and its dealers have augmented that with great customer care. All of it is has been well deserved.
However, Lexus cars were also known to be conservatively styled, not a lot of fun to drive and they had smooth but reserved and very quiet powerplants. The Japanese automaker has been addressing each of those concerns with every new product launch.
Now, it enters the luxury sport coupe category with the all-new 2015 Lexus RC. The new car was, as Lexus said, agile, fast and daringly styled. Each trim line, there will be three, has a varying degree of the Lexus spindle grille.
The chief engineer said, “We adopted a design with a compact cabin contrasted by boldly protruding fender flares and body contours etched with deeply sweeping lines.” The Lexus RC was distinctive on the streets.
The 2+2 coupe sat low to the ground, but not that the low. A curving roof that created plenty of head space inside gave it a high profile. That same roof kept it from looking long but it wasn’t bulbous enough for the 2015 Lexus RC to look stubby. It was a nice mix of sleek pragmatism.
The Lexus RC 350 had a 3.5-liter V6 that made 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. The rear-wheel-drive version of the car was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the rear-wheel-drive biased all-wheel-drive version of the car had a six-speed automatic.
Then there will be the RC 350 F Sport. It has the same V6 engine as the 350 but this car was more than an appearance package. The F Sport had rear-wheel-steer to sharpen handling and it also had an adaptive variable damping system that continually optimized roll attitude and rebound control for a flatter ride and a more natural vehicle posture.
And last but probably most important was the Lexus RC F. It had a 5.0-liter V8 engine that made 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission; it could get to 60 mph from a standstill in 4.4 seconds and it had a top speed of 170 mph.
A high-ranking Lexus official told us that the RC was a change agent for the brand. In a nutshell, it will be the RC F that changes the lofty but staid image of Lexus. A lot of technology from the Lexus LFA supercar is being used as Lexus retunes its product line but that highly regarded car was never a halo for the brand. It was on sale for a mere two years and only 500 copies were sold. Sales of the RC on the other hand are expected to be around 18,000 units annually. That’s more than enough to generate word-of-mouth about the RC and the halo that will come with it.
We got in the 2015 Lexus RC F for our drive to the Monticello Motor Club. The V8 came to life with the growl that you’d expect from the sport tuned power plant. But driving through city streets here the car was tame, the engine was quiet and sight lines were pretty good. Never did we feel encapsulated in the cockpit.
All the test cars were pre-production prototypes. Still, there were no flaws that we could see in the workmanship. For its smaller sedans and now coupe, Lexus has reverted to a center stack that’s like a waterfall. There was a vertical navigation screen recessed into the dash creating a shelf, there was a fall off to the vents that were split by an analogue clock, climate and media controls were beneath that and controls for the heated and cooled seats followed on their own plateau. That led to the center console with its gear shifter and ride mode selector.
There was Eco, Normal, Sport and the RC F Sport and RC F added a Sport + setting. There was also a snow setting and that dial would turn off the traction control. It was a great ride. The car was quiet and from a test standpoint, the streets were bumpy, uneven, cracked and flawed. They were great.
But not a bit of noise, vibration or harshness was exhibited by the RC F on the test drive. The same held true for the RC F Sport that we switched to in the middle of the drive. Of course there was less power but the Lexus coupe still tamed the road. We never felt like we had traded down.
Once at the Monticello Motor Club, we took a 2015 Lexus RC F out on the 4.1 mile-long asphalt track and it performed with authority. Tires screeched, the suspension remained stiff, brakes smoked, steering was rifle shot accurate and that engine roared. The car belonged on the track and that statement rarely applies to a Lexus but not anymore.
Prices for the RC 350 start at $45,025 and the base price of the RC F is $62,400.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.