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Lexus RC 350 F-Sport

 

Lexus has become ambitious with the RC 350 F-Sport coupe: it’s taking on the German coupe establishment at its own game. How does it stack up?

Base price: $122,500.

Powertrain and performance: 3.5-litre petrol V6, 233kW/378Nm, 8-speed automatic, rear-drive, Combined economy 9.4 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 6.3 seconds.

Vital statistics: 4695mm long, 1395mm high, 2730mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 374 litres, fuel tank 66 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels on 235/40 front and 265/35 rear tyres.

We like: Styling, packed with technology and equipment, build quality.

We don’t like: Has dynamic ability but lacks involvement, fiddly Remote Touch Interface in cabin.

How it rates: 7/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Virtually every time that Lexus has launched a new model over the past decade, the company has proclaimed that it’s shaking off its staid image in favour of high style and engaging dynamics.

It’s happened again with the introduction of the RC coupe, but at least this time the product presents a convincing argument. This is a sexy two-door that’s not intended to contribute to overall volume as much as it is to creating a halo effect for the Japanese brand.

The RC is not based on any one Lexus sedan: up front it owes a lot to the GS, the middle section is borrowed from the previous-shape IS convertible (due to its torsional rigidity) and much of the rear platform is current-generation IS.

Lexus offers the RC in two V6 versions, the luxury 350 Limited and our more driver-focused 350 F-Sport. The flagship model is the V8-powered RC-F super-coupe.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The RC’s basic layout sticks to sports-coupe tradition: powerful V6 engine up front, intimate cabin and rear-wheel drive. However, you wouldn’t exactly call it old-school. There are a number of technologies in the F-Sport designed to improve its driver appeal and make it more nimble through corners.

All RC models have a controller that allows the driver to choose between economy, sport and comfort modes for the powertrain and suspension, but the F-Sport adds an extra setting: sport plus.

The car is fitted as standard with variable-ratio steering. The suspension is adaptive. Most significantly, the F-Sport boasts four-wheel steering: at low speeds the rear axles turn in the opposite way to the front for maximum agility, while at higher velocity they go in the same direction for smooth cornering.

So while coupes are very much about fashion, the RC 350 F-Sport is still no pretender when it comes to driver appeal – even if the noise from the V6 engine under load is artificially generated.

It’s an appropriately fast and genuinely assured machine on the road, tackling tight corners with incredible composure and serving strong performance in the two sport modes. It does so without great opportunity cost to comfort, even the most aggressive sport plus mode.

If there’s anything missing, it’s a bit of character. Not visual character: the RC is bursting with that. But while the engine delivers on sheer performance, it doesn’t give that impression of sheer punch and aural pleasure that you get from its closest rival, the BMW 435i. Even though the Lexus has similar outputs.

You’d say the same of the handling. There is no doubting the RC 350 F-Sport’s sheer ability, but the various technologies at work and the way the handling character of the car changes as each comes into play does give the car a slightly artificial feel.

To some, that may not be an issue: the F-Sport is certainly a very easy car to drive quickly, with impressive grip and composure. Through very tight corners it feels almost unstickable.

The RC 350 F-Sport comes as standard with adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts your speed to maintain the correct distance to the car in front. A welcome feature, although the Lexus system is still awkward compared to Mercedes-Benz’s Distronic Plus, which is so smooth you’d hardly guess it was operating. Nor does Lexus cruise control have the stop-and-go function (where it can slow to a standstill and then start off again without disabling cruise control) offered by Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? Lexus claims that none of the interior architecture in the RC is carried over from the IS or GS. That said, the cabin is familiar place, with the textbook new-generation Lexus layered styling, the signature F-Sport sliding centre dial in the instrument binnacle and a level of fit and finish that is truly outstanding. It makes a BMW 4-series seem positively low-rent.

Attention to detail is very much a Lexus thing: each of the three RC models have their own design of front seat, for example. The F-Sport’s are superb, as is the delicate shape of the steering wheel.

The cabin has its idiosyncrasies, though. The sliding dial on the instrument panel is shared with other F-Sport models and is said to be inspired by the LFA supercar. The dial sits in the centre of the instrument in default mode, but at the press of a button it slides aside to allow room for more information on the left. It’s a guaranteed talking point and really just a bit of fun, so it seems churlish to criticise it; but it’s still a gimmick rather than a functional piece of equipment.

Of greater relevance: extensive use of digital graphics on the instrument panel means that it can change look and configuration depending on what mode you’re in.

The RC is the second Lexus to have a new infotainment system controller called Remote Touch Interface (the first was the NX crossover). The previous joystick-type controller was a difficult thing to use and this is not a lot better, despite being more sophisticated. The pad allows you to swipe and pinch, just like a smartphone screen. But as with the previous joystick, the movement is not linear; instead, it prompts the cursor to jump to the next icon.

The RTI can be adjusted for sensitivity and gives clear feedback to your fingertips when you are using it, but it’s still a frustrating device. No doubt RC and NX owners will eventually get the hang of it. But it still seems like a case of Lexus doing something different for the sake of it.

You still can’t input a satellite navigation destination or dial a phone number on the system while the car is moving – even if you’re the passenger.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? The coupe market is notoriously fickle, but the RC 350 F-Sport could sell on styling and build quality alone. It looks and feels truly special, inside and out.

Full credit to Lexus for pursuing some genuine sporting credentials with this car as well: it’s brisk and packed with driver-assistance technology.

A genuine contender, then, although it trades off some involvement and dynamic character in its pursuit of engineering excellence and ease-of-use.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: Yes
  • Lane guidance: Yes
  • Autonomous braking: Pre-crash braking
  • Cruise control: Adaptive
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Intelligent headlights: Automatic LED high-beam and levelling
  • Parking radar: Yes with camera
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/Yes
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

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