From £61,3107
Japan’s M4-chaser certainly does rich and exciting but it lacks the usability and dynamic finesse of the class’s big-hitters.

Our Verdict

Lexus RC F

Lexus looks to hit Mercedes-AMG and BMW M where it hurts

  • First Drive

    2015 Lexus RC F UK review

    We get behind the wheel of the Lexus RC F on UK roads to find out if it can surprise and delight enough to take on rivals such as the BMW M4
  • First Drive

    2015 Lexus RC F review

    Japan’s M4-chaser certainly does rich and exciting but it lacks the usability and dynamic finesse of the class’s big-hitters.

What is it?

Toyota’s answer to the BMW M4: the new Lexus RC F, just arrived on European roads and headed for the UK early in 2015.

More high-performance coupé than out-and-out sports car, the RC F has no immediate forebear in the Lexus range, although it effectively succeeds the V8-engined IS F performance saloon of 2007. 

The company decided to sacrifice a bit of usability this time around for the sake of greater style and desirability. They probably also figured that the equity built up by the incredible LFA supercar would better sell coupés than it would saloons.

But Lexus hasn’t simply lopped a couple of doors off an IS saloon and dropped in a 5.0-litre V8. The RC F shares only a very few mechanicals with the GS saloon. Its underbody is all steel, with hot-stamped ultra-high strength sections used to add rigidity to the rocker panels and cabin pillars, and braces reinforcing the body-in-white in no fewer than five separate places.

A 5.0-litre V8 engine will make the car one of only a few performance coupés left on the market that doesn’t use turbochargers. Making 471bhp, it’s an overhauled version of the IS F’s lump given new intake, exhaust, injection, cooling and lubrication systems, as well as lighter internals for a heady 7300rpm redline. Of the current crop of rival fast Germans from BMW’s M division, Audi’s Quattro GmbH and Mercedes-AMG, only the higher-output version of the new twin-turbo C63 will have more power.

That power is deployed via an eight-speed automatic gearbox with a paddleshift manual mode and full torque-converter lock-up in second through to eighth gears. Enhancing traction at the rear wheels is a standard Torsen limited-slip differential, although a much cleverer active torque-vectoring rear diff is available as an option.

It is in fact a planetary gearset outputting to two multi-plate clutches, one on either side of the final drive unit. Managed by electric actuators and a dedicated ECU, the system can route 100 per cent of engine torque to each individual rear wheel and can react to changing surface conditions within a thousandth of a second.

After the likeable dynamic shambles that was the IS F, Lexus has gone all out to ensure that the RC F not only looks like a true hardcore piece of kit but also works like one. Those vents in the front wings really do feed air away from the 380mm front brakes, and there are some fairly aggressive settings for the front suspension and steering systems to make for a grippy and direct front end.

What's it like?

This is Lexus making a £60k luxury coupé as hardcore as it dares – with some success. The RC F feels like a car with it all to prove.

New C63 notwithstanding, it’s got the firmest ride and the most uncompromising damping you’ll find at this price point. The powertrain has moments of wonderful savagery, the handling is direct and interactive, and the car is robust enough from a performance perspective to take as much circuit-based abuse as you’re likely to throw at it. So it’s twice the performance car the IS F was – and yet still not quite a match for its European competition.

Lexus’s styling effort could provide a more inviting prospect. I’ve never been a fan of the brand’s spindle grille and like it even less blown up to gigantic proportions on the current crop of production models. On the RC F it is a blight on an otherwise handsome car that also has an interior richly upholstered, equipped and finished, and room enough for four adults at a squeeze. The seats are excellent, but its steering column isn’t quite as perfectly placed as some. 

An active exhaust system saves RC F owners from theatricality on a par with a Jaguar F-type’s start-up growl. The Lexus starts undramatically and punts around at town speeds comfortably enough, although even here the car’s Sachs performance dampers make their presence known by transmitting plenty of surface patter from the road and yielding only a little to cats eyes and raised ironwork. At higher speeds they keep the body level at all times and deal with compression very well but could do with more subtlety and better rebound control.

Unusually, those dampers are about the only mechanical constituent of the driving experience you can’t meddle with. The car has four drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport S and Sport S+), four stability control modes (Normal, Sport, Off and Expert), automatic and paddleshift manual modes for its transmission and, if you’ve optioned it, three modes for the torque vectoring ‘diff’ (Standard, Slalom and Track).

In Eco mode the V8 engine switches to the Atkinson cycle to save fuel, which sounds incredible but is true. We tried it and it works, so now you know, you can leave yours in Sport S. Meanwhile, the stability control works best in Expert, and the diff in Standard mode, with the throttle-steering possible in Slalom being just a touch too pronounced and indelicate to use regularly on the road.

The car steers with reassuring weight and a bit of feedback and dives into corners flat and with incisive purpose. Cornering balance is biased ever so slightly towards stability on turn-in and understeer mid-corner, but you can neutralize the car’s attitude on a track or through a longer well sighted bend with power. Provided that V8’s in a position to provide that power, that is.

That’s because everything the RC F does to entertain you happens with at least 5000rpm showing on the tacho. It has to. The engine is noticeably short on mid-range thrust below that threshold, and yet makes the car quite seriously fast and exciting to drive above it. If you thought Audi’s 4.2-litre atmospheric V8 felt a bit peaky, this trumps it – and by some way.

The RC F’s driver therefore has a choice to make: enjoy a typically Lexus waft down the road in a cabin with excellent wind suppression and an engine and transmission that are entirely docile at low and middling revs, or clog it in Manual mode with the crank spinning at anti-social speeds and the handling alive underneath you.

There is no middle ground state in which the car can operate half as well. The transmission kicks down clumsily in every automatic mode, and though it downshifts quite nicely under hard braking, it  generally gives you the impression that keeping that atmospheric V8 revving in its sweet spot is a big ask. 

That ends up being the biggest criticism you can level at the RC F. The car is more than thrilling enough when you’re charging along hard and just about refined enough to soothe when the former mode has worn out your enthusiasm – but it’s not an effortless fast cruiser.

While the F-type V6 S and M4 have the chassis tune and powertrain responses for brisk, long-striding, give-and-take mileage, the Lexus insists on pausing for a moment, kicking down three ratios and then going like a missile every time you exit a tight corner or pass a dawdling supermini. Rounded it ain't.

Should I buy one?

As a character car, a break from the German performance mainstream – perhaps. But not with mixed daily use in mind, and certainly not because you suspect Lexus has rediscovered the dynamic brilliance of the LFA here.

The RC F is a lot of things, and a lot of fun in the right circumstances. But a BMW M4 is a much more precise, punchy and generally rewarding drive.

The really interesting thing that the RC F shows is how hard Lexus is prepared to work and how committed it’s willing to be in order to establish itself as a maker of truly credible performance machines.

After the miscue that was the IS F, it has blazed its effort high and wide this time. But it has also fired a warning shot that will get the attention of plenty of people in Munich, Neckarsulm, Affalterbach and elsewhere.


Lexus RC F


Price: £59,995 0-62mph: 4.5sec
 Top speed: 168mph (limited) 
Economy: 26.2mpg
 CO2: 252g/km 
Kerb weight: 1765kg 
Engine type, cc: V8, 4969cc, petrol 
Power: 471bhp at 7100rpm
 Torque: 391lb ft at 4800-5600rpm
 Gearbox: 8-spd automatic

Join the debate

Comments
3

9 December 2014
Dear God, but that is an ugly, ugly car!

9 December 2014
....im looking at you German rivals

10 December 2014
Truly grotesque looking vehicle. Looks like it's been involved in several accidents already. Perhaps that's the aim of Lexus' new design direction, to save their customers money in body-shop fees. Because prang this thing and nobody need ever know!

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