Since 2006, the luxury brand Lexus has been working to reinvent itself and provide a channel for in-house performance products. Like BMW’s M-series or Nissan’s NISMO line of cars, the Lexus F-Sport line seeks to combine high quality, luxury and performance into one specialized package. Some might recall the limited production Lexus LFA supercar of 2010-12 that featured a mid-engine design, carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) chassis and F1-related V10 engine that cost nearly half a mil. These are the so-called “halo” cars, whose beauty, power and performance filters down through the rest of the line and raises all boats. Added in 2015, the Lexus RC-F is a high performance coupe that fits the bill of a halo car, but with a price tag that is at least closer to what some consumers can aspire to.
Styling of the RC-F is striking from all angles. When viewed from the front, the domed, muscular hood, hot air outlets and trademark spindle grille stand out. The side view offers an aggressive stance, bulging fenders and sleek fastback silhouette. From the back, the stacked double exhaust pipes on each side, rear central diffuser and LFA-like articulated spoiler promise unbridled performance. All these design cues are accentuated by a bright ruby red hue that Lexus calls “Infrared”, but we know as a modern shade of Candy Apple Red. The cockpit of the RC-F is almost as striking as the exterior, with electroluminescent gauges, soft touch controls and angular curves throughout the instrument panel (IP). Touch the start button and you’re greeted by the bark of a 5.0-liter V8 with 467 HP on tap. This V8 is a jewel and will easily rev to 7,100 using 32 titanium valves, four cams and eight high-compression pistons. Open it up, and the V8 emits a low bellow at anything more than 2/3rd throttle.
On a drive through the Fraser valley and up through Trail Ridge Road (just before it closed for the season), the RC-F was a fine companion. With plenty of power and torque on hand, the eight-speed automatic tranny and Torsen LSD made short work of any pass that needed to be made. The RC-F chassis dynamics were solid, yet the suspension settings soft enough for a firm, but easy ride. Steering feel was precise, and it was easy to position the coupe anywhere I wanted on the roadway. But there’s always a trade-off for such a compliant ride, and in this case it went right up to the 8/10ths mark. Anything beyond that (say that decreasing radius off-ramp), resulted in understeer just after corner entry with lots of body lean. And while the RC-F has a sport mode, it didn’t extend to firming up swaybars or increasing shock rates. Brake modulation was good, with large twin pot monoblock calipers grabbing hold of 15” slotted discs up front and single pot monoblocks with 13.6” rotors out back. Forged alloy 19” wheels with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport (255-35-19 F and 275-35-19 R) summer rubber were another plus for this RWD sport coupe.
Some might say the RC-F is no match for other performance vehicles in its price range ($74,560 MSRP), and I’d be inclined to agree. The performance is simply not there at the upper end of the spectrum. But Lexus has clearly made a choice in skewing the RC-F further towards the luxury side of the equation in the high-end sport coupe market and that’s fine. One thing we’re unlikely to see is anyone wanting to convert an RC-F into a racecar. With a curb weight near two tons, and a static weight distribution of 54 F/46 R, it’s going to be difficult to get the power-to-weight ratio into a competitive range, or overcome some basic handling deficiencies. Leave that to the GT3 version of the RC-F that is under development for professional (read: well-funded) racers. But if you enjoy state-of-the-art electronics—including a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system that’s among the finest I’ve ever heard—together with refined luxury in a great looking sport coupe, Lexus might just have you covered.