After debuting in 1989 with two sedans, the Camry-based ES250 and the big rear-wheel drive LS400, Lexus began to grow its lineup in 1991 with the sleek and stylish SC400. The original SC had a nine-year run before being replaced by a the bloated and lifeless second-generation model which is best forgotten. Now, after a suitable cooling off period, Lexus has returned to its roots with a new coupe more in keeping with the original and it gets a new RC badge. Does the 2015 RC350 F-Sport take Lexus in a new direction? Read on.
In many respects, the RC is the opposite of most of what Lexus has represented throughout the brand’s quarter century existence. From the very beginning, driving or riding in a Lexus has been a uniquely serene and isolated experience. The cars were smooth, vibration-free and remarkably quiet. Aside from the extremely low-volume LF-A supercar and the previous IS-F, this has always been the case including the ES350h I recently drove. The RC is certainly nothing like a raucous American muscle car but it feels so much more alive than any of the other Lexi I’ve driven over the years.
From the outside, the relatively low-slung coupe has adopted much of the design language of the LF-LC concept from 2012 which itself adopted a lot of the LF-A. Out front, the RC is probably the best production interpretation of the signature Lexus spindle grille. The base RC gets vertical bars in the grille while the F-Sport uses the same diamond mesh pattern found on the V8-powered RC-F.
A thin strip of chrome surrounds the grille and a pair of small LED driving lamps are set into the lower portions of the trim. The main headlamps are also LED powered for excellent nighttime illumination. Openings in the lower corners of the grille feed into ducts that flow air directly over the front brakes to keep fade to a minimum in hard use.
The sculpting of the rear rocker panels echoes the intake ducts on the concept but the openings are gone on this car. In the rear corners, the vents of the concept are now filled with faux strakes that serve no functional purpose. In proper coupe fashion, the greenhouse is compact and set well back relative to the lower body. While this gives the car a very dynamic look, it definitely hurts rear quarter visibility thanks to small quarter windows and thick, steeply raked C-pillars.
Under the body, the RC combines the front suspension of the midsize GS sedan with the rear end of the smaller IS sedan. The RC350 I drove was the lighter rear-wheel drive edition although an all-wheel-drive version is also available with a 140-pound mass penalty. All RC350s are powered by the 3.5-liter gasoline V6 found in several other Lexus models that features both port and direct injection for better all-around driveability. The V6 is rated at 306-horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Not surprisingly, no manual transmissions are offered in the RC but the rear-drivers get an eight-speed automatic while extra traction models get two fewer gears. Base RC350s get 18-inch alloy wheels with 235/45/R18 all-season rubber. The F Sport gets 19-inch, 10-spoke wheels with staggered 235/40R19 front and 265/35R19 rear summer tires.
As soon as you open the doors, you realize that this is not your typical Lexus. The heavily-bolstered front seats are clearly designed to hold the driver securely in front of the steering wheel during swift driving maneuvers. Sliding into the throne, is surprisingly easy thanks to a large body opening. The seats are extremely comfortable in all the right places and I’d love to see these in other cars from Toyota’s premium brand. The F Sport adds contrasting stitching to the leather and aluminum pedals along with an F badge on the bottom of the steering wheel to distinguish it from lesser models.
The RC has a pair of rear upholstered spaces with seatbelts, but frankly like many coupes, this car is best considered as two seater. With a mere 27.3-inches of legroom and 34.8-inches of headroom in the rear, you have to wonder why they even bother.
Press the button to the right of the instrument cluster and the V6 engine fires up with a surprising growl for a Lexus. Slide the shifter back to drive and take it out onto the road and the RC actually comes alive. With either the sport mode or the manual shifting mode engaged, the V6 revs happily and makes a wonderful mechanical sound that says let’s find some curves and play. The RC will run to 60 mph in a bit under six seconds which is quite respectable even if it won’t keep up with contemporary Mustangs or Camaros.
Press the RC into a turn and the steering feels quite good with decent feedback and nice weighting. The pedals behind the steering wheel allow gear selections without releasing your grip on the tiller although shifts don’t seem to come quite as quickly as those in the DCT-equipped Acura ILX.
In addition to the appearance changes and the larger rolling stock, the F Sport package adds several other functional upgrades to the RC350. The front brake rotors increase in diameter from 13.15-inches to a 14.06-inches, adaptive dampers are included and the steering gets a variable ratio system in the front as well as active rear steering. The ride quality of the RC is definitely on the stiff side for a Lexus but it is by no means uncomfortable even over the pock-marked roads in this region. Switching back and forth between normal and sport modes didn’t seem to make any noticeable difference.
As mentioned above, over the shoulder visibility is severely compromised by the roof profile although it straight back, the sides and forward are good. Fortunately the RC came equipped with a blind spot indicator system along with other driver assists such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.
The infotainment system was the standard Lexus Enform system that has support for bluetooth audio streaming and using selected smartphone apps through the Enform app which requires an owner account. Enform provides drivers with access to Bing search, Open Table, Yelp, Pandora, iHeartRadio and more using voice commands. Interestingly, Lexus has changed up its control interface. For the past several years, Lexus has used a stubby joystick/mouse-like controller that provided haptic feedback as the cursor reaches the click buttons on the screen. The RC has touch pad that provides similar haptic feedback as you slide your finger across it. It’s rather difficult to imagine until you actually try it, but like the previous controller the physical hints it provides the driver actually work quite well.
Overall, the RC350 comes across as a very capable luxury sport coupe that is in most ways on a par with competitors like the Audi A5/S5. However, this is realistically just a two seater with the rears limited only to small children. Build quality and fit and finish are up to the expected high Lexus standards. The EPA estimates the rear-drive RC350 fuel economy at 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined and I saw about 21 mpg during my week with the coupe. As tested with most of the available options aside from the all-wheel-drive, the test car priced out a $53,415 including delivery which is quite competitive for the segment. This one is definitely worth a look if you want a quick, stylish coupe.