IT'S gloves off as the most potent Lexus goes for the German performance car jugular
WHAT IS IT?
The RC is the coupe version of the IS sedan, and the RC F is the flagship and arch-nemesis of the BMW M4, the Audi RS5 and the Mercedes-AMG C63, some of our favourite cars. It's a 351kW rear-wheel-drive monster.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
It's our first drive on Aussie soil, and sacred soil at that. Taking a rear-drive V8 to Mt Panorama is like presenting a sculpture to Michelangelo, a piece of music to Mozart or asking Don Bradman to rate your batting form.
BMW M4, Audi RS5, Mercedes-AMG C63, Jaguar F-Type R Coupe
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The RC F serves up a delicious V8 with predictable handling, pace and liveability for a compelling price, yet is more gentleman’s GT that fist-pumping performance weapon
PLUS: Tractable engine; timbre; balance
MINUS: Could lose a few pounds; steering; lacks sparkle
THE WHEELS REVIEW
“ON IT NOW!!” my co-driver yells as the nose of the Lexus RC F points skyward out of The Cutting at Bathurst’s famous Mt Panorama circuit.
That V8’s purring, the seat’s holding me firmly as my legs dangle down to the pedals, my right foot easing onto the throttle and trying to avoid kissing – or slamming – this amazing track’s concrete collars. This is Australia’s racing cathedral, and it’s confession time for the first direct rival to the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe.
Lexus has presented the RC F at Mount Panorama after its recent V8 Supercar safety car announcement, and CEO Sean Hanley keeps repeating, “Australians love a naturally aspirated V8!”
He’s not wrong. Lexus reckons they’ve moved the game on since the 311kW IS F sedan that landed in 2010. Between that and the RC F, it has produced the exorbitant but brilliant LF A supercar, and this car is a bit of a mongrel of both – and the new IS sedan.
There are some numbers that are significant to Bathurst folklore: 5.0 litres is also the capacity of Holden’s old Group C V8 (5044cc), and while it’s the same size as the IS F’s V8, only the block is carried over. There’s a full 500rpm more to the redline, now 7300rpm, and a religious reference to the other camp, Ford – with the power of the V8 being 351kW. The famed ‘351’, of course, is the capacity of the 5.8-litre V8 that pushed Allan Moffat to four Bathurst wins.
So the RC F has Bathurst numbers, is named after a racetrack (the F is for Fuji) and is a rear-drive monster.
Inside, the game hasn’t moved on: sure, the seats are brilliant and supportive, the driving position good, if a tad high, and it’s well built – and Lexus has dumped that mouse for a track pad – but it lacks any sparkle or sense of occasion. The instrument cluster can be configured in many ways, but always with a centre tacho and tiny 340km/h speedo, so thankfully there’s also an accurate digital speed read-out.
The rumble of that V8 is superb. It’s not as raucous as the C63’s, but is deliciously bassy and filters through to the cabin to let you never forget what’s beneath the power bulge in the bonnet needed to accommodate the engine.
At $133,500, the RC F is much cheaper than its German rivals, but is this a lack of confidence from Lexus in the product or the brand? Lexus says no, yet it’s difficult to think otherwise.
Up the mountain, the 530Nm of torque surges smoothly through that eight-speed automatic, building pace effortlessly, yet it’s not an adrenalin-charged, elbows-out appetite for corner apexes: this, reckons Lexus, it a Gentleman’s Racer, a GT car, and its character doesn’t argue with that.
There’s a fair amount of on-centre play in the steering, and that means you need a lot of lock to get that heavy nose turned in.
Throttle response is lax in the Normal mode – that’s for slinking around town unnoticed, where the refinement and subtleness plays its hand – but change gears yourself and flick it right up to Sports Plus and it stands on tip-toes ready to run as soon as you flatten the pedal.
The clever torque-vectoring diff – which engineer Yaguchi reckons is better than the RS5’s quattro system – keeps the rear planted as I follow orders from my barking co-driver and plant it out of The Cutting, visualising so many touring cars wiggling their tails into the wall on exit, and pluck third gear on the way out.
One thing the RC F can’t escape is its weight; at 1780kg, it’s 243kg more than an M4, and it shows in its greater thirst for fuel and in its behaviour. On throttle from low speed, it takes a while to get on its hind legs, while the chunkiness is felt turning in, balancing the car or pulling it up after devouring McPhillamy.
After storming Conrod Straight at more than 250km/h (we daren’t look down), the Chase brings out the heft, and even if the six-piston front brakes are mighty, the flip-flop and rise out of it has me managing the mass more than powering on.
Lexus Australia boss Sean Hanley says proudly that the RC F is only “0.3 seconds slower over 2.8km” than an undisclosed main rival – over the Great Race distance, that would put the Lexus almost a lap down – but in the same breath he says this car is not about pace, and it’s not.
The RC F is about balance: it sits flat, controls its minimal roll well, and gradually builds up power. It’s easy to drive – another goal, says Yaguchi-san – and our minimal time on public roads saw it deliver the manners that some of our politicians lack.
It’s obedient, enjoyable and fast, yet somehow unspectacular. That may well be its strength, but the RC F hasn’t moved the game on so much that its opposition needs to try something else.
Model: Lexus RC F
Engine: 4969cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v
Max power: 351kW @ 7100rpm
Max torque: 530Nm @ 4800-5600rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1780kg
0-100km/h: 4.5sec (claimed)
On sale: Now