Getting closer to the RC, but not much closer to clarity.
ONE of the best things about parting company with a long-term test car is the final tub. I like to do it by hand with a thin cleaning cloth, so you feel every sinew, curve and edge. It’s really quite intimate, and you get to appreciate things that might have escaped you in the hurly burly of daily life.
For example, I haven’t often stopped to appreciate the Lexus RC200t’s butt. Usually I only ponder the edgy front end, which never really won me over, but those sleek tail-lights, square exhausts and straked vents behind the rear wheels are the business.
Another thing that struck me as I worked my way down its flanks and over the bonnet is how small this coupe is. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise really because it’s low and short – shorter than the IS even – but as I discussed last month, the RC carries a couple of hundred kilos more than its major rival and therefore tends to feel big and heavy. Solid certainly, but hardly lithe.
I also reflected on six months of trouble-free motoring and how well it coped with some hard driving, mainly in the urban jungle. The slow throttle response remained a constant annoyance, and it took the edge off the undoubted performance potential of the 2.0-litre turbo four, but the car felt secure on the road. The handling was predictable (always tending to safe understeer) and the brakes were utterly dependable, though as I worked my fingers over the multitude of front wheel spokes with their different surfaces, I realised how much pad dust they produced, so I’m guessing they’re on the soft side.
Moving into the cabin with a damp sponge, I was also reminded that I’d never opt for light-coloured leather upholstery. Just as the editor found with his Mazda MX-5, my Lexus seats were looking decidedly grubby after only six months as they accumulated dye residue from my black jeans. At least I hope that’s what it was.
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of leather seats – they feel cold in winter and burn in summer after you’ve been parked in the sun, then continue to be sweaty – but the RC’s heating function through the cold months on our fleet were certainly appreciated by driver and passengers alike. Leather looks great, especially in a darker colour, but I’d still elect for cloth trim from a purely practical perspective.
At the wheel, I’m also reminded of how snug the cockpit feels. It really does feel like a fighter jet with its low seating position, high armrest and equally high centre console decked out in thoroughly modern switchgear (aside from the ‘analogue’ clock, which is a classy touch and not just retro).
But now it’s time to part ways and I’m no closer to resolving what Lexus stands for, as I’d hoped when we started six months ago. I even sought guidance from my friend Simon Hammond, a former motoring writer and now a world authority on brands (whose book BE Brands is a must-read for anyone involved in business). “Lexus stands for nothing,” he said firmly. “It has no real brand position and merely relies on its styling, which is not enough when every manufacturer ends up copying styles.” Wise words.
Maybe in hindsight I needed to experience Lexus’s renowned servicing and customer relations to fully appreciate the brand. Or do people just buy a Lexus to be different, to avoid the predictable European brands, or because they like some flashy bling?
I’d be more inclined to the RC200t if it was a lot lighter, lost the foot parking brake and infuriating touchpad, and became authentic instead of having the electronics influence everything you do, feel and hear.
Maybe a lack of authenticity has been Lexus’s problem all along and it’s yet to find its true passion. A sports coupe this heavy, which doesn’t allow you to drive it properly, is not an authentic sports coupe at all.
Turbo four versus atmo six
Wheels readers will be more aware than anyone of the trend away from big naturally aspirated engines to smaller, turbocharged fours. Lexus is impacted by world environmental pressures like all other carmakers and consequently introduced across its range this 2.0-litre turbo four, which produces a healthy 180kW and 350Nm.
But Lexus still offers a 3.5-litre atmo V6 in the RC and I reckon it would be worth the extra $3000. It only adds about 15kg to the nose of the car, which is not a lot when the RC is already way over the odds, and you get an extra 53kW and 28Nm, slashing the 0-100km/h sprint time from 7.5sec to just 6.1. On paper, the RC350 uses an extra 2.1 litres for every 100 kays, but looking at our long-termer’s six-month average of 11.2L/100km, I’d bet the difference would be less than that in the real world.
Read part five of our 2016 Lexus RC200t long-term car review.
Lexus RC200t F-Sport
Price as tested: $76,500
Part 6: 509km @ 11.3L/100km
Overall: 6274km @ 11.2L/100km
Date acquired: April 2016