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2019 Lexus RC F Track Edition review: First Australian drive

By Chris Thompson, 09 Apr 2020 Reviews

2019 Lexus RC F Track Edition performance review feature

Is this the best RC Lexus has ever built?


MOTOR review

In some ways, the Lexus RC F Track Edition is the most focused coupe Lexus has built since the LFA. But it also seems a little confusing.

For a brand with an average buyer age north of 55 years-old, building a carbon and metal car that looks like it belongs on a racetrack… in a videogame… seems an odd move.

MOTOR review: RC F Track Edition first American drive

It exudes automotive aggro, from the staggered titanium exhausts turned blue from heat, past the lightweight forged BBS wheels, up to the black and white face of our test car, looking like a Stormtrooper has left the Star Wars universe and gone anime instead. Fortunately, the imposing black ‘n’ white works in the Track Edition’s favour.

The carbon wing on the back is also a big tick for these eyes, though it doesn’t seem like something Lexus would normally do itself.

But it’s not all show. The carbon keeps the RC F’s centre of gravity lower, and the 19-inch BBS wheels reduce unsprung weight, helping the big carbon ceramics behind them pull the admittedly still-heavy car up. Weight is also saved though the removal of Lexus’ tricky computerised torque vectoring diff (TVD) in favour of a Torsen mechanical unit (we’ll get to that later), as well as a hollow but reinforced driveshaft.

Supra who? Four of the Lexus RC F Track Edition's best bits

Carbon and simplification mean the Track Edition is down 65 kilograms from its standard RC F sibling, the equivalent of kicking out your smallish passenger to get a faster lap time.

And while the weight reduction is welcome, it’s the simplification which achieved it that makes the Track Edition a better car. It’s like Lexus’ engineers stopped trying to turn an ageing car into something ‘cutting-edge’, and instead embraced the fact it’s a bit old school.

From inside, the retro vibe is strong thanks to red carpeting, Alcantara, and leather, with the now-dated Lexus infotainment system taking pride of place in the centre. That touchpad must go. Please, Lexus?

Start up, and the 5.0-litre sounds relatively muted for what it is. It’s also rev-limited based on engine temperature, so reaching the upper-end of the tacho where the V8 really sings is only possible after getting on your way.

This means its peak power of 351kW, which is available at 7100rpm, is off-limits at first. Peak torque, however, is. The full 530Nm comes along at 4800rpm, and stick around until 5600rpm, though the sound of induction and atmo screams tempt you to chase the redline. Sticking near it is also easier thanks to a honey of an 8-speed torque converter, which responds eagerly to upshift requests (via paddle or shifter) and is still relatively compliant when it comes to downshifts.

As a car to drive on the road every day, the Track Edition is a little stiff, though that gearbox becomes very smooth in Comfort. The car handles and behaves well, but even Comfort mode gets a little much after a long stint behind the wheel – which itself is not massively feelsome thanks to numb but light steering. But as a driver’s car, this might be one of Lexus’ best.

Without masses of boost, the RC F’s need to remain towards the top of the tachometer means even in a straight line, there’s an element of excitement to the car that’s not incredibly common. Luckily, that carries through to its cornering ability.

Wheels shod with MOTOR’s Tyre Test 2019 winner, the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, help hide a little of the RC F’s weight through bends, as it makes traction rather predictable. The tyres are sticky enough that they won’t let go given a reasonably sharp turn, but they won’t surprise you with a sudden loss of traction if you overcook it.

This means you can have a little bit of fun with the rear, via your right foot, if you happen to find the right moment. This also comes thanks to the Torsen diff, where the techy TVD unit would be trying to fight your mid-corner antics by keeping you ‘on course’.

But where the diff’s advantage is simplicity, it’s a good thing the brakes went the other way. Rather large carbon ceramics are capable of halting the relatively heavy car efficiently, but doing it mid-corner can result in some unwanted rotation, and doing it in the wet… well, the whole exercise becomes a bit sketchy in the wet – you’re best to choose a dry day as 1715kg becomes rather a handful otherwise.

But even then, it’s actually a fun handful. A reminder that bug V8 coupes can still be muscular, and that Japan still builds exciting cars north of the $100,000 marker.

Sure, it’s probably not going to be the first choice for the 60-year-old business exec who’s owned Lexus cars since he was a yuppie, but with only 10 Track Editions coming to Australia, it shouldn’t be too hard to find buyers even at $166K. It’s certainly rarer than a C63 S Coupe or an M4 Competition. It’s also arguably as likeable, even if not as capable.

It turns out Lexus’ strange exercise in undergoing a track-focused rebrand makes sense after all, even if you don’t quite get it at first.

2019 Lexus RC F Track Edition specs
BODY: 2-door, 2-plus-2 seat coupe
DRIVE: rear-wheel
ENGINE: 4969cc V8, DOHC, 32v
BORE/STROKE: 94 x 89.5mm
COMPRESSION: 12.3:1
POWER: 351kW @ 7100rpm
TORQUE: 530Nm @ 4800-5600rpm
WEIGHT: 1715kg
POWER-TO- WEIGHT: 204kW/tonne
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: double wishbone, dampers, coil-springs anti-roll bar (f); multi-link, dampers, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
L/W/h: 4710/2050/1390mm
WHEELBASE: 2730mm
STEERING: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: 380mm carbon ceramic discs, 6-piston calipers (f); 380mm carbon ceramic discs, 4-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 19.0 x 9.0-inch (f); 19.0 x 10.0-inch (r)
TYRES: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, 255/35 ZR19 (f); 275/35 ZR19 (r)
PRICE: $165,690

LIKES: GT3 styling; won’t get tired; old-school fun; sounds potent but…

DISLIKES: …should sound angrier; still a weighty unit; THAT INFOTAINMENT INTERFACE

4 out of 5 stars

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Second Opinion: Wheels review

Overall Rating

5 0 5

Plus & Minus

  1. Plus Glorious V8 soundtrack; rear-driven dynamics; interior quality

  2. Minus It’s far from cheap; up against stiff competition; cabin ergonomics

The Wheels Verdict: The Lexus RC F Track Edition might not be the sharpest tool in the performance-coupe shed, but it has a good heart. It's easy to like from behind the wheel and, most importantly, Lexus has kept the naturally aspirated V8. It offers old-school thrills with a modern twist... just be prepared to pay for the privilege.

WHAT IS THE LEXUS RC F TRACK EDITION?

At $165,482 the Lexus RC F Track Edition isn’t cheap – it’s now squarely in the crosshairs of serious German performance. For the extra spend over the standard $133,921 RC F, the circuit-focused version gains Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, 19-inch BBS alloys, a mechanical LSD, myriad carbonfibre additions and a lighter titanium exhaust.

WHY WE’RE TESTING IT

According to Lexus, it’s the next-quickest model the marque has made behind the LFA. That’s not an insignificant call from the luxury Japanese brand. So we’d better see if it stacks up on Aussie roads.

LEXUS RC F TRACK EDITION REVIEW

Car buyers are, as a summation rather than a rule, governed by habit and perceived reputations. Going outside usual lines is more a rarity than the norm. Those within the circa $150-$200K performance coupe market generally stick to the trusted German trio of the Audi RS5, BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S. You could even throw in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for kicks. However, there is another way to gain two-door, rear-drive thrills – and it’s decidedly more old school.

It’s been around down under in various guises since 2015, but the Lexus RC F has always been the left-of-centre beacon for individuality. The exterior styling is polarising and the outright performance isn’t quite comparable to the Germans. However, that hasn’t stopped the team in Nagoya honing it to what we see here, the Track Edition. Which seems rather odd given you’d unlikely state the RC F’s USP as a circuit warrior.

Still, at $165,482 the newly coined Track Edition is festooned with carbonfibre, so much so that the kerb weight has been cut by 65kg to 1715kg. You also get beefed-up brakes in the form of Brembo carbon-ceramic discs (380mm all round, six-piston calipers front and four rear), BBS alloys and a titanium exhaust. The huge carbonfibre rear wing screams GT3 pretensions, while the underlying RC F exterior design is only amplified by the various addenda.

Read next: Great V8 mega test: the best V8s on sale, tested

While it remains unchanged, the beating heart of the RC F is still one of the key factors that make you want it. The atmo 5.0-litre V8 produces 351kW and 530Nm and can vault the Track Edition to 100km/h in a launch-control-assisted 4.2 seconds. Not bad given the 1.7-tonne heft. Throttle response is top notch, but the 4969cc bent-eight needs more than 3000rpm to boogie, so working the eight-speed auto’s lower ratios returns the most meaningful progress.

And boy does it emit a soulful tune while doing so. It’s deep and burbly down low, but shifts up as the revs rise and the heady induction roar joins the party in the upper reaches of the tacho. The torque-converter auto will even blip the throttle on downshifts (although the change doesn’t always happen as immediately as you want it to), which verges on sounding like the LC500. NASCAR eat your heart out.

Dynamically the RC F is surprisingly good fun – and competent. Despite wearing grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber (255/35 ZR19 front and 275/35 ZR19 rear), the back end is mobile. It’ll even squirm in a straight line under heavy load and it’s easy to attain controllable levels of slip on corner exit. The Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential helps here, as does the ‘Expert’ mode for the ESC. 

In terms of ride quality it is slightly sharper than the garden-variety RC F, but there is a genuine suppleness and added control. The damping range and suspension tune works well enough both for comfort and performance levels. The steering isn’t the final word on feel, but it is progressive and direct. Accounting for much of the Track Edition’s price premium over the regular RC F, the Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes are very strong and fail to fade with heavy use.

Read next: How Lexus built the best sounding engine of the last decade

The interior is showing its age. Yes, there is a high level of quality - it’s a Lexus after all - but the design has dated and the ergonomics are unresolved. The track pad that manages the infotainment system is a case in point. It’s unresponsive, or annoyingly sensitive when you don’t want it to be. Add to this the fact that the 10.3-inch colour screen isn’t touch-enabled and the graphics are in need of modernisation.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now both standard, and you still get the quirky touch-sensitive climate controls and prominent analogue clock. Space is okay, but the rear seats are for kids or occasional use only, and the driver’s seat is too high for tall drivers. The boot is spacious at 366 litres.

Read next: Atmo heroes comparison

All in all, the Track Edition retains the liveability factors that make the RC F such an easy GT cruiser. Factor in the driving experience on offer and it’s one of those cars that get under your skin and make you love them.

So, we arrive at the $165K question – is the RC F Track Edition worth the spend? The harsh reality is that the Lexus is one segment option too far. You’d have to be slightly mad to buy it over the Audi, BMW or AMG equivalents at this price point. But then, we’d completely understand if you did.

RIVALS

Audi RS5; BMW M4; Chevrolet Camaro ZL1; Mercedes-AMG C63 S

 

Lexus RC F Track Edition specifications

Model: Lexus RC F Track Edition

Engine: 4969cc V8, dohc, 32v

Max power: 351kW @ 7100rpm

Max torque: 530Nm @ 4800-5600rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 1715kg

0-100km/h: 4.2 seconds

Economy: 11.2L/100km

Price: $165,482

On sale: Now

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