Lexus RC F: Japan's Answer To The BMW M4 and Audi RS5?
Is Lexus really contending with the iconic German coupes?
Starting with a good coupe platform, Lexus stuffs its aging yet solid V8 up front, adds a stiffer suspension, mounts massive brakes, and provides all sorts of vents and punchy fender flares to offer the RC F. To contend with the best German sports coupes, it has its hands full, while dealing with stronger brand equity, better looks, and cooler tech from its competition.
While the BMW M4 and Audi RS5 are taking on the segment with smaller turbocharged engines, more aggressive styling cues, and space age bits into the cockpit, Lexus is still lumping around with a dated RC chassis, a basic interior, and a big naturally aspirated V8 under the hood. Does this German sports coupe keep up?
The Key Statistics
Under the hood, Lexus sticks with its trusty 5.0-liter V8 that packs 467 horsepower at 7,600 RPM and 389 lb-ft (527 Nm) of torque from 4,800 - 5,500 RPM. The RC F has more peak power than the M4 and RS5, but its extra grunt is at the top of the rev range, and the Germans' six-cylinder engines make more torque, especially in the mid-range, due to turbocharging. The RC F will shoot from 0-60 MPH in 4.4 seconds, with a 170 MPH top speed, but its acceleration figures are slower than the M4 which hits 60 in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of up to 174 MPH (option to raise the limit from 156) and the RS5's 3.7 sprint to 60 and the same top speed offering as the BMW M4. While the RC F and M4 stick with rear-wheel-drive, the Audi RS5's quicker acceleration can be attributed to its quattro all-wheel-drive setup.
At 3,958 pounds (1,795 kg) the Lexus is only a cheeseburger lighter than the all-wheel-drive RS5, and nearly 300 pounds heavier than the BMW M4. Lexus packs a bit more insulation into its cabins, giving the RC F a quieter environment, but the V8 also carries a big load. EPA fuel economy estimates are 16/24/19 (city/highway/combined), and with good use of the eco mode when I wasn't playing on fun roads, I managed 18 MPG during my week in the RC F.
Base price for the RC F starts at a hair under $70,000, just like its German rivals, and with a bunch of options, the MSRP of my Flare Yellow tester hit $89,305. I'd skip the $11,400 performance package, which is mostly composed of carbon fiber trim pieces, but does include a torque-vectoring upgrade over the standard Torsen limited-slip differential. Also unnecessary to me are the $1,500 optional forged 19" BBS wheels, which are just a style upgrade over the standard forged 19s supplied by BBS.
Your Daily Commute Will Be Fun
When you head to work, your daily jaunt in the RC F will be pleasurable, with the Lexus cabin having good space up front, comfortable--albeit sporty looking--seats that have optional heating and ventilation, and a good driving position for any conditions. If you're buzzing around town in the normal or eco modes, the RC F is composed and easy to manage, even though the rumbly V8 up front will remind you it wants to play. For usual driving, I set up my custom mode to have the engine in eco, with the rest of the car in sport, which kept the MPGs in reasonable range, while giving the steering and suspension a positive feeling. As you rotate the thick-rimmed steering wheel, you'll appreciate how clean inputs are, with a precise delivery.
The swept roofline looks good, but it does compromise visibility when you're checking your passenger side blind spot to change lanes. Don't try to stuff any adults in the rear seats, as the legroom is microscopic, and you're better off just tossing your laptop bag or jacket back there. The space is similar to the BMW M4, with the Audi RS5 I drove not long ago having more rear space. Cargo capacity in the trunk is impressive for a small car, with a deep space available for stuffing golf bags, luggage, and whatever else you can think of.
The RC F's cockpit is behind the times, but it's intuitive. The centrally-placed tachometer pays homage to the legendary LFA, with a digital speedometer incorporated, featuring a quick slide mode to show more menu options. The tach can also be customized with a few theme options, to give you a more tame or sporty look. Lexus has a big infotainment screen in the dash, but it's not a touchscreen, and the user interface, touchpad, and control setup for the RC F is among the worst I've ever used. Fortunately there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed, giving you a big upgrade over the standard Lexus UI. I wish there was a touchscreen or at least an easier wheel or puck setup like you get from the other premium marques to improve this flaw.
Back Road Storming
Robust V8 tones, massive brakes, and an adaptive suspension are a nice combination on the spec sheet, making the RC F seem like it will assault the twisty back roads. From corner to corner, the 5.0-liter engine surges nicely, with a rumble under the hood that can't be replicated by the smaller turbo engines in the M4 and RS5. When it comes to audible joy, there's no replacement for displacement.
Despite a good set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber wrapped around those forged BBS wheels, there's a good amount of understeer, due to the heavy engine up front. Coupled with that was a snap oversteer from a traction control system that would still intervene with random throttle cuts, even though I pushed the button to disable it. The optional torque vectoring and some throttle management from my right foot helped keep the RC F in check, but the front end would tend to plow if I wanted to carry speed into a tight bend.
Ride quality is on the stiff side, so don't set the suspension to sport+ unless you're on perfectly smooth surfaces. Sport mode is perfect for your typical fun driving. Sporting a Brembo setup with 15-inch ventilated rotors and six-piston calipers up front and 13.6-inch rotors and four-piston rotors out back, the RC F shaves speed with ease, for long runs on twisty routes, without a hint of fade. Definitely spend the extra $300 for the orange metallic calipers.
Lexus doesn't cut the mustard in the transmission department, with an automatic that's slow to shift up and down, though the ratios are nicely spaced for daily or fun driving. When taking matters into your own hands, the paddle shifts are delayed, far behind the response times you get from the ZF automatics found in other sports coupes. Those finely brushed pieces of metal mounted to the back of the steering wheel are purely for show.
The RC F never truly felt settled on any set of bends, with me constantly working against, rather than in tune, with it. Not as nimble as the BMW or Audi, the Lexus isn't bad. It's just not up to snuff versus its competition.
Behind The Curve On Paper, And In The Curves
The Lexus F lineup has lagged behind its German competition for years, and the RC F leaves me disappointed. The interior is dated, the infotainment system is awful, the exterior styling is polarizing, and the overall performance isn't on the level of the BMW M4 and Audi RS5. That splendid V8 under the hood can't outweigh the rest of the RC F's negatives.
If the price point was about $15,000 less, Lexus might be able to make a value play against its rivals. Sadly it costs the same money, and you're going to enjoy the experience inside a better cockpit while driving in any conditions in something other than the Lexus RC F.