Lexus RC350 F-Sport: Old-school GT
Lexus RC350 F-Sport
By: Jesse Adams
Johannesburg - You have to give Lexus some credit. It’s not afraid to push styling boundaries.
The new RC350 F-Sport falls into a well-stocked luxury coupé category, but no 4 Series or A5 will summon stares quite like this model of modernism.
At the front is the biggest spindle grille yet fitted to a Lexus model; its giant lower lip evokes images (for me anyway) of a grimacing whale shark scooping up meals off the road surface.
Any confusion around the brand’s curiously named ‘L-Finesse’ design language is also put to rest here, with L-shapes incorporated everywhere. Some subtle, some not.
At night, with its glut of LED lamps illuminated, there’s no mistaking this for anything but a Lexus, so obvious are all the glowing Ls. And those headlights... I’ve seen some wild designs in my time, but concave lenses? Clearly designers were enjoying some manga marathons in their off days.
Interestingly, and unlike most of its competitors, the RC isn’t based on a sibling sedan chassis with slinkier skin and two deleted doors. Lexus says the bones beneath this coupé are a combination of its GS (front end), IS convertible (centre) and IS sedan (rear) underpinnings - thus the new RC nameplate. The title GS or IS Coupé just wouldn’t have been accurate or appropriate.
Its dimensions are only millimetres bigger than those of its German rivals, but somehow the RC looks and feels like a much bigger car. I’d almost consider it a grand tourer if I didn’t know it was only 57mm longer than a 435i.
I wouldn’t use the cliched term of ‘shrinking around you’ when describing the driving experience either. Despite a back seat suitable only for kids who can’t yet walk, the cabin offers an air of spaciousness with its deep dashboard profile and a seven inch multimedia display positioned at much further than an arm’s reach away.
I actually mistook this colour monitor for a touchscreen, as per other Lexus and Toyota models, but it’s only controllable via a square touch-sensitive pad aft of the gear lever.
It’s an unusual way of working such a complex series of infotainment, navigation and vehicle settings menus, but is reasonably intuitive once you’ve figured the gist of its mouse-like cursor. Still, I find other knob or dial-type controllers (read German) less distracting while on the move.
Although the RC is sold overseas with various engine choices, for now it’s only available here in this 3.5-litre V6 guise. If this were a shootout test with direct comparisons to the 435i, we’d have to dock points for a relative lack of technology under the Lexus hood, but because it’s not I’ll focus on its strong points.
It’s a naturally-aspirated unit with a relatively big capacity, so there are no turbolag or responsiveness issues to speak of. It also picks up a noteworthy induction-system howl just as the variable valve timing (VVT-i) kicks in midway through its rev range, and its old-school nature is a nice reminder of how things used to be before turbo tech took over.
Outputs are pegged at 233kW and 378Nm, and it’s eager to spin right up to its 6600rpm redline, but it’s hard not to notice Gauteng’s thin air and the car’s 1.7-ton kerb weight robbing it of some performance.
With our Vbox reading out a best 0-100km/h sprint of 7.6 seconds, the RC350 is unable to challenge the high-altitude acceleration of its turbo- or supercharged rivals; but then that airbox noise does at least offer some sense of speed, even if it is just an aural illusion.
It might be of huge importance for some performance coupé buyers to know just how sharply a car turns into a corner, or how quickly it snaps through gears, or how predictable an electronic-differential lock-up is in the milliseconds before oversteer is forced upon it; and if that’s the case for you... look elsewhere. While the RC’s exterior screams Tokyo Drift, it’s actually more Easy Rider in nature.
Handling is graceful rather than precise, but it’s all the better over long distances for it. On a bendy road where a more performance oriented car would carve, the RC floats instead - even with its adjustable shocks set to their firmest Sport+ setting. I did manage to force it into a powerslide at our test track’s skidpan, but its fancy rear-wheel steering system was confused by the very manoeuvre it was designed to fight. Rear steering is optional in other markets, but comes standard in all South African-spec RC F-Sports. Its turning circle is marvellous, by the way.
The RC’s torque-converter transmission is modern enough to feature eight gears, but it’s in no hurry to change up or down through them. Shift times are a little slow in comparison to some higher-tech gearboxes out there, and it sometimes needs to be woken with clear throttle prompts to kick down for overtaking.
It is nice and smooth though, and because it’s often reluctant to shift, it’s less busy than other cars which hot-potato ratios in their search for ideal revs. Again, a nice reminder of how things used to be before cars got so smart.
The Lexus RC350 F-Sport might look like the cutting edge of modern motoring, but underneath is a little, dare I say... old-fashioned. But this may not be a bad thing, as it will cater nicely to well-off buyers who think Android is a Star Trek character and iOS is an upside down exclamation. Lexus’ old-fashioned options list, which only includes colour choices, is also quite refreshing. And at R730 900 it’s also very well-priced against similarly specced competitors.
Lexus RC350 F-Sport
Engine: 3.5-litre, V6 petrol
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 233kW @ 6400rpm
Torque: 378Nm @ 4800rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 6.3 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 230km/h
Consumption (claimed): 9.4 litres per 100km
Price: R730 900
Warranty: 4-year/100 000km
Service plan: 4-year/100 000km
LEXUS VS ITS RIVALS
Lexus RC350 F-Sport: 3.5 V6, 233kW/378Nm - R730 900
Audi S5 Coupé: 3.0 supercharged, 245kW/440Nm - R791 000
BMW 435i Coupé: 3.0 turbocharged, 225kW/400Nm - R754 027
Infiniti Q60 Coupé S Premium: 3.7 V6, 235kW/360Nm - R674 569
Mercedes C350 Coupé: 3.5 V6, 225kW/370Nm - R702 514
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