With head-turning styling, luxury kit and plenty of poke, the Lexus RC 350 F Sport is the sweet spot in the two-door coupe line-up.
Given the distinctive body kit and hard-to-miss ‘lava orange’ paint job, you might think you’re looking at Lexus’ full strength RC F Coupe here, when in fact this is the considerably more affordable Lexus RC350 F Sport.
And we mean a hefty $60,000 more affordable. Instead of shelling out over $135,000 plus on-roads for the V8-powered RC F big brother, this V6 version of Lexus’ two-door coupe comes in at a far more reasonable $74,000.
If that’s still a bit rich for the company bean counters, you can always hop into the entry-level RC350 Luxury from $66,000.
It makes for an attractive proposition when you consider the RC350’s rivals include the Audi A5 2.0 TFSI from $77,300 and the BMW 428i from $80,500 plus on-roads. Only Lexus’ fully-loaded RC350 Sport Luxury version is more pricey at $86,000 – but you’ll get a lot of kit for the price.
The RC350 might not have the performance focus of the heavy-hitting RCF, but we reckon it’s the sweet spot in the RC range, and here’s why.
Even the paint is special: with the RC models benefitting from a multi-layer, twice-baked paint process that has up to five layers – a first for the brand and a first for a mass-produced production car, according to Lexus.
Apart from the slight bonnet bulge and the quad exhaust pipes, the differences between the RC350 F Sport and RC F amount to a few minor details, such as unique wheels and larger air intakes.
Inside though, it’s pretty much standard IS fare with the exception of ‘F Sport badging’ and a few important extras such as the superbly comfortable sports leather seats offering heaps of cushion and plenty of all-round bolster.
I like the split-level dash – there’s a neat blend of leather and metallic trim, and the build quality is impeccable. There’s not a squeak or rattle to be heard even over the roughest surfaces.
The driving position is also what you might expect in a sports coupe with the driver’s seat set nice and low and a power adjustable steering wheel that makes it all so easy.
As mentioned, this is a fully-loaded coupe with stacks of luxury kit such as full-leather trim with powered, heated and ventilated front seats, reverse camera, keyless entry, and of course, satellite navigation and climate control air conditioning.
The F-Sport moniker adds higher-end goodies like larger 19-in alloy wheels, LED headlights, a blind spot monitor and lane-changing assist function to the in-car inventory.
The highlight though, is the 835-watt, Mark Levinson audio system that belts out the tunes with impeccable clarity. In particular I like the way the audio pays close attention to both the high and low notes.
While Lexus has ditched the mouse-style infotainment controller, the replacement track-pad system isn’t really a step forward. In some ways, it’s a step back, as it’s difficult to master on the move.
Importantly, the RC350 F Sport also comes with an impressive arsenal of electronic road holding and handling wizardry including adaptive suspension, variable ratio steering, as well as rear steering.
And that’s a good thing, because under the bonnet hides a 3.5-litre, free-spinning V6 petrol engine putting out 233kW and sending 378Nm of torque to the rear wheels via a creamy-smooth eight-speed auto.
By comparison, both the Audi A5 and BMW 4 series coupes make do with 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engines, producing 165kW/350Nm and 180kW/350Nm, respectively.
Put the boot in, and Lexus say the Coupe will hustle from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds. In the real world though, let’s just say it’s got plenty of poke to satisfy even the petrol heads.
However, you do need to keep the revs up or give the right pedal a big prod from the get-go, because peak power and torque don’t arrive until 6400 and 4800rpm respectively. That’s also when the LFA supercar-inspired digital rev counter starts glowing bright red, too.
For maximum performance you’ll need to select Sport Plus mode, but drivers also have the choice of choosing between three more settings via the convenient rotary dial on the console; Sports, Eco and Normal for varying road conditions.
That said, I found myself dialling up Sports Plus every time I jumped into the Lexus, mostly for the quicker throttle response it offers from a standing start.
It’s also the setting that works best with the car’s rear-wheel and variable ratio steering, which combine with the adaptive suspension system to transform this luxury coupe into something that you can properly enjoy in the fast paced twisty stuff.
There’s next to no body roll on turn, so the RC350 sits pretty much dead flat no matter how hard you push, as you can see in the above video.
And push you can. With four-wheel steering at work, it feels utterly composed and there’s a huge amount of grip available. There’s a good meaty feeling to the steering itself, and it’s quick and responsive for the really tight work.
Under full throttle acceleration, there’s also a rorty growl, and while it’s a welcome addition to the V6’s soundtrack, it also feels a tad contrived and less natural than some.
However, the RC350 F Sport is no lightweight. Tipping the scales at just over 1710kg, it’s around 170kg heavier than the BMW 428i, and you’re certainly aware of that behind the wheel. One can only wonder just how much more agile the Lexus could be with a couple of hundred kilos stripped from its girth.
No issue with the brakes, though, despite the excess weight penalty. The RC350’s stoppers performed surprisingly well, with fade-free stopping power even after repeated downhill punishment, as well as a solid, yet progressive feel through the pedal.
Where the Lexus really shines is with ride quality, it's absolutely superb even in the Sports Plus mode. There’s enough compliance in the suspension to make this cockpit a comfortable place to be over almost any road surface. It’s a lot more liveable than the hard-core RC F, at least, in this regard.
Inside, the RC350 F Sport is exceptionally quiet, with little or none of the surrounding road and traffic noise able to penetrate the high level of cabin insulation.
As such, it’s a brilliant office commuter – just select Normal mode and sit back and enjoy the superb level of refinement and unabashed comfort this coupe offers.
The Lexus RC350 delivers on so many levels, from head-turning styling to dynamic performance, and of course, sheer comfort. It will also cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 less than any of its two door rivals – and that is surely a tempting proposition by any measure.
Photography and video by Mitchell Oke