Lexus RC F track test19

2015 Lexus RC F Review : first drive

Rating: 7.5
$133,500 $147,500 Mrlp
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The Lexus RC F is a direct shot across the BMW M4's bow
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Before we get into the nitty gritty of Japan’s latest luxury hot rod, let’s first be clear about what the all-new Lexus RC F Coupe represents – a shot across the BMW M4’s bow.

Both cars are certainly equipped with suitable firepower under the bonnet befitting their performance status. Lexus has stuck with an updated version of its normally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 producing 351kW and 530Nm for the RC F, while BMW uses a 3.0-litre twin-turbo, straight six with 317kW and 550Nm to power the M4.

Credit goes to Lexus for raising the V8’s output by 40kW and 25Nm over the old IS F without resorting to forced induction, but the truth is it’s simply not enough to make the cut against high-performance rivals like the M4.

Here’s why. The M4 tips the scales at a skinny 1497 kilograms, while the RC F weighs in at between 1780-1860 kilograms.

And that’s not the only speed-sapping factor. The BMW generates its full compliment of torque between 1850-5500 rpm, while the Lexus has to wait until 4800 rpm before it gets its full dose of pulling power – before running out of puff again at 5600 rpm.

On paper, the RC F also takes a big hit in the acceleration stakes, needing 4.5 seconds to go from 0-100km/h, whereas the M4 needs only 4.1 seconds to get the job done.

Clearly, the Lexus RC F is a quick thing and power delivery to the rear wheels is absolutely linear, but it just doesn’t deliver the same kind of shove-in-the-back thump that you get when you nail the throttle in an M4.

That’s somewhat surprising when you consider the work that went in to overhauling the 5.0-litre V8. The titanium valves, lighter crankshaft and con-rods mean the RC F’s redline has been lifted by 500 rpm to 7300 rpm.

It also means there’s more of that V8 to listen to, but even that seems strangely synthesised from the moment the intake’s noise flap opens up and that muscle car burble morphs into a roar.

Despite the obvious rivalry with the M4, Lexus engineers say that the BMW wasn’t the benchmark, rather it was their own IS F CCS-R dedicated racecar that provided the key performance targets for the RC F Coupe.

Lexus also says it’s honed the car for serious track work, so it gets a stiff chassis that combines the best attributes from three different Lexus models; the front section is courtesy of the GS, the centre section is taken from the old IS C convertible, and the rear end is thanks to the latest IS.

The conventional eight-speed automatic transmission doesn’t do the Lexus any favours, at least when maximum track attack is demanded. It’s certainly smooth and refined and there are several drive modes (but again, it lacks the rapid-fire punch of the M4’s dual-clutch gearbox). That said, I did like the raucous throttle blipping on the manual downshifts.

Normally I’d say eight gear ratios is plenty, but on several occasions on the track, second seemed too short and third too long for properly punchy exits onto the faster straight sections.

That said, even the best dual-clutch units can’t match the traditional autos for low-speed refinement. They still stumble a bit in stop/start traffic.

There’s no such issue with top speed. The RC F Coupe is electronically restrained to 270km/h and out on the track any shortcomings are much less noticeable, especially around a fast-paced circuit like Mount Panorama, which provided plenty of opportunity to stretch the car’s legs.

Full-throttle runs down the 1.9 km Conrod Straight with automatic rear spoiler deployed, saw 250km/h light up on the speedo and there was plenty of V8 grunt on offer to hammer back up the mountain, offering no cause for complaint.

That leaves the handling and to be fair, the RC F feels pretty much glued to the tarmac and doesn’t mind being thrown into a corner at a reasonable clip, but you can definitely feel the Michelin Pilot Supersports fighting the car’s substantial heft.

In order to counter this effect, the car is also equipped with a torque-vectoring differential that optimises the torque split to limit understeer when you are hard on the throttle.

The RC F gets a fixed ratio electric power steering system that is both accurate and pointy, but it’s a tad slow for serious track work.

Lexus also chose to stick with fixed-rate dampers, (unlike the M4, which gets an adaptive setup) giving the RC F a comparatively firm ride. It’s not bone jarring, but it’s not overly comfortable either, particularly in the passenger seats.

Big six-piston Brembo brakes up front and a solid pedal do a superb job of reining in big speeds – and inspiring plenty of driver confidence when it really counts.

From a design perspective, the Lexus RC F Coupe is undeniably striking, in a Transformers kind of way. Some will find it busy and overly aggressive. Not me; it pushes the styling envelope and offers a viable alternative to the more conservative German brands.

Inside, that same Japanese fanfare continues with plenty of sharp lines, creases and technology on show.

Borrowing from the LFA supercar, the digital tacho changes colour and appearance depending on which of the four drive modes (eco, normal, sport and sport plus) you select. To the left is another screen that shows g-forces, radio stations and tyre pressures, while on the other side sits a speedometer that is sadly too small for my ageing eyes to read without optometric assistance.

Nearly all the electronics are controlled using an optical touchpad complete with haptic feedback. It’s a lot better than the previous and much-unloved computer mouse-style controller in the IS F, but nowhere near as user-friendly as BMW’s rotary-style iDrive system.

In keeping with Lexus’ trademark luxury, there are also plenty of leather and soft touch plastics. The front sports buckets are supremely comfortable and the driving position is nice and low for that proper performance car feel behind the wheel.

Lexus claims its goal was to create a high-performance coupe for all skill levels and in that regard, they have surely succeeded.

Starting at $133,500 plus on-road costs, the Lexus RC F also delivers on bang-for-buck terms.
It’s over $30,000 less that the BMW M4 and while it might not be as dynamic, it’s a superb option for those that are going to spend most of their time out on the road and not on the track.