Two years since replacing the Lexus IS F, the V8-powered Lexus RC F is still a car that knows how to hustle. But with an improved blend of comfort and pace, is it now the best it’s ever been?
"Hey Dave, you're reviewing the Lexus coming into the garage next week," says Matt Campbell via email.
"A Lexus?," I think to myself, as my head fills with thoughts of sheepskin seat covers, tissue boxes on parcel shelves, and retirees dunking Iced VoVos into scalding-hot cups of Earl Grey tea. Then I see that, in fact, young Mr Campbell has booked me into the Japanese luxury brand's high-revving, V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive 2017 Lexus RC F Carbon.
With my head now full of thoughts of epic Japanese touge mountain roads and high-speed, night-time Wangan runs, I approach the 2017 Lexus RC F Carbon for the first time.
You see, despite the car launching locally in February 2015, this is my first time up close to one.
Said to shave a combined 9.5kg off the hefty 1860kg RC F, the weight-saving carbon-fibre additions include a light-weight bonnet, roof, active rear wing, and interior 'ornamentation', with the carbon roof alone claimed to save 6.1kg over the standard steel item.
Standing out even more against our test car’s White Nova paint finish (a $1500 premium paint option), the carbon-fibre accoutrements add two parts Japanese-cool, one part Fast and Furious-kitsch to what is one super-stylish, design-focussed sports coupe.
Up front, Lexus’s now-familiar spindle grille is flanked by big air intakes and Nike-style LED daytime running light swooshes, while slender 'aerodynamic spats' join F Sport badges down both sides.
From the back, the RC F’s chunky, wide-stance rear guards become more obvious, with the racy Lexus’s gloss-black rear diffuser and stacked quad exhaust pipes providing additional menace. Garnishing the whole package is a prominent ‘RC F’ badge and that pop-up carbon-fibre rear wing.
Rolling on 20-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 35-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber (255mm-wide up front and 275mm-wide at back), each corner of the car is further highlighted by eye-catching bright-orange Brembo brakes.
Comprising front six-piston calipers and 380mm slotted discs and rear four-piston calipers and 345mm slotted discs, we can assure you, they are as effective as they appear.
Stare at the RC F a little longer, and you soon start to appreciate this is a car all about the details.
Take the time – wash it, chamois it – and you begin to notice smaller, less in-your-face elements, such as the subtle, chrome C-pillar design accent, or the little nodules on the wing mirror bases that are echoed by similar nodules on the outside edge of each tail-light. Quite cool.
One of the harder details to spot from the outside, however, is the RC F’s newly-added Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system.
Announced for the model in late-2016, the electronically-monitored AVS aims to control damping at all four corners of the car simultaneously – based on road-surface conditions and driver preferences – with the help of g-force, yaw-rate and speed sensors that automatically switch between 30 levels of damping force and seven damping-force control strategies. I know right, mind blown.
Basically though, it’s all designed to improve the RC F’s ride comfort and cornering stability. And, given the previous non-AVS-equipped car copped some criticism for having a somewhat brittle and less-than-perfect ride, its inclusion is a most welcome one, promising to boost the 4.7-metre-long two-door’s overall compliance. But more on that later…
Jump into the cabin, and you’re greeted by an equally well-presented interior that feels as sporty as it does Japanese.
Melding stitched leather with suede inserts and carbon-fibre accents, the RC F is also home to a headliner so texturally glorious, you want to keep stroking it forever.
Stupidly-comfortable heated and cooled red ‘F’-branded leather memory power seats partner clever centre-console and door-trim ‘knee pads’, and the RC F’s well-sized, leather multi-function steering wheel feels great in the hands – apart from the relatively cheap and plasticy shift paddles tacked onto the back of the thing.
Being a Lexus, you’d expect the requisite amount of technology for technology’s sake. In the RC F, this is provided by a large, variable-graphic, central TFT tachometer, an adjoining multi-information TFT display, and a rimless, electro-chromatic auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
The cabin is also home to satellite navigation, and a 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system with DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming.
Less of a highlight is the Lexus’s 7.0-inch central infotainment display screen and its associated touchpad-based Lexus Remote Touch (LRT) controller.
Far from intuitive, the clunky and fiddly system is neither seamless nor straightforward to operate – particularly while on the move.
While we’re calling out some of the RC F’s foibles, its old-school foot brake makes you momentarily think you’re in a Toyota Aurion every time you use it, and we found the driver’s seat-shoulder-mounted seat-belt guide consistently caused a slacking off of seat belt tension.
Storage too, is somewhat questionable.
There are two USB ports, an auxiliary port, and a 12-volt outlet, however, the two individual cupholders are shallow, the centre console bin is long but not very deep, the harder plastic door pockets are narrow and not felt-lined, and the glovebox is small.
Pleasingly, accessing the remarkably comfy backseat is made relatively easy thanks to both front seats being gifted a one-touch, auto-forward, 'walk-in function'. That said, although even six-footers are presented with decent headroom and adequate space for knees and legs, toe-room is limited.
More likely to be reserved for ‘occasional use’ – especially by adults – the two ISOFIX-compatible second-row seats are accompanied by a fold-down centre armrest, an interior light, two cupholders with a retractable lid, rear air vents, and two coat hooks and map pockets.
The RC F’s 366-litre boot also isn’t bad, making the whole car potentially far more sensible and practical than you might’ve first thought for a premium Japanese sports coupe.
But it’s what lies beneath that ventilated carbon-fibre ‘hood’ that really has potential to make you smile.
Equipped with titanium inlet and exhaust valves, forged connecting rods, and uprated air-to-oil engine and transmission coolers, the quad-cam direct-injection engine is good for 351kW of power at 7100rpm and 530Nm of torque between 4800-5600rpm.
Regardless of its carbon-fibre additions and claimed weight saving, Lexus says both the Carbon and standard RC F – equally reliant on an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission – claim identical 4.5-second 0-100km/h times and electronically-limited 270km/h top speeds.
Rather than out-and-out pace however, hit the road in the RC F Carbon, and it’s the car’s excellent daily-driver aptitude that strikes you first.
Keeping the Lexus in its ‘Normal’ drive mode – there’s also ‘Snow’, ‘Eco’, ‘Sport S’, and ‘Sport S+’ to choose from – road noise is kept to a minimum, steering is nicely weighted and balanced, and the ride is controlled and comfortable.
Content cruising on the freeway at 100km/h with engine revolutions at touch over 1500rpm, the RC F Carbon generally exudes the sort of solid, premium, well-built feeling the Lexus brand is so widely well known and respected for.
Impressive as it is being driven sedately, it’s not long before we arrive at the base of a mountain pass and switch things into the car’s most aggressive Sport S+ mode. It’s here where the updated 2017 Lexus RC F Carbon really starts to show its genuine talents.
Up the pace, and the car well and truly comes along for the ride.
With double-wishbones up front, a multi-link rear out back, and gas-filled mono-tube dampers all round, the RC F has plenty of hardware beneath it to ensure it can get around corners. Add in the new adaptive suspension and the RC F’s standard torque vectoring differential (TVD), and you get one dynamically capable and surprisingly agile luxury coupe.
Exclusively designed for the RC F, and offering drivers the individually selectable choice of a 'Standard', 'Slalom', or 'Track' mode, the TVD distributes torque to both rear wheels via electric actuator motors and multi-plate clutches – the former said to adjust 1000 times per second.
Shift the gear lever into manual mode for more control and the result is a bit of a mixed bag.
The Lexus’s eight-speed single-clutch torque-converter automatic is generally quite reasonable, though, it’s not perfect, and shifts aren't as fast as in more modern units from the likes of BMW or Mercedes-AMG.
Despite Lexus claiming downshifts in two-tenths of a second and up-shifts in three-tenths, this is only achievable when the transmission and the car’s 'g-sensor AI-shift control' system deem a selected change is for the “optimal gear ratio for sporty driving”.
In practice, this means although manual mode won’t automatically upshift for you – even if you park the needle on the rev limiter – the transmission doesn’t always let you select the gear you actually want to be in coming into or out of a corner.
Although Sport S+ adds more weight to the electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering, this isn’t at the expense of feedback. And while the RC F may not have the outright feel and engagement of a Renault Megane RS or Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, for a hefty luxo-coupe from Toyota, it’s not bad.
With the RC F’s impressive Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres doing their thing, and stability control somewhat leaned off due to the mode selected, it’s the perfect time to enjoy the sweet engine tucked under the bonnet.
A bit docile in its personality below 4000rpm, get the revs up and you can fill the air with the sound of a raspy yet refined – and very Japanese-y sounding – high-tech V8 note.
Aurally different to your traditional deep Ford or Holden-style muscle-car throb, the engine not only sounds good, it delivers smooth, linear power from around 4000rpm, and pulls even harder from 5000rpm until its 7300rpm rev limit.
It’s true, the 5.0-litre engine does lack the almost-instant low-down torque and response of the Lexus’s twin-turbocharged German rivals. However, the RC F has a unique character all of its own that makes the Japanese coupe feel more old school, in a good way – even if it does miss out on the sort of exhaust pops, farts, and crackles seemingly becoming ever-more common these days.
Speaking of old school. Be warned; if you like a bit of full-throttle action, be prepared to pay for it, as the RC F is one thirsty bugger. Over its week in the CarAdvice garage, the weighty Lexus averaged 15.4 litres per 100km – a fair hike up from its 10.9L/100km combined cycle claim.
But consistently impressing us was the updated RC F’s ride. In short, it now rides really, really well.
Far from being brittle, the new suspension rarely gets too perturbed by poorer quality blacktop and, even in its most aggressive Sport S+ mode, is largely unfazed by imperfections.
At over 1800kg, the Lexus RC F Carbon does indeed feel a little big and heavy. However, it sits quite flat through bends, is compliant and planted – even when dealing with mid-corner bumps – and never feels unstable or remotely skittish.
Combined with decent levels of feedback, excellent mechanical grip, solid brakes, and surprising agility, the updated RC F is a car that gives you confidence. And I mean enough confidence to really press on. Plus, it’s fun.
There is a catch though.
The standard Lexus RC F kicks of at $138,240 (before on-road costs) and the Carbon sits $20,597 higher than that, at $158,837 (before on-road costs).
For that money at least, you do get LED headlights and automatic high-beams, fog lamps, daytime running lights, a rear-view camera with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control, and eight airbags.
You’re also covered by a four-year/100,000km warranty with four years' road-side assist, while services are due every 12 months or 15,000km.
Perhaps not quite at the level of a BMW M4 or Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe in outright terms, the 2017 Lexus RC F Carbon still plays the dual roles of comfortable daily runabout and addictive twisty-road toy equally and impressively well.
It can be calm and sedate and quite luxurious feeling when you want it to be, but still has more than enough hustle, ability, performance, and real-world pace to put a massive smile on your face, and keep it there.
It might not be the newest kid on the block, and its value equation might be hard for some to swallow, however, this latest iteration of the Lexus RC F is easily the best yet.
Click on the Gallery tab for more 2017 Lexus RC F Carbon images by Tom Fraser.