Jonathon Buckley • Any time you get invited to a racetrack to throw a few laps down in somebody else’s car, I believe the appropriate response is an enthusiastic yes. When the track is the blisteringly fast Willow Springs Raceway and one of the cars is named ‘Track Edition’, then you have good reason to get genuinely excited. Enter the updated Lexus RC F and all-new RC F Track Edition.
Traditionally, the ‘F’ in a Lexus model stands for flagship, and the RC F is a worthy vehicle to wear this moniker. But, I’ll be honest, my first outing in the original Lexus RC F back in 2015 had left me wanting somewhat.
Aside from its plush interior and gorgeous-sounding engine, it felt heavy and a little bit numb. Buzzing around a test track in Palm Beach Florida – a fairly technical track with a few sudden changes of direction – the then 1795kg coupe struggled with weight transfer and body roll. An issue that might have contributed to my very first and only ‘off’ at a track in a car.
As I pirouetted through the luscious green Florida grass, coming frighteningly close to a concrete barrier, I realised that this may have just been a case of my ambition outweighing my talent. But still, it left a sour taste in my mouth. This, combined with what I found to be slightly disjointed looks and Prius-style headlights, meant I figured that there might be better places to spend your money. Not the least of which would have been the similarly priced BMW M4.
Cut to a Californian racetrack in 2019, however, and it appears that Lexus has been looking, listening and addressing a couple of these issues and more.
Now, usually when a group of automotive journos arrive at a track with potentially very limited seat time in a handful of performance vehicles, there can be a little jostling for position to snag the best car available. But this day was different. Not only did we have the great guys from Lexus Australia on hand – including the big cheese, CEO Scott Thompson – to answer any questions we might have, but they were prepared to give us as many laps as we needed to get a feel for both the base RC F and the Track Edition.
Realising time was on my side, I decided to calm my tits and head off for the first few sighting laps in the base model to reacquaint myself with the Japanese luxury V8 sports coupe.
Jumping back in the low-slung seat of an RC F felt familiar, but as I took off and hit what has been dubbed ‘the fastest road in the west’, I realised that a few things had changed. That heavy, numb feeling I was expecting had been replaced with a vehicle that felt planted, direct and, dare I say, confidence inspiring. Gone was that top-heavy feeling of wallowing around corners and wondering when the rear would let loose.
Even as I was well aware of my shortcomings on the previous outing in an RC F – and keen not to make the same mistake on a circuit as fast as Willow Springs – I was surprised to see the speeds steadily increasing lap after lap. It's a testament to the work Lexus has put into reducing weight, lowering the centre of gravity, increasing downforce, and improving the suspension.
Power in the RC F comes from the lighter, freer-breathing naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8, and puts out a very respectable 351kW and 530Nm with a delightful roar. Shifting on the eight-speed sequential gearbox seems snappier, particularly on downshifts, and there is now a peculiar beep added as you approach redline to remind you to shift. Of course, you have the option to keep it in auto, but where’s the fun in that?
There are also driving modes increasing in 'fun-ness' from Eco all the way up to Sport S+, and launch mode is now standard on all RC Fs. Interestingly, they’ve done away with the electronic torque-vectoring differential for the Australian model – a feature that was highly publicised on the previous model – in favour of the weight savings of a more traditional mechanical limited-slip diff. But it’s the looks and weight departments that have undergone the biggest makeover, and this has come with some very positive results.
Even though they’ve only managed to shave 15kg off the kerb weight, the car instantly feels lighter and nimbler. Aerodynamics has played a big role in this. Increased downforce (particularly on the front end), improved airflow and cooling have all contributed to the more direct handling of the coupe. They’ve also helped the RC F in the looks department. The combination of sleeker redesigned LED headlights, side skirts, spoilers, diffusers and cutouts have given the car an even more purposeful, aggressive and focused look.
But, of course, the real reason we were at the track, and the model we were all champing at the bit to drive, was the all-new RC F Track Edition.
I love vehicles designed with a singular purpose, and in this department the Track Edition definitely looks the business. Sitting there trackside in a gorgeous matte grey, dripping with carbon fibre, a giant fixed wing at the rear and 19-inch BBS wheels, the thing just looks like it's begging to get thrashed.
It’d be easy to mistake the Track Edition as just a sweet body package, and to be honest I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to feel much of a difference. After all, how much can shaving 65 kilos from a car change the way it drives? Turns out, quite a bit.
Driving it back-to-back with the base RC F, the differences are remarkable. Within just a couple of corners, it was plain to see that this car was a different beast altogether. Coming in at 1715kg, weight reduction was a big priority for the Track Edition. A lot of it comes from the carbon fibre (technically carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic) bonnet, roof, aero package and rear seat-back. You also get a lighter titanium exhaust with sexy blue tips and the active rear wing is replaced with a lighter fixed rear wing capable of adding up to 26kg of downforce.
But it is the unsprung weight Lexus has removed that makes the biggest impact. By adding carbon-ceramic brakes and ultra-lightweight BBS 19-inch rims, they’ve managed to shave off an extra 25 kilos where it really counts. It’s this that has given the car a much lighter ‘feel’.
For me, driving the RC F Track Edition over the base model, there were two things that stood out the most.
First, the steering. The extra feel you get through the steering wheel is remarkable. It feels lighter yet also more connected. Allowing you to turn in more aggressively and – while flying through the long, fast, sweeping bends at Willow Springs – you get a greater sense of what is happening beneath you as you explore the grip of the newly developed and very impressive Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres.
When pushing hard, you can feel the rear end dancing around ever so gently, without any sense that it’s going to just let go completely without any warning. And even when it does finally let go, you have a whole suite of electronics through the VDIM (Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management) system to catch you and allow just the right amount of slide through a turn – making you look and feel like you know what you’re doing.
Secondly, the brakes. The carbon-ceramic Brembo units are absolutely head and shoulders above the standard brakes. So much so that when I hopped back in the base-model RC F and tried to slow from just over 220km/h into turn one, I nearly pooped my daks as I felt the brake pedal squish down toward the floor. Don’t get me wrong, the standard rig will get the job done. But the uprated brakes are like flying business class: once you’ve experienced it, you never want to go back to the caboose. And the good news is that they are an option available to the base RC F.
As much as I’d like to go on about the lovely interior, modern infotainment system and emissions improvements, when you’re at the track in a car as capable as this, you don’t want to waste precious laps setting up your Bluetooth. That might be for another time, once we get one of these beauties out on Australian roads.
Overall, the new RC F is an exciting addition to the increasingly rare V8 sports car landscape, and one that now handles better than ever. The updates for 2019 have been incremental, but the cumulative effect of all these changes has made for quite a substantial upgrade over the previous model.
Add to this the release of the Track Edition, combined with Lexus’s move to more closely embrace its Japanese heritage, and I think the flagship range has a very bright future. Now, where is that successor to the LFA?
The RC F will go on sale in Oz as of May 8 with a reduced entry price of $134,129, and will be available in three Enhancement Packs as follows:
Enhancement Pack 1 (EP1): $5000
19-inch forged alloy wheels (polished finish), moon roof.
Enhancement Pack 2 (EP2): $5000
19-inch forged alloy wheels (dark metallic finish), moon roof.
Enhancement Pack 3 (EP3): $29,161
19-inch motorsport-inspired lightweight BBS alloy wheels, high-performance Brembo carbon-ceramic disc brakes, titanium exhaust, carbon-fibre cabin ornamentation, moon roof.
If it’s the Track Edition that tickles your fancy, then get ready to pony up $165,690. That said, they are only going to be arriving in very limited numbers, so it might be wise to start up a convo with your local dealer.
NOTE: As a short track-only drive, we've left this one unscored for now. Watch for our first drive on Australian roads to see how this one fits into our perspective. Check out our RC F showroom to see how it's done previously.