Did you miss out on one of the rare and exclusive Track Editions of the Lexus RC F that was released last year? That’s okay, Lexus now offers something potentially even better: the regular RC F.
Okay, ‘regular’ might be oversimplifying things a little. Spec your RC F the right way, though, and you can get near enough to the Track Edition experience, albeit without limited-numbers exclusivity.
The secret ingredient is the rather benign-sounding Enhancement Pack 3 option available to take the $133,771 (plus on-road costs) garden-variety RC F up to near Track Edition levels of equipment.
At $29,161 it’s not exactly an option box you’d casually tick on a whim, but doing so equips the basic coupe with Track-spec hardware like Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, ultra-lightweight 19-inch forged alloy wheels, and a free-breathing titanium exhaust.
Lexus also adds a powered sunroof and carbon interior trimming to complete the EP3 package. Compared to the Track Edition, you’ll have to live without a slew of carbon-fibre parts like the roof, bonnet, high-rise fixed rear wing and front spoiler lip.
EP3 makes this car a $162,932 proposition compared to the $165,332 RC F Track Edition, making the latter something of a value-packed bargain in comparison.
You don’t miss out on what makes any member of the Lexus F family so great – a 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8. One that is not only eager to rev and stupendously balanced, but has finishing touches applied by Yamaha and produces 351kW at 7100rpm and 530Nm from 4800–5600rpm.
The engine itself is a major drawcard. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi all opt for turbocharging in their performance coupes, and only Benz plays with eight cylinders. Alfa Romeo doesn’t do a coupe model and drops a six-pack into its Giulia sedan, Jag doesn’t play in this market unless you want a LHD track-only race car, and Infiniti… What’s that?
The difference, then, is a massive shift in character compared to the others. Turbo engines shove big bad torque figures at you from engine speeds not far beyond idle. Lexus makes you work for the fun.
Outputs are at least still competitive. If you were to get your hands on an outgoing BMW M4 Competition you’d only be 20Nm ahead, but 20kW down (admittedly from an engine 2.0 litres smaller), while a Mercedes-AMG C63 S leads by a more significant 170Nm and just 24kW.
Perhaps the RC F shouldn’t be viewed as a competitor, but rather an alternative to techno marvels like the Benz, BMW and Audi coupe brigade. Certainly, the Lexus isn’t as fresh as its Euro competition in terms of design, and the interior is perhaps where this is most obvious.
Everything from painted silver plastics where foil-stamped or real metal parts should live around the air vents, to chalky-textured volume knobs and at times frustrating touch/slide temp controls, speak of a different era.
Not that the RC range is advanced in its age, having hit the scene in late 2014 based largely on the IS range that arrived a year earlier. Seven years is an eternity in the motoring world, though.
Things aren’t all bad, though. There’s an omnipresent quality to the fittings and features within. Plastics are solid, the leather looks and feels simultaneously sturdy yet yielding to the touch, while a wealth of Alcantara dresses up all the right places.
Some of the details are just out of place. The cruise control is still via a third column protruding from the steering wheel, like 20+ years of Toyotas before it – it’s eloquent and simple to use via muscle memory, yet can’t help but feel like a 20-year-old Toyota part.
There’s an odd slide or tap temp dial for the climate control, a foot-operated park brake where an electric one really ought to have taken its place, and the volume and tune dials on the stereo have the chalky texture of XXX mints.
Then there’s the issue of Lexus’s infotainment system. It stacks in all the features you’d expect – 10.3-inch display, AM, FM and digital radio, Bluetooth, navigation and now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too – but the interface is a console-mounted touchpad that’s infuriatingly difficult to use on the move.
Perhaps the most troublesome interior shortcoming is a highly reflective instrument panel cover that almost entirely obscures the speedo with reflected visual noise. If your sunglasses are polarised, the digital displays fade from view as well.
Front seat occupants get lovely supportive seats and plenty of cabin space. There isn’t the multitude of every-which-way adjustments you might find in an M4 or C63, but the important bits are covered for the driver and electrically adjusted, of course. Passengers won’t appreciate the lack of lumbar support on longer drives.
No coupe is a great place for regular rear seat use, but the RC maintains a degree of functionality for shorter passengers. There’s enough headspace and knee room for passengers up to around the 1.7m mark.
Boot space is a handy 366L, or enough for luggage for two, rather than four. Packing golf clubs in requires a lift-and-shuffle to clear the small aperture, then you’ll have to manually close the boot lid as electric operation isn’t offered.
Somehow it seems churlish to get caught up in details like those, when up front is one of the most exciting engines packed under the bonnet of a modern motor car. The 5.0-litre RC F's engine may not be the newest on the block, but instead of losing capacity and gaining turbochargers, the 2UR-GSE engine provides long-lasting character in a way that some of its competitors have lost.
A somewhat split personality means it's possible to slur about town gently with a syrupy, almost American V8-style laziness shovelling torque to the rear wheels to provide motivation without breaking a sweat. Crack on beyond 3000rpm, though, and the engine takes on a much more finely honed and high-tech feel as it rushes towards its lofty redline.
Even with the titanium exhaust optioned, most running is quiet and peaceful. There’s a gentle V8 burble, but never the outlandishly constant theatrics of a C63.
You get a delightful blend of induction roar, further encouraged by the high-lift cam profile that operates at higher RPM, and a pleasing exhaust tune, but it all feels a little distant. Some may prefer the more muted Lexus approach, though I think some extra aural drama wouldn’t go astray.
The eight-speed automatic, like the engine itself, is another well-worn fixture within the Lexus range, but it’s still hard to criticise. It doesn’t provide the sort of sharp lightning shifts a dual-clutch auto would, but can move from peaceful to punk-rock convincingly.
Leave it in Normal mode and the transmission jumps to the highest possible ratio and is tardy to kick down. You can ease the economy focus a little by selecting Sport S, which feels a little more lively.
If you really want to extract the best from the drivetrain, Sport S+ does a much better job by holding gears for a noticeably longer time and sliding into lower gears with far less coaxing. It’s still not a perfectly intuitive setting, though, which is actually a good thing, inviting you to call on the transmission’s manual mode and flick through gears via the surprisingly responsive paddle shift.
After a week behind the wheel and plenty of spirited driving, the Lexus's trip computer showed a rather decent fuel consumption average of 14.9 litres per 100km. Official consumption is 11.2L/100km, and driving conditions will have an impact on your own consumption, but that’s a decent figure for the performance on offer.
Where Lexus really sets itself apart is its ride quality. Make no mistake, you’re getting a performance set-up that manages secure grip at each end of the car, but somehow provides control while also allowing a degree of comfort.
Firm though it may be, the adaptive suspension remains fluid on sections of tarmac that would usually feel molar-rattlingly uncomfortable in other performance cars. Even long drives on rural roads aren’t enough to cause complaint, and free of hard-edged crash-through in a way that eludes most German brands.
Befitting the relaxed yet ready approach is steering able to provide on-demand agility without off-centre nervousness. It's possible to flick the wheel at speed without unsettling the car’s front end. It is a touch slower to react, but still faithfully heads in the direction you suggest.
There isn’t a heap of feel or feedback, yet at no point does the steering feel too slow for the car. It’s just a calmer take on a performance set-up.
The handling balance comes as part of Lexus’s laser-sharp improvement focus rolled out with 2019’s midlife update. More rigid front and rear suspension brackets, a stiffer rear engine mount, and more solid steering bushes combine to hone handling prowess.
Everything is kept shiny side up thanks to a set of incredibly grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres wrapped around the rather menacing-looking satin-black lightweight alloys.
The biggest, or certainly most expensive, slice of the EP3 upgrade is the addition of carbon-ceramic brakes. This technology, derived from the racetrack, may not be the most suitable for daily drivers, so it would pay to think carefully about whether or not it’s the right fit for you.
Surprisingly, the carbon-ceramic package with Brembo calipers doesn’t offer the kind of through-the-windscreen stopping force we were expecting. Jump on the brake pedal hard and the RC F does pull up cleanly and faithfully – just not spectacularly.
On the upside, the upgraded brakes did hold up to a punishing downhill run without fear or fading. They avoided the twitchiness or low-speed grabbing of some similar systems, but do moo like a herd of hungry cattle at low speeds, which comes across as particularly obnoxious in closed-in areas like multi-deck car parks.
Lexus covers buyers with a four-year warranty, one of the longest among prestige brands, but imposes a 100,000km limit. A newly introduced version of the Lexus Encore benefits program now adds capped-price servicing at 12-month or 15,000km intervals for $595 at the first three visits. Encore also includes vehicle pick-up and drop-off to your home or office with a loan car.
Among the 'missing' items from the RC F is distance-keeping cruise control that lacks stop-and-go functionality, it'll simply cut out at low speeds. There's minimal steering assistance, so no full lane-keeping. No self-parking smarts and no 360-degree camera. You do get eight airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, although ANCAP hasn't issued a crash-test rating at any stage for the RC.
The hard part for Lexus in all of this is the time warp the RC F is stuck in. Prestige rivals boast ever-advancing high-tech electrical platforms, which enable a huge array of advanced driver-assist and infotainment technologies that allow them to claim technological superiority.
Lexus offers a more analogue experience, but in a world where brochure-stuffing trinkets rule supreme, it leaves the RC F in an odd position. It’s a fabulous car to drive, and a vastly different car to its rivals.
The distinction is a good one. There’s nothing wrong with the frenetic rush of a turbo engine by any means, but Lexus's ‘old-school’ atmo V8 is a truly joyful thing to explore and experiment with, given its evolving attitude as revs rise and fall.
The Lexus RC F, with its rather impassive-sounding Enhancement Pack 3, is a better performance coupe than Lexus’s cultured and conservative past might suggest. A shame, perhaps in broader terms, but a hidden gem for owners who decide to buck the Euro trend and side with Japan’s only current muscle car.