It's hard to remember the last car I drove that attracted as much attention as this 2021 Lexus RC300 F Sport.
The thing about the RC300 is it looks quite a bit more expensive than the $75,736 price tag (plus on-road costs) you'll need in order to secure one from your local Lexus dealership – particularly since its facelift a few years back. It's an admirable trait considering the vehicle was first unveiled in 2013.
Within a day or two of collecting the keys to the RC300 F Sport – finished in striking 'Infrared' metallic red – a young man on a skateboard, riding towards me in a housing estate of a blue-collar town in outer suburbia, gave me a nod and a thumbs-up as he sailed past.
My parents, who tend not to give over anything more than a polite "ooh, that looks nice" when I visit for dinner in a review car, each asked me how much the Lexus cost. My partner's parents, on the other hand, strongly encouraged me to leave the keys behind.
And so on and so forth, the heightened outside interest continued throughout my time with the Lexus.
But while looking younger and more expensive than it perhaps is can be considered admirable traits, these very things actually come back to bite the RC. People's expectations of the car tend to be a fair bit higher than what the car delivers.
Early conversations I had before driving the svelte coupe suggested it could be a kind of entry-level grand tourer more suited to crossing continents. But the RC300 isn't that.
Spending many hours on new freeways and old country highways, the road noise was a bit too much and the suspension wasn't quite sophisticated enough to be considered a true GT, albeit a baby one. And that isn't to say I was uncomfortable at any point – quite the opposite, in fact – but the RC isn't the big motorway cruiser it may appear to be. It is a competitor to the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5.
Once framed in that way, the Lexus RC300 F Sport begins to make a lot more sense. This is an entry-level executive coupe – a little bit sporty, a little bit premium.
|2021 Lexus RC300 F Sport|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||180kW at 5800rpm, 350Nm at 1650–4400rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.9–8.1L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Main competitors||BMW 4 Series, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class|
|Price as tested (excluding on-road costs)||From $75,736|
Under the bonnet of the RC300 is a smooth and creamy 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder engine sending 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
With roughly 1700kg of heft, the car isn't overly fast, but it packs enough juice to not be called slow. The short gearing from the eight-speed auto helps a lot, and ensures the vehicle is always kept moving by utilising that decent vein of torque fed from the turbocharger.
Slip the selector wheel into 'Sport+' mode, tap the shifter across into manual, and on a winding mountain road the RC300 F Sport actually does a pretty good job of entertaining. While the suspension sometimes feels as if it's playing catch-up on big bumps, the front end delivers encouraging handling characteristics, and offers a good balance of sharpness without ever being twitchy or intimidating. There's little discernible body roll, but it was never overly firm around town either.
In relentless rain on the Great Ocean Road, the car felt safe, composed and assuring. This time around I kept the car in 'Comfort' mode, with lower gears occasionally selected when there was some empty space to the next bank of traffic.
Though the Torsen limited-slip differential and the car's many computers were no doubt ensuring there was virtually zero perceivable oversteer or understeer, it never felt invasive or as if the car were struggling to find grip. It's quite a neutral-handling car, and I appreciated that kind of predictability in the poor conditions.
A quick pit stop in Apollo Bay had a Lexus IS350 owner and his wife (who herself drives a Lexus NX) accosting us to chat about the car and the brand, even as the rain continued. People just love the thing.
Lexus claims fuel consumption of 7.3 litres per 100km, but my time with the car had it hovering between 7.9L and 8.1L/100km depending on what I asked of it.
Inside, and it's frankly one of the nicest dashboards I've ever encountered. The main console looks and feels like a high-end home audio system, which suited well with the 17-speaker, 835W Mark Levinson sound system. The clarity and sonic range were exceptional, but it did feel as if the music were emanating from the centre of the car, rather than immersing the occupants.
The F Sport also comes with Acceleration Sound Control, which is meant to enhance the driving experience with an artificial exhaust note piped into the cabin. I never really noticed it. If anything, I wouldn't have minded a bit more, but the level of noise fits well with the car's more relaxed nature.
The seating position is great, and combined with the lovely dashboard and interior fit and finishes, perhaps adds to the idea that this could well be mistaken for being in a class above. Though annoyingly, the door pockets didn't fit my wallet, sunglasses case, or my water bottle.
The 10.3-inch infotainment system offers satellite navigation, reverse parking camera, DAB+ digital radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all controlled via a touchpad controller located behind the shifter. Despite being sunk into the top of the dash, everyone inevitably leaned forward to touch the (not-a-touchscreen) infotainment screen, before trying to orientate themselves on the touchpad.
Ahead of the driver is an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, which can mechanically move the tachometer to the side with the touch of a button, just like the Lexus LFA supercar. Nobody knows why exactly, but it's a cool thing to show your passengers.
The RC300 F Sport also gets power heated and ventilated front seats, power steering column adjust, auto high beam, auto start/stop, and push-button start, with a proximity key that lights up the door handles and interior as you approach the car at night, like some digital welcome mat.
Safety systems include radar cruise control with pedestrian detection and pre-collision braking, blind-spot alert, lane-change alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning with steering assist.
Unlike other steering assist systems, this one was very non-invasive and only stepped in when the car began to stray out of its (well-marked) lane. While I appreciated being left alone to drive the car myself, it does feel as if the semi-autonomous tech is lagging behind the rest of the industry.
This car left some questions with me after my time with it. Not exactly to do with the car itself, but more with our expectations. Because the Lexus RC is really quite an old model now, but the dichotomy is that it looks far more expensive than its price tag. You could forgive Joe Public for mistaking it for a Lexus LC500 at a distance – a model that costs 2.5 times more than the RC300 F Sport.
And that's part of the problem. Because while the driving experience is actually very good, it doesn't quite match those stunning looks. So, is it a good thing that it looks better than it is, or a bad thing that it isn't as good as it looks? That probably depends on whether you're a glass-half-full or half-empty type of person.
Then there's the unabashed love for it from strangers. It was universally praised wherever it went, and in my time with the Lexus, it didn't at all suffer from the jealousy and unwarranted hate that often accompanies luxury vehicles. It's a real anomaly in this space.
However, it's the age of the car that will ultimately decide who buys it, because it does feel like it's a generation behind the current crop of executive coupes on the market.
For some buyers, they will want the latest and technologically greatest available. But for a select few who perhaps opine about the disconnected, digital feeling the latest batch of premium models can be known for, the Lexus RC300 F Sport – even with its long list of tech – offers a more characterful, analogue driving experience. For those people, it might just hit the sweet spot between stunning looks, luxury appointments, and a bygone driving experience.