Looks can be deceiving sometimes. There’s an old adage about a wolf in sheep’s clothing denoting something that looks harmless, yet is inherently powerful underneath the skin.
The opposite could be said of the 2021 Lexus RC350 Luxury, which after a week presented more like a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
Yes, the Lexus RC350 looks the part, its swooping lines and curvaceous body straight out of the sports coupe playbook. Kerbside appeal? It has spadefuls, though maybe not as audaciously styled as its Toyota Supra cousin. But arguably the RC350 is more Toyota than the Supra ever could be.
But while the Supra delivers the performance and driver engagement promised by its sporty profile, the Lexus RC350 falls just a little short. A sheep in wolf’s clothing.
This generation of Lexus RC (for ‘radical coupe’ according to Lexus) first graced our roads in 2015 and received a facelift in 2018. It’s remained remarkably unchanged externally, with technology upgrades and minor tweaks between the big-money updates over the intervening years.
The 2021 model year is no stranger to under-the-skin upgrades, with Lexus revealing a number of tweaks designed to enhance the driving experience and safety.
The Lexus RC range encompasses just three variants, each with two trim levels. Bookending the small range are the RC300 and its 2.0-litre turbo four (from $67,990 plus on-roads), and the 5.0-litre V8-powered RC F starting at $136,636 plus on-road costs.
Nestled in between the four-pot and the bellowing V8 is the car we have on test here, the 2021 Lexus RC350 that starts at $70,736 plus on-road costs for the Luxury trim level. Our test car wore a $1500 coat of premium paint, Celestial Blue, for an as-tested sticker of $72,236 (plus on-road costs).
There is an F Sport variant in the RC350 line-up, but it wants for $78,736 and brings some F Sport sportiness and visual enhancements, such as 19-inch alloys and a limited-slip differential among others.
|2021 Lexus RC350 Luxury|
|Engine||3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 petrol|
|Power and torque||232kW @ 6600rpm, 380Nm @ 4800–4900rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined (ADR)||9.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||12.0L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Untested|
|Warranty||Four years / 100,000km|
|Main competitors||Audi A5, BMW 4 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$72,236|
Here, though, our RC350 Luxury has a comprehensive list of standard equipment.
Highlights include 18-inch alloys, adaptive variable suspension, keyless entry and push-button start, a 10.3-inch multimedia screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, DAB+ radio, inbuilt sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, and a 10-speaker Pioneer sound system.
Bigger wheels (19-inch alloys) can be optioned as part of the Enhancement Pack 1, which also brings a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. It’s a $1990 box to tick on the options list. Enhancement Pack 2 brings the alloys and premium sound of EP1 and bundles in a powered moonroof and smart key card. It’s an additional $4690.
Our tester featured neither, so it’s pretty much off-the-shelf, bar the Celestial Blue premium paint.
That blue wouldn’t be our first choice of colour from the seven-colour palette, but that’s just us. The Clove tan interior wouldn’t be our first choice either, certainly not in tandem with Celestial Blue, but you might think differently. For us, tan interiors should be reserved for white cars. Horses for courses, as they say. an black, red, and ochre options also exist for the RC350 Luxury.
That doesn’t diminish from the plushness of the cabin, though, which retains the Lexus hallmarks of quality and comfort, if looking a little dated. Still, the seats are supportive, as well as heated and cooled.
The steering wheel feels solid in hand and frames old-school analogue instruments. You need to step into the F Sport variant if you want digital instruments.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a 10.3-inch colour screen that requires manual inputs via the touchpad mounted in the centre console. It seems almost boring to keep criticising Lexus’s insistence in maintaining its love affair with the touchpad (and previously mouse-like toggle), but it remains a frustrating user experience, with razor-sharp precision needed to effect precise inputs.
Having smartphone mirroring (relatively new for Lexus, which doggedly eschewed Apple CarPlay and Android Auto years after rivals embraced the tech) mitigates the experience somewhat. Unlike the more thoroughly overhauled IS sedan range, the RC doesn't pick up a new dash design, or repositioned screen with touch inputs.
If the first row is about comfort and quality, then the second row is about compromise. Let’s be blunt, the second row is for not very big people at all. It’s cramped, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s best saved for occasional use. A grand tourer in the truest sense this isn’t, the RC350 best enjoyed two-up.
That’s also reflected in its load-lugging ability, the RC350 offering 374L within its shallow boot. The second row does fold in 60:40 fashion, although not flat. Still, it's handy for those moments when you need a bit of extra space.
But fire up the naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 living under the RC350’s long and shapely snout and all those quibbles about the interior soon fade away. It makes 232kW at 6000rpm and 380Nm at 4800rpm. Drive is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed conventional automatic transmission, and it’s as good a marriage as you'd want it to be.
Lexus says it has sharpened what it calls its Sports Direct Shift (SPDS) auto transmission to offer a better driving experience across the spectrum.
In normal driving, Lexus says the transmission favours economy and will hunt higher gears and quickly to achieve optimal fuel consumption. Flick the drive selector in to Sport or Sport+, however, and the transmission will, if the system detects some playful driving, happily select lower gears to offer better acceleration out of corners. Playful indeed.
Given the opportunity to stretch its legs, the RC350 is a happy and eager playmate. Acceleration isn’t aggressive, but it’s enough to induce a small grin. Left in auto mode, the transmission does indeed hold onto gears a little longer and is indeed happy to effect some snappy downshifts, all while still maintaining a level of refinement to the experience.
This isn’t a corner brawler, but rather an elegant tourer (for two). The ride remains comfortable and easy to live with, too, whether you’re bumbling about the ’burbs or having some playful fun in the country. There’s no sharp transference into the cabin or through the steering wheel, the suspension working away to keep the RC350 planted and comfortable.
The steering is beautifully weighted, too, with an inherent meatiness that feels about right for a car of this calibre. There’s plenty of feedback from the road through the tiller, which is always nice in a sports car.
But as meaty as the steering is, and as charming as an atmo six can be, there remains something a little amiss. It’s simply not as eager to hustle as you’d probably want in a car with the swooping good looks of the RC350. It all feels a little underwhelming as a sports car.
Instead, think of the RC350 as a stylish and sleek coupe with decent, if not outright thrilling, performance.
Lexus reckons the RC350 will use just 9.1L/100km of 95RON on the combined cycle. We saw an indicated 12.0L/100km after a week with the swoopy coupe encompassing urban traffic, freeway motoring and some spirited driving.
ANCAP hasn’t rated the RC range, and that includes the RC350. Safety equipment bundled into the coupe includes eight airbags, auto high-beam headlights, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, a rear-view camera (although no 360-degree view), and blind-spot monitoring. There’s also adaptive cruise control and front and rear parking sensors, although no rear cross-traffic alert, which really should be standard at this end of the pricing spectrum.
Lexus covers the RC350 with its standard four-year/100,000km warranty. That's better than some luxury rivals, but still below the increasingly par five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty offered by mainstream brands.
Services come along at 12-month/15,000km intervals, and under Lexus’s Encore program prices are capped at $495 per visit for the first three years/45,000km. The Encore program also provides for a loan car while the RC350 is in the workshop or, if you prefer, a valet service where someone will collect your car for its annual check-up and then return it to you all shiny and clean.
The Lexus RC350 promises much on the outside, its kerb appeal highlighted by aggressive lines and a wide stance. But under the skin, the wolf becomes a bit more sheep-like – not exactly placid, but neither is it as potent as its lupine exterior suggests.
There’s no shortage of performance. It’s not blisteringly quick, but it is predictable (in a good way) and comfortable. If the brief were to build a stylish sports coupe with enough performance to satisfy most, then the RC350 delivers. But if it’s breathless performance and theatrics you’re after, then the brawnier V8-powered Lexus RC F might be more your thing.
That’s not to say the RC350 is not a decent sports car. It is. But in a world of ferocious wolves, the 2021 Lexus RC350 comes off feeling just a little timid and sheepish.