ClubLexus First Drive: The 2015 RC F and RC 350 F Sport
“F stands for Fuji.”
After his initial welcome, those were among the first words spoken by RC F Chief Engineer Yukihiko Yaguuchi during the technical presentation for the forthcoming Lexus RC line. And they served as a potent reminder of Lexus’ philosophy, which dictates that any vehicle sporting an F designation should be able to excel on the famed tarmac of Japan’s notoriously long and rigorous circuit.
The media had assembled to experience the sport coupes on the track at New York’s Monticello Motor Club, and while it doesn’t host an F1 Grand Prix like the F line’s namesake, its nearly four miles of pristine pavement and 16 turns would prove an amazing place to gauge the capabilities of the vehicle Lexus has positioned to battle German heavyweights like Audi’s RS 5, BMW’s M4 and Mercedes-Benz’s C63 AMG.
After hearing about all the flavors of the RC for over an hour, to say I was excited to get to the track would be a gross understatement, because numbers and specs are one thing, but driving is obviously another. That said, I want to quickly throw out some numbers, because we’ve all been wondering about them–and I don’t want to send you straight to the PDFs.
The standard RC with the 3.5L V6 makes 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft. Zero to 60 arrives in 5.8 seconds in the RWD model, and six seconds flat in the AWD. The cars will go through the 1/4 at 14.3 and 14.6, respectively. The base-model RC will start at $42,790.
The RC F, with its 5.0L V8, pumps out a healthy 467 horsepower and 389 lb-ft, which will propel it from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 4.4 seconds and through the 1/4 at 12.5 seconds, on the way to an electronically limited 170-mph top speed. The hot rod version will start at $62,400.
But one other thing we should address–because ClubLexus members are wondering–is if an RC would be a comparable replacement for their IS Fs. Unless you really don’t need those two extra doors, the answer is no. I’m a hair over 6’2″ and around 220 lbs., and I found the cabin cozy, but not cavernous–just like a sports car should be. But rear seat legroom is simply not going to compare to what you’d get in the outgoing four-door.
One of the other writers–who stands about 5’8″–found the rear seat a tight fit, and said the position of the rear window made him feel like “cargo.” So prospective buyers should plan on using those two chairs for short trips, young children or, you know, cargo. For transporting gear of a non-sentient nature, there’s 10.1 cu. ft. of space in the trunk. It should also be noted that a 60/40 folding split is optional on the RC, but not available for F models.
The hotel was about a two-hour drive from Monticello, and as opposed to herding everyone into a bus, Lexus gratefully allowed us to drive ourselves. On the way, we swapped cars between an RC F Sport and RC F, so I got a chance to sample both before hitting the track. Since we were literally heading to a place without traffic, speed limits or police, I didn’t beat on either too much. What I did notice is that neither the V8 or the V6 had a lot of torque until the engine got on the cam and the revs started to climb north of 4,500. According to the specs, peak twist arrives upwards of 4,800 rpm, and it’s something a seat-of-the pants dyno will verify easily.
Obviously, the difference in grunt between the two engines is pronounced, and both cars had predictably excellent street manners. Both cars had the eight-speed Aisin gearboxes–AWD models will get a six-speed–and shifts from the paddle shifters were nice and snappy. Visibility is good, road noise isn’t absent, but it’s not overwhelming, and all the controls are where you’d expect them to be. I’m not a fan of giant screens in cars–I think the one in the Tesla Model S absolutely ruins the dash–so the RC’s 7″ version is just right for my tastes, and it handled tasks perfectly, even though given the unfamiliar area, I was relying on it more than I normally would.
But the track expands the contrast between the RC F Sport and the RC F.
Monticello is a challenging course with 450 feet of elevation changes, blind corners and sweeping, declining-radius turns which require intense concentration at all times–and where the track-bred manners of the RC F make themselves immediately apparent. When pushed during cornering, the F chassis feels incredibly stiff and taut, with minimal body roll through even the most demanding hairpin bends.
It’s fashionable to deride electric power steering, and obviously good rubber helps considerably, but I found the steering direct and without the numbness sometimes found in other electric systems.
On the street, it felt like it took a little planning to get to the power, but when you’re plunging along a circuit with your foot mashed into the firewall, it feels like every single pony is chomping at the bit unleash full thrust onto the pavement. In the upper rev register, with the Michelins singing at the edge of adhesion, the howling V8 is clearly in its happy place, and response is immediate, with tiny&nbs
p;modulations of the throttle making for pronounced, extremely communicative feedback.
Being able to steer a car with your right foot is one of the sublime pleasures of driving, and how easily attainable–and manageable–it is to do in the RC F should be counted as a huge victory for Chief Engineer Yaguchi and his team. In the technical presentation, it was repeatedly stressed that the RC family was designed to be fun for drivers of all skill levels, and with the traction setting in Sport+ mode, it’s exceptionally easy to find where the limits are, without the stress of feeling like you’re about to stuff the car into the wall or have a cringe-inducing encounter with the gravel trap.
Now, there are plenty of armchair drivers out there who’ll say the first thing they’ll do when hopping into a performance car is switch off all the nannies and go for the “pure” experience of driving. That’s fine with me, but honestly? Just about every RC F buyer will go faster with Sport+ engaged, and there’s still plenty of fun to be had in dialing some subtle oversteer. The days when the “driver aids” seemed like an on/off switch are long past, and I found there was a decidedly confidence-inspiring progression to the way the computer accounted for slip. Buyers planning to track the RC F–and if you buy this car you really, really need to–should opt for the Torque Vectoring Differential, which essentially acts as an active LSD, as it takes road holding and feel up a discernible notch. Unfortunately, it’s not available as a standalone option, but comes as part of the Carbon package, which in addition to looking cool, shaves between 14.7 lbs. off the curb weight thanks to the carbon roof and the carbon rear wing.
At 3,958 lbs. the RC F is no featherweight. And since forward progress can come at a rate that’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck snap to attention, plenty of care was obviously paid to the brakes. Brembos man all four corners, with 15.0-in. ventilated rotors and six-piston calipers at the front, and 13.6-in. ventilated rotors with four-piston calipers at the back, and the stopping power is exceptional. Like the rest of the RC F’s systems, I found the feedback progressive and conducive toward laps where I’d trust them more and more–insert “stop the rotation of the earth” quote here.
In the laps that I took over the course of the afternoon, the stopping power was the first thing I noticed about the differences between the RC F Sport and the F–in a “wow, I might have overcooked this corner” kind of way. But that’s due more to my exuberance–and possibly inflated confidence–rather than a shortcoming of the vehicle. Though the RC F Sport doesn’t have the power of its eight-pot stablemate, the experience of driving the F Sport around Monticello was hardly akin to plodding through a muddy field. Yes, there’s more body roll, and the V6–obviously–doesn’t have as beefy a note as the 5.0L, but driving it was still a kick in the pants, though I found the optional rear-wheel steering more difficult to feel than the TVD. That said, if you have aspirations of becoming–or already are–a track rat who sweats over every 1/10th of a second on your lap times, save your pennies and pony up for the F. But if you’re an enthusiast just looking for a sporty car that’s fun to drive? You’ll be more than happy with the standard RC or RC F Sport.
Given how long the members of ClubLexus have been discussing every facet of the new RC line–and voting on colors!–it was awesome to get the chance to drive them and see just how far the brand has come in delivering driver-centric cars that reward pushing the envelope. We’ll have to wait and see how many buyers Lexus will syphon away from its Teutonic targets, but the new RCs have insured they aren’t walking into the fight unarmed.