Big cars with two doors are an interesting breed of motor vehicle; they're great for highway cruising and for the occasional sporty burst around a windy corner or two, but are a less easy sell when it comes to the bland reality of stop-start everyday commuting and city driving. It certainly helps if the inside of a car is a nice place to be, though. The Lexus RC 350 F Sport is a good value sports coupe, with good performance and a great interior.
What Is It?
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6
- Gearbox: 8sp automatic with paddle-shift option
- Entertainment System: 7-inch, touchpad
- Bluetooth: Yes (phone and media streaming)
- Fuel consumption: 9.4L/100km
Lexus' RC 350 comes in three variants; the base model Luxury is a relatively affordable $72,965 but stacking on Lexus' optional Enhancement Packs and stepping up to the F Sport (as tested) and Sports Luxury models starts to add on dollars quite quickly. As you might have guessed from the pictures, the RC is a two-door, two-plus-two seat coupe powered by a 3.5-litre V6 developing 233kW and 378Nm all channelled to the rear wheels.
Where its competitors charge you by the line item for each and every option that you might want to add, the RC 350 comes with a host of luxury features as standard. Satellite navigation, LED headlights with daylight running lamps, heated and air-conditioning-ventilated front seats, front and rear parking sensors; you're not going to be wanting for too many extras when you're sitting down to tick off the options list. You can spring for a sunroof, if you so desire, since you have a lot of space free on that long, low, sloping roof.
Being a Lexus, everything inside the RC 350 F Sport is very well put together. The paint finish is surpremely deep and attractively flecked, the doors close with a satisfyingly solid clunk, and every piece of interior trim does not budge if you give it an undignified shove -- no thin plastics used here. The entire in-car experience is just properly sorted, and you can say exactly the same for the driving experience.
As a driver's vehicle, the RC 350 sits next to and very slightly above the top-spec IS 350 in Lexus' line-up. That's to say that it's a sporty car, sure, but it's also a usable one for the kind of driver that Lexus is targeting -- not one with a bunch of kids and luggage to transport, but not focused on complete and outright performance. That's what the RC F, with its 5-litre 351kW V8, is for.
What's It Good At?
This is a car that turns heads. In the Lava Mica orange finish it turns heads quickly. That paint with the RC 350 F Sport's crazy styling is, honestly, a beautiful mix, and even just parked on the side of the road on an overcast day I found myself admiring its lines. It looks super sporty, like a Toyota 86 on steroids -- it's bigger with the same proportions and the same smoothly sloping bonnet and high-waisted boot, although the RC 350 has a gorgeous pair of protruding tail-lights that set it apart from its cheaper, simpler stablemate.
The driver's seat of the RC 350 F is a geek's paradise. That Lexus-built centre console, centre-mounted multimedia system and all the associated controls are supremely high-tech and futuristic -- we're talking a touchpad in the space between seats to navigate through menus on the 7-inch display. You get steering wheel paddles for the auto gearbox. You get a giant LCD in the digital dashboard that gives you speed, gear, G-force and a swathe of other pertinent info -- and there's two different screen setups to choose from in the F Sport, switching between which makes you feel like James Bond taking a spin in the Batmobile.
The interior of the F Sport variant of the Lexus RC 350 is a really nice place to be. Beautiful leather (although even nicer on the Sports Luxury) predominates, as does hard-wearing but soft-touch plastic and occasional touches of alcantara. Being in a Lexus, you quickly get used to reading that central analog clock, and the interface of the central infotainment system can be controlled either by moving the cursor with a touchpad or steering wheel controls. That steering wheel, too, is super-comfortable to hold and the variable steering means you're not throwing it back and forth at low speeds or weaving dangerously around on high-speed highways.
The driving dynamics of the Lexus RC 350, too, are awesome when you're in Sport or Sport+ mode. Gearshifts tighten up noticeably, and the adaptive dampers on the F Sport (and Sports Luxury) almost completely eliminate body roll and make cornering genuinely good fun. Active rear-wheel steering means that at anything under freeway speeds, steering is sharp and responsive, if a little electric -- three-point turns are a thing of the past on any suburban road of decent width, and turn-in on a bit of quick cornering is impressively stable and quick. Switch into Normal or Eco mode, though, and everything becomes a lot more smooth and relaxed and the ride becomes more compliant. You can switch between sporty and everyday driving with the twist of a dial, and the difference is noticeable.
The (optional) 14-speaker, 850-Watt Mark Levinson stereo system is excellent, with huge amounts of bass and treble in reserve and DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth as standard on the Dolby Digital-tuned audio system. It's easy to make it sound not so nice, though, with various digital sound programs and other adjustments colouring the sound quite significantly -- you might like it, you might not, but I found the best sound to be from the standard arrangement. Sync your phone over Bluetooth and play some high quality downloaded tunes off Spotify or your music service of choice to get the best out of the system; FM radio doesn't quite cut it.
For the most part, the RC 350 F Sport is just a fun car to drive. It belongs on an empty, windy road where you can ratchet up and down through the gears and give both accelerator and brake pedal a proper workout; can I suggest a quiet night that lets you take best advantage of the excellent headlight setup on offer. The suspension setup, more than anything else, is tuned to that great compromise between comfort and jauntiness. It's responsive, sharp, sporty and refined at the same time.
What's It Not Good At?
Fuel consumption during my time with the Lexus RC 350 F Sport was not great, with the regular 10-ish litres per 100 kilometres ballooning quickly out towards the 20L mark with any small amount of spirited driving. Those eight ratios in the gearbox make the coupe shift itself along quite nicely when you step on it -- 0 to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds -- but especially in stop-start city driving, as the gearbox shifts through first and second and third and back down into second, can get pretty worrisome especially if you have the powerful dual-zone air conditioning on. For what it's worth, Lexus' official fuel consumption for the RC 350 range is 9.4l/100km.
Despite being an 8-speed gearbox, there's something about city-driving the RC 350 F that could be a bit smoother. I think a lot of that stems from the three early ratios in the 'box; first is a very short gear, while second is similarly short but third feels like a significant jump. It's a difference that leaves you feeling like there should be another gear, oddly enough -- filling the gap between second and third. Sport+ shifts, as you'd expect, are super-sharp, but the 'box is sometimes reluctant to shift down even when you urge it to. It's a very revvy engine, too, with lots of power at the top end, which is either sporty or unnecessarily loud depending on your driving style that day.
There's also a huge amount of price variance in the RC 350 range. The base Luxury model starts at $72,965, but stepping up to the mid-range F Sport at $81,365 is a significant extra investment -- and the $93,965 Sports Luxury even more so. (Of course, the $143,840 RC F is an entirely different league. It's expensive if you opt for the top-spec model, true. But you have to take into account the fact that the other compact sports coupes on the market, the Audi A5 and the BMW 435i and the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG, are much more expensive for similar equipment levels, interior quality and performance figures.
Despite the formidable size of the RC 350 F -- and it is a bit of a big car, despite being a 'compact' sports coupe -- there's not a great deal of headroom. I'm a 5'10" driver, and I like having the (electric, five-way-adjustable) seat as low to the ground as possible, but if you lean forward at the wrong point you'll graze your head along the low roofline. Rear vision through the back window is not excellent because of the car's high waist, which means you'll need to rely heavily on the large side mirrors and the wide-angle rear vision camera while you're reversing, as well as the suite of front and rear proximity sensors. If you have passengers in the back, you'll struggle with visibility.
It's also worth mentioning, although it's not exactly a huge problem, that the RC 350's multimedia controls are primarily designed to be used by the driver. The touchpad is on the driver's side of the centre column, and you'll need it to enter the destination on the navigation screen or to quickly navigate through the digital radio stations on offer; you can get by with the physical centre console buttons if you don't want to use sat-nav. Similarly, one other very minor annoyance is the centre glove-box -- its lid placement makes it a fiddle to actually open and use (there are a couple of USB ports in there for media or charging) if you have a passenger in the front.
Should You Buy It?
The circa-$80K RC 350 F Sport, the particular model in the RC range that I tested, is a great car when you're driving it with a bit of spirit. That sport mode dial should spend its time in either Sport or Sport+ when you're driving for enjoyment, and Eco when you're on the route into work and saving a few pennies on petrol. In this kind of two-mode life the 350 F can be both good fun and a plush, comfortable ride.
It's in a point of the market where the Lexus RC 350 is going to get a lot of competition from its European rivals, despite them costing a significant amount more for even a barely competitive model. In this way, the RC 350 is actually great value despite its high five figure price tag; optioning it up obviously raises the price quite a bit but the allure of high-tech features like rear-wheel steering on the F Sport makes it worthwhile.
Inside and outside, the technology of the RC 350 F Sport is top-notch. Those beautiful, powerful headlights and daytime running lights and simple, useful, versatile digital dashboard make for a great driving experience, while a gutsy stereo and feature-packed -- if a little complicated -- multimedia system gives you something to play with in traffic or something for your passenger to tweak while you're concentrating on driving.
The RC 350 F Sport is a precise driving instrument, but it actually has a fair bit of soul and substance and fun to it. It's not the most exciting and thrilling vehicle in Eco or Normal mode, but twist that dial to the left and hit Sport+ and the vehicle is genuinely transformed, with those active dampers doing a lot to firm up your driving enjoyment. The styling, though, with that massive grille and cutaway rear bumper and beautiful paint, is what makes the RC 350 a proper head-turner.