What is it?
The naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 Lexus RC F has all the potential to be the most purist gun-toter in the otherwise turbocharged or supercharged performance-coupé corral. Everything from its 471bhp output and a mostly bespoke platform (with a smattering of bits from the GS and previous-generation IS F saloon) to the Sachs dampers and, of course, that extrovert styling speaks of serious intent. This is no marketing car; the RC F has got all the potential to take on the likes of the BMW M4 and forthcoming offerings from AMG.
What’s it like?
The thing is, we’ve already driven the RC F abroad, where it fell short of our high expectations. As much as we’d hoped they would, things haven’t improved on UK roads.
The real frustration is that there’s so much about the RC F that’s brilliant. The V8 motor spins freely and with hearty potency right through to 5000rpm, after which you discover a few thousand revs of further shock and awe that will fully deliver in outright track use or intense on-road driving. Some might find that the more urgent low-down pull of the lighter and faster BMW M4 is actually more fun, more of the time, but there’s no doubting that the RC F’s engine is utterly riotous if you’re willing to use it hard.
It’s a shame, then, that the eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t always your friend. In any of the automatic settings, it can feel slow to change down when you want it to while at times remaining too keen to hold on to gears, which makes if feel generally a bit ham-fisted. Manual mode is best; twitch the paddles and, mostly, it responds when you want it to and in the fashion you expect.
Throttle response is also oddly inconsistent, particularly in the most aggressive Sport S setting. It’s so quick on initial response that it can make it hard to apply power smoothly and in as precise a fashion as you want to with 471bhp under your toes. At least the brakes are impressively strong and easy to modulate precisely in hard use, which comes in handy as the RC F turns in best with a bit of trail-braking to dial out the subtle understeer into which it’s inclined to wash. Otherwise, despite the fact that you’re conscious of the RC F’s bulk, it feels like a car that really relishes corners. Get the nose tucked in and, once you’ve got used to the throttle response, you can adjust your line easily on the throttle. Our car also came fitted with the optional torque-vectoring differential, which no doubt helped to give it an extra edge of balance.
Having said all that, there’s no getting away from the fact that the RC F falls short of the intuitive-feeling, razor-sharp responses of the BMW M4. That’s in part due to having less front-end grip and slightly stodgier body control, but the steering is also slightly disappointing. While well weighted in normal use, it doesn’t offer the sort of reassuring, consistent mid-corner bite that you want. Instead it feels very anodyne and doesn’t have anywhere near the directness you need to feel confident in really plundering the RC F’s endearingly extreme performance.
It comes as a pleasant surprise that the RC F has respectable ride comfort, even on our rucked-up roads. Sure, it feels brittle over sharp-edged bumps, and it’s firm enough that some mid-corner ruts can have the ESP light flashing as the car skitters for traction (a common irritation in the Lexus’s rivals, too), but generally the Lexus rides with decent pliancy for a car of this nature. Add to this the fairly hushed low-rev refinement, and the RC F is just as happy on a sedate motorway mooch as it is in banzai use.
Even the interior is pretty good. The seats offer loads of bolster and lower-back support, and you can even get two people in the back provided they’re not long-legged or behind a very tall driver. The touch-sensitive pad that controls the high-set sat-nav screen is a pain to use, but otherwise the dash is virtually identical to that of the IS. It feels solidly put together and has a touch of style flair in the fancy, high-tech dials, and you get used to the quirks of its layout with time.
Should I buy one?
This is a characterful car that you can often relish driving, not least thanks to its hint of old-school muscle car. Yet, it’s a frustrating thing to drive, too. You approach it expecting an effortlessly rapid, polished and poised sports car, but walk away feeling like it’s entertaining but somehow not as refined or – crucially – as well sorted and fun to drive as the likes of the BMW M4 or a Jaguar F-type. Between the occasionally awkward gearbox, vague steering and inconsistent throttle response, it’s like trying to watch an epic film on a tiny screen in direct sunlight. You know it could be great, but the interface makes it really hard to get involved.
So, sadly, you probably shouldn’t buy one. There are better, more optimally set up sports coupés out there. Having said that, if you like the sound of a big, high-revving V8 tempered with high-tech trickery and pretty effortless everyday usability, roll right up. The RC F is for you, and it’s plain to see why you might well love it.
Lexus RC F
Price £59,995; Engine type V8, 4969cc, petrol; Power 471bhp at 7100rpm; Torque 391lb ft at 4800-5600rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1765kg; 0-62mph 4.5sec; Top speed 168mph (limited) Economy 26.2mpg; CO2 252g/km
What is it?