The RC F feels unlike its European rivals, but not always better

On paper the Lexus RC F sits well rooted in between its super-coupe rivals, with 350kW, a paddle-operated automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive plus a high price tag it could be part of the establishment. 

> Read our review of the Lexus LC500

Yet, although the RC F comes to the same conclusions as BMW’s M4 and the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, it carves its own path and takes a very different approach to performance. The most obvious difference is its naturally aspirated V8 engine, but Lexus’s unconventional attitude is apparent throughout the entire car; from its interior and exterior design to just how the buttons operate and feel.

Performance and 0-100 time

Not shackled by a Germanic 250kph (155mph) speed limiter, the Lexus RC F has a trump card over many of its European rivals, a 270km/h top speed. In almost every other respect, however, its figures trail the competition slightly.

With a claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of 4.5sec, the Lexus is clearly fast, but it’s 0.3sec off the BMW M4 Competition Package’s official time and 0.6sec behind the Audi RS5 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S. And those are the manufacturers’ optimistic, perfect-environment, only-a-thimble-of-fuel-to-save-weight times. Our recorded times for the Audi (3.6sec), the BMW (4.4sec) and Mercedes (4.3sec) are still all faster than what Lexus could get the RC F to achieve.

When we’ve had opportunity to set lap times with the Lexus coupe it’s been slower than its competition, too. Around one of Bedford Autodrome’s smaller loops it trailed a regular M4, without the Competition Pack, by 0.35sec and the old, heavier, less powerful, naturally aspirated Audi RS5 by 3.35sec. 

> Read our review of the BMW M4

There’s a significant element that the slower acceleration and lap times can be blamed on, and that’s the Lexus’s 1765kg kerb weight. It’s 205kg more than a BMW M4 Competition Pack and 145kg more than the four-door saloon-only Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Engine and gearbox

It’s the RC F’s engine that really sets it apart from the competition. Not because it has huge reserves of power or torque, but because its 5-litre V8 is naturally aspirated, which allows its performance to be more liner and progressive and, as a result, the entire car to be incredibly controllable and approachable. It also makes a glorious noise, mostly an induction bark that turbocharged engines simply cannot replicate. 

Let’s get the matter of the figures out of the way, though, because they are important. It produces 470bhp, which is bang in the middle of the competition. It’s a little down on torque, a symptom of its lack of turbos, with 391lb ft. The sensation of less torque is then exaggerated by peak lb ft starting at 4800rpm, about 2000-3000rpm after a turbo engine will hit max torque and just a few hundred revs before one would run out of puff too.

All that means is you have to work the engine a little harder and keep the revs closer to its 7000rpm limit. The eight-speed automatic transmission, a Lexus unit and not the ubiquitous ZF gearbox, helps you do that with quick – but not quite dual-clutch quick – changes and plenty of ratios to choose from

> Lexus LFA: History of a sought after supercar

It must be said, however, that the RC F’s V8 isn’t quite as tantalising or as exciting, especially at its top end, as you might expect from a Japanese, naturally aspirated engine. It’s certainly not akin to an LFA V10 with two fewer cylinders. Yes, the noises are pleasant, but you do long for a higher rev limit and harder-edged noise to reward your extra efforts making up for the shortage of available torque.

Ride and handling

The controllable engine that allows you to be precise with the amount of power that you deploy is let down by a chassis that’s doesn’t feel particularly lithe or agile. In slow corners the steering feels slow, the car feels big and, initially, it’s rather cumbersome. 

Low speed ride from the fixed-rate dampers is a little edgy, too. As the speed rises, over 40-50mph, the suspension seems to find its range and it begins to flow down a road in a more dignified manner than your first impressions suggested it ever could. That same fluidity is maintained through longer, wider corners, the RC F settling onto a well-supported outer rear corner and the throttle allowing just a slight influence over the car’s attitude. With the engine playing a part in creating some yaw angle, the lazy steering seems less of an issue.

When travelling at higher speeds you need to be careful of big undulations and crests that can cause the heavy Lexus to fall out of sync with the road; the dampers struggle to deal with too many big inputs and you have to slow your pace to allow the RC F’s chassis to catch up.

The Lexus’s assured high speed stride rejuvenates your confidence in the car, so when you’re confronted with a series of tighter, technical bends you’re able to overcome the car’s slow reactions with a bit of commitment. This unlocks impressive front end grip, but you have to rely on that rather than feel it as the steering communicates very little.

If you want to exploit the engine’s top-end power and the super-accurate control it grants you in slower corners you’ll need to choose the correct settings and mode to free the car. First you’ll also need to set the stability control to Expert with a long press of the traction control button after selecting Sport+ from the main driving modes, of which there are four: Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Now you’re let loose without any interference from the car, no safety net to save you if you’re too enthusiastic. You then need to set the TVD (Torque Vectoring Differential) by choosing between Standard, Slalom and Track modes.

We’ve only driven RC Fs with the optional TVD differential. The first two modes are frustrating; the diff takes its time to engage and allows the inside rear wheel to spin and saps away at your momentum. On the occasions it does lock, it then tries to quell any slide before you’ve had chance to enjoy it or react to it. It’s the final, most focused Track setting that provides the most natural feeling set-up, with the diff engaging as soon as you touch the throttle and staying locked as you dictate your angle of slide with the throttle. It can easily be kept small and tidy or large and boisterous depending on how much throttle you choose to use.

Interior and tech

Whatever else is said about the RC F’s interior, you cannot fault how it’s built. It has been constructed to such fine tolerances and with excellent quality materials that wobbles and rattles simply don’t exist.

How it all looks and works, however, isn’t as universally loved. The seats, with their many sinewy patches looks like exposed muscles, only made from black leather, but are set too high for many. 

The grey centre console and hi-fi is so sparsely populated with buttons that it has been described by the evo team as looking both boring and also the perfect example of Dieter Rams’ ‘as little design as possible’ philosophy. You’ll have to make your own mind up about it.

Programming the satnav, connecting your phone via Bluetooth to the car, or changing radio stations has been vexing for almost everyone that’s attempted to interact with the RC F’s infotainment system. As much as we may applaud Lexus for being different in certain areas, we’d rather have a more conventional and understandable entertainment system in the RC F.

Design

Like the interior’s looks, the exterior has the ability to split opinion too. There’s none of the restrained European design attitude here and no concession to beauty. The lines that dictate the shape of the many lights and angled grilles at the front seem to emanate from an explosion that happened just below the Lexus badge.

The back end is less provocative, but only by comparison to the front; the diagonally stacked exhaust pipes certainly make sure you don’t mistake it for an Audi or BMW. That said, when painted in white a lot of the RC F’s sharp creases and rippling bodywork is lost and it looks heavy and more conventional. But beyond the angles and cuts that make up many of the RC F’s details there are neat proportions and an aggressive stance helped by some heavily flared wheel arches.