Sitting at the stoplight, grandmothers in mumus, children in the back of school buses, and performance-hungry salary men in the throws of a mid-life crisis all stare at the Lexus I’m sitting in with looks of suspicion and wonderment. It doesn’t matter where you go, how you drive, or who sees you because when you’re driving something as polarizing as a Lexus RC-F in “Molten Pearl” orange, with all the carbon bits available glistening in the mid-afternoon sun, people are going to take notice.
I drove the RC-F a while back and did a brief write-up on it and its little brother, the RC350 F Sport, not knowing that I would be revisiting this adrenaline junkie a year later. Instead of having it for a few hours, I was now able to hoon on it for an entire week, which both changed my opinion and reinforced a few previously noted shortcomings.
This car reminds me of something that an orthodontist buys when he realizes his life isn’t all that exciting anymore, and a Porsche is still financially unattainable. It’s a striking take on what Lexus has become, and is without question a ton of fun. Fully loaded at $80,000, this is a lot of sports car for the money, and being that it’s a Lexus, you know that both the craftsmanship and reliability rating are just as big of a selling point as all that horsepower and carbon fiber.
This car has more creases and folds than a bag of origami, and people either love it or hate it. I personally dig the RC’s pissed-off forward facing appearance, what with its feline LED eyes, jutting jaw, bowed bonnet, and menacing grille. It’s a complete departure from everything Lexus has been working to distance itself from, and with those quad exhaust tips, extendable spoiler, big orange brakes, and all that exposed carbon, you can see why everyone stares when you pull past town square.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Carbon performance package covers roof and deployable rear wing and gives some nice contrast to the fluorescent orange body.
+ Triple-beam LED headlamps, dashing DRL accents, and proximity based lighting that automatically comes on when a key is detected.
+ Mesh air dam ducts, elongated fender vents, stacked quad exhaust, bulging wheel arches, and paint matched orange calipers.
– The doors are massive and surprisingly heavy.
– That front fascia isn’t for everyone.
– No staggered wheel options, and without a lip, the forged 19-inch wheels look a bit out of place.
The 5.0-liter V8 and eight-speed Direct-Shift transmission you get in the RC-F make an interesting duo, as they both compliment and offset one another in a few ways. Don’t get me wrong; this car is quite fast when you want it to be, and popping it into Sport+ mode does make a sporty (and noisy!) difference, but it still feels like this is “Stage 1” for Lexus. On the bright side, from a cruising perspective, it’s a very refined, Lexus-grade ride in Normal and Eco drive settings, so if you are in either of these modes and aren’t wailing on it, you are rewarded with some refined driving dynamics.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Titanium valvetrain and torque vectoring rear diff means that all 467 ponies are bridled and usable.
+ Drivability is pretty straight forward, and with paddle shifters engaged, rewarding enough for the average orthodontist.
+ In Eco and Normal driving modes, this is a very quiet, controlled powertrain, and it even has a snow button for decreased cold-weather wheel slip.
– Without a duo of turbos or a supercharger, torque numbers are down below the 400 mark — and well below the competition.
– Not having a manual gearbox option loses enthusiast points when compared to Corvette, BMW, and Mustang alternatives.
– While the blue intake runners are a nice touch, the faux carbon engine shroud cheapens the look of the engine bay.
The cabin of this coupe is more loaded than a frat boy at a tailgate party. Every ounce of stitched leather, carbon fiber, and LED accent got thrown at this car, before getting topped off with the soft touch materials and creature comforts we’ve come to expect from the Lexus brand. It’s a low-slung, fighter pilot kind of cockpit though, with numerous tasteful touches like rectangular aluminum sport pedals and one touch windows.
Interior pros and cons
+ Premium package features real carbon accents, heated/vented seats, and steering/seat memory functions to go with all those electronically adjustable controls.
+ Slick LED mood lighting, fantastic steering wheel and controls, weighty, over-sized paddle shifters, and soft touch materials across the top of the gauge cluster, along door inserts, and on the center armrest.
+ Lexus-grade leather and stitching, wild looking “F” seats, aluminum race pedals, and a fit and finish that is second to none.
– Seats are not designed for anyone with broad shoulders, and even with 10 control settings may become uncomfortable after a while for certain people.
– Dated plastics, digital read-outs, and design cues across the center stack pale in comparison to the Supele wood and aluminum trimmed new RX350.
– Massive C-pillars create blind spots, while the rear quarter glass seems more of an afterthought than a bonus.
Tech and safety
If one were going by just what the “electrolumenescent” gauge cluster had to offer, the RC-F would crush it in the tech department. Unfortunately, the 7-inch multi-media display offsets all that. While safety features here are plentiful and protective, the infotainment setup looks and reacts dated, even when compared to far more moderately priced cars like the redesigned Chevy Malibu. It’s an area that both dazzles and damns the driver at the same time.
Tech pros and cons
+ This MID is straight out of Star Wars, and will show you everything from Gs pulled in a corner to gear positions and driving minders.
+ The Mark Levinson audio upgrade features 17 speakers powered by 835 watts, and with an integrated DVD player, movies can be played in full surround sound.
+ The Premium Package upgrade adds rear cross-traffic alerts, blind spot monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, and intuitive park assist.
– Graphics and icons within the 7-inch center stack display are dated looking, and real time navi tracking is choppy and not as modern when compared to the competition.
– Lexus continues to use a remote touchpad, which even when recalibrated is a twitchy device, and is frustrating to use when compared to the classic command knob.
On the light side of things, the RC-F is a very easy car to drive, and as previously mentioned, both Eco and Normal driving modes reward you with a quiet, controlled, and almost satin-like ride. While it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the ergonomically designed cabin, sport bolstered seats, and low-slung line of sight are something you typically find in a sports car, the way in which this car cruises is almost all luxury-oriented.
But no one buys a coupe like this just to take it slow in order to see if that 19 mile per gallon average is an obtainable commodity. Pedal down, wing deployed, and torque vectoring rear differential working in overtime, this molten orange luxury coupe plows down the freeway like a chiseled stone battle ax, exhaust ports roaring their war cry from the rear. It may not have the torque you would expect in a V8, but the top-end ferocity, solid traction, and brilliant Brembo brakes more than make up for it.
Conversely, even with forged aluminum suspension components, and a set of finely tuned struts, the RC-F is still an unwieldy battle ax, and at 2 tons, a damn heavy one at that. To prove the point, I found myself accelerating and coasting a lot, just to see how much momentum could be carried, which proved to be quite a lot considering that it felt more like cruise control than coasting half the time.
Wrap up and review
Revisiting the RC-F after a year is kind of like reconnecting with that redhead you used to party with back in college. She’s still as wild and short tempered as ever, but as she’s aged her refined family heritage has come out to keep the crazy side in check. She’s also a hair more heavy-set than previously recalled, and with curves that are both sexy and strange, possessing this thirsty enigma is hard to fathom.
By unleashing this 467-horsepower, rear-wheel drive coupe, Lexus has distanced itself from the boring brand image we have come to know. But even with its surprisingly reasonable $62,805 starting price, the RC-F has been a bit of a tough sell, and for all of its aggressive intentions and refined amenities, it still isn’t the complete package.
From its low torque numbers and annoying mousepad to the use of a dated looking center stack and a hefty curb weight, this coupe doesn’t feel complete. Fortunately, it is still a very dependable, fun, and flashy alternative to going with something like a Corvette, and I feel that once a refresh comes about, Lexus may have something on its hands that really is an all-in-one sports coupe package. But until that day comes, we will continue to recommend going with the RC350 F-Sport instead.