by Gabe Beita Kiser
It's hard to know how many foot-on-mat and head-in-headrest accelerations it takes for a charge to the horizon to get old, but I tried to find out. After all, it's not every day you're given a 467-horsepower Lexus RC-F and told to go nuts. So as a treat to my inner toddler, I threw caution to the wind and spent a week trying to bond to the machine. And bond I did, because using the lessons learned from honing the LFA into a supercar, Lexus created a car that manages model citizen behavior in the streets and tire-ripping performance at the push of a button.
5.0-liter V8 Gas
Nothing was spared on my example. A stock RC-F starts at $62,805, but the options quickly added up to make it so that I had $77,905 of responsibility on my hands. The first $5,420 extra comes from 19-inch alloys, leather, and the fancy but useless touchpad infotainment system. Next is the $3,240 premium package that adds comfort and safety nannies like blind spot detection, heated and ventilated seats, and parking assist. The final addition is the $5,500 performance package, which replaces the roof and rear wing with carbon fiber, adds a torque vectoring differential, and 50 pounds of mass. Stuffed full of options, the car was a sight to behold. When I opened the door to take delivery of the car it was hard not to fall in love at first sight.
An Ultra White paint job accented by a naked carbon fiber roof and active rear wing to complement made the low-slung coupe the center of attention anywhere I went. Countless onlookers did double takes and teenagers on skateboards flashed me thumbs ups. I even caught a faint "damn that's sick!" over the sound of the 17 speaker Mark Levinson sound system from a woman passing in a BMW. That level of attention is something I doubt M4 owners experience much. Inside things get even better. Red leather with black accents cloaks the bolstered seats and drive home the point that Lexus is no longer for the retired. A digital tachometer sits front and center flanked by an analogue speedometer on the right and a digital screen on the left.
The small screen offers useful information on things like gas mileage, navigation, tire pressure, G-force, and rear wing position. A 7" infotainment screen with a backup camera comforted me when in reverse since the B and C-pillars censor the surroundings like blinders on a racehorse. Which is perfectly okay because when you flick the driving mode selector out of Eco, past Normal, and into Sport or Sport +, it is a racehorse. Suddenly the car forgets about helping you glide around comfortably in traffic and becomes intent on displaying its anger. A now unbridled 5.0-liter V8 helps with that by turning blips of the throttle into seismic events, not just with the violence of its sprint, but with a roar that assures surrounding cars that the left lane will now be occupied.
A short dose of that is all it took to convince me that I would get into legal trouble if I kept up the drama, so back to "Normal" mode it was. Around town, the RC-F is well behaved. You can immediately tell that the suspension is set up to take corners better than a 4,048-pound machine should be able to, but it feels Lexus smooth and makes for a proper GT car ride. Although it's hard to tell where the front wheels are positioned using the steering wheel, it's easy to point the car. The theme of accessible performance continues when pitching into a corner while carrying some healthy momentum. There is plenty of understeer dialed in to prevent newbies like myself from sliding off the road, but balance is easily found in the throttle.
Around the time that high-speed corner exits become a priority, you notice the "TVD" button that controls the torque-vectoring differential. Press it once to get it into "Slalom" mode and tell the RC-F you're serious. Combined with the heavier steering and sharper throttle responses that Sport + delivers, the RC-F immediately magnifies even the slightest semblance of driver skill while politely pointing out the errors in shift timing or throttle input with beeps and a blinking traction control light. A little more time behind the wheel is all it took for me to feel confident and put the TVD into "Track" mode, which is full attack mode with minimal driver aids. Immediately the madness goes to 11.
BMW M owners would cry out in jealousy at 5.0-liters of aural disruption because, let's be honest, there is no replacement for displacement. Further proof of this is found by downshifting before a corner, keeping the revs hovering near the 7300 RPM redline, and then accelerating mid-corner with the TVD holding things steady at the rear while the nose lifts up and the car leaps forward. When another corner comes you can trust the six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembos to bite the large (14.9" front 13.5" rear) slotted rotors without fade. The eight-speed transmission is also a beautiful creation, allowing for high-gear fuel conservation or low-end torque manipulation. All these systems come together to make the car incredibly fun to drive.
The variable driving modes allow for edge-of-your-seat driving without prior racetrack experience. Okay, so I know the RC-F has gotten a lot of criticism from those who are intent on keeping BMW's monopoly but I promise, performance-seekers won't be disappointed. Which brings me to the elephant in the room, or rather, the elephant on the scales. I'll say it outright: the RC-F is fat. 4,048 pounds is more than an ideal sports car should weigh, but it sets the car apart from the competition and lulls in a different class of buyers. These customers are demanding, they request reliability, attention from onlookers, enough comfort to put a baby to sleep, a dramatic entrance followed by a loud exit, and fun.
Does the weight impede on any of this? In my opinion, not even a little bit. Working with the car to properly shift the weight and toss it into corners becomes an art form, and if it's lap times you're concerned with, Motor Trend found that the M4 only beats the RC-F by .32 seconds around Willow Springs race track. With performance at this level and enough accessibility to allow a first time sports car driver to feel like superstars, Lexus succeeds in building a competent sports car that embodies the characteristics of its lineup as well as a flagship should. It turns more heads than an M4 and unlike the BMW, it sounds like a sports car. If you want the extra decimals of performance numbers and care about sticking with the rest of the sheep, buy an M4.
But if you want the drama, emotion, looks, noise, and fun of a sports car with the added benefit of a $5,000 discount and Lexus reliability, then the RC-F is the better car. So why is it that Lexus is having a hard time selling it? It could be prejudice towards German competition and the fact that until recently, Lexus hasn't been known as a performance brand. Regardless, the people are missing out on an incredible car. If Lexus stays in the performance car game, constantly tweaking for improvements like every other competitor, it can be sure to get a nice payout once the mainstream takes notice of the car. Oh, and I checked. Repeatedly charging the horizon with a 467 horsepower V8 soundtrack doesn't get old. Photos by Mane Chakarian.