Lexus’ swoopy coupe is more long distance cruiser than back road brawler.
Lexus’ swoopy coupe is more long distance cruiser than back road brawler.
For what seems like an eternity, the executive coupe market has been dominated by the big German trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Yes, more off-beat competitors such as the Infiniti Q60 have snapped at their heels, but it’s safe to say the three brands have had the market comfortably to themselves for quite some time All that has started to change, however, thanks to Lexus ending its hiatus of 15 years in the mid-sized executive hardtop class with this: the new RC. Instead of tackling the Germans head on at their own game, though, Lexus is instead forging an identity for the RC that contrasts heavily with the rather sensible BMW 4 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe. It’s an admirably bold move that Lexus has managed to pull off rather well – though it’s worth pointing out that there were a few stumbles on the RC’s journey down that rarely trodden path.
The RC is a far more adventurous and flamboyant vehicle.
One way in which the Lexus RC stands out from its Teutonic competitors is in the design department. Preposterously large front grille on the Audi A5 aside, the German rivals to the Lexus tend to err more on the sensible side of the styling department. In contrast, the RC is a far more adventurous and flamboyant vehicle that will surely warrant a double-take or two. Yes, it’s perhaps not the most aesthetically cohesive design on the planet (the sharp creases, aggressive detailing in the bumpers and gargantuan spindle grille are as distinctive as they are divisive) but the case of the RC being the most distinctive car in this class is a very strong one indeed.
This criticism doesn’t mean the Lexus RC’s cabin is poorly built, however.
It’s a shame, then, that those avant-garde exterior cues didn’t translate to the interior. Even without the comparisons to the bodywork, there are some parts of the Lexus RC’s cabin that look markedly dated and out of place in an executive coupe with a starting MSRP that’s five bucks shy of $40,000 (the drive selector for the automatic gearbox, for example, looks like it belongs in a car from the previous decade). This criticism doesn’t mean the Lexus RC’s cabin is poorly built, however. On the contrary, it’s exceptionally well put together, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it still holds up well to scrutiny come resale time. Furthermore, most of the materials used throughout are of a high quality, and there are a few pleasant trim pieces that help uplift the ambience of the cabin – namely the leather-lined sports seats, which come as standard on all RC models and offer far more shoulder and lumbar support than the regular chairs featured on the Lexus IS (a sedan that shares quite a few mechanical components with the RC). It’s just, for upmarket ambiance, the RC coupe does struggle to match its arch nemeses in certain places.
The most powerful engine in the range (the 306hp, 3.5-liter V6 available in the ‘RC 350’ model) is the most effortless to get up to speed
What the Lexus RC lacks in premium flair, though, it more than makes up as a long distance cruiser. Noise insulation is especially good at higher speeds, and the ride quality is pretty good for the most part, with the only noteworthy drawback being the fact it’s a little bit fidgety when you’re driving around town. Bar that, though, the RC is mightily supple and cosseting, and is only legitimately rivalled in this class by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe. That smoothness also translates well to the powertrain options. For obvious reasons, the most powerful engine in the range (the 306hp, 3.5-liter V6 available in the ‘RC 350’ model) is the most effortless to get up to speed, but all the other options do offer a respectable turn of pace – even the 241hp 2.0-liter inline-four engine in the ‘RC 200t’ has a decent amount of punch that belies its 7.3-seconds 0-60mph time (even if it does sound rather strained at higher revs). Sitting in between the two is another 3.5-liter V6 in the confusingly-named ‘RC 300’ that, despite having just 14 more horsepowers to play with over the RC 200t, is only marginally behind the range-topping RC 350 in terms of outright pace. No matter which one you go for, though, you’re guaranteed an engine that’s engineered to work best at lower revs, and especially when the RC is settled down to a cruise on the open road. Likewise, the gearboxes match the Lexus RC’s more relaxed character, though it’s here where the limitations of the car’s repertoire start to show. Though they’re not bad transmissions, the eight-speed auto that’s available in every variant bar the RC 300 (which gets a six-speed auto, for some bizarre reason) aren’t as smooth as the dual-clutch units found in the Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series. Both the six-speed and eight-speed ‘boxes are also a bit sluggish to change gear manually, but it’s worth pointing out that they’re far better behaved when left to sort things out on their own.
The trunk, for example, is remarkably small for a car of this size.
What holds the Lexus RC back from being the perfect long distance mid-sized coupe isn’t the transmission: it’s the so-so practicality. While cars of this ilk aren’t especially renowned for being as spacious as the sedans they’re often based on, the RC really does take the biscuit in some key areas. The trunk, for example, is remarkably small for a car of this size: with 10.4 cubic feet to play with, even a Honda Fit has more luggage capacity in the back than the Lexus, let alone its more commodious German competitors. It also doesn’t help that the trunk lid is quite narrow – meaning that, whilst you can just about carry two suitcases in theory, the reality is it’ll probably be quite tricky to slide them in and out. Further compounding the Lexus RC’s credibilities as a cruiser is the rather compromised cabin practicality. Head room and leg room is rather tight in the back (though, to Lexus’ credit, there’s an admirable amount of shoulder space), so you’ll just be able to squeeze a couple of mid-sized adults into the two rear seats, and the limited array of cup holders (just two, located at the base of the center console) is just one example of the Lexus RC’s lack of usable storage cubbies.
The RC is far more suited to the open road than it is on a twisty back route.
As we mentioned earlier, the Lexus RC lends itself exceptionally well at a more relaxed and less frenetic pace. Even in its raciest, 306hp guise (there is a 477hp RC-F variant, but that’s leagues ahead of the regular car in terms of pace and price), the RC is far more suited to the open road than it is on a twisty back route. That does mean, then, that the RC is a coupe that doesn’t necessarily drive in the way you expect it to. A combination of that comfort-oriented outlook and the car’s hefty curb weight (at 3,737 lbs, even the lightest RC variant is almost 300 lbs heavier than a like-for-like BMW 4 Series) means this Lexus doesn’t like being hustled aggressively or driven hard at speed – chuck the Lexus into the bends, and you’ll quickly discover the RC struggles with hiding its sheer bulk.
Not everyone wants to drive in a spirited manner all of the time.
Being more sedate to drive isn’t a bad quality to have in this class. After all, not everyone wants to drive in a spirited manner all of the time, and it’s refreshing to find a more comfort-oriented car in a sector where everyone else seems to be trying to out-do the aforementioned 4 Series at its own game. The problem lies in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class – a car that’s not only entertaining to drive, but is also rather soothing and relaxing when you tone things down a bit.
There’s no denying the Lexus RC is priced rather well against its rivals.
Though it’s perhaps wrong to describe an executive coupe that retails from 40 grand as “good value for money”, there’s no denying the Lexus RC is priced rather well against its rivals. By the slimmest of margins, the RC marginally undercuts the Audi A5, BMW 4 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe in price like-for-like. Further emphasising this price advantage is the Lexus RC’s fairly generous standard equipment levels: dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats, a reversing camera and a 7inch multimedia interface (with an, admittedly, rather fiddly touchpad control scheme that’s nigh-on impossible to use intuitively on the move) come fitted on every RC model. Standard safety equipment levels are pretty good too, thanks to the car’s complement of eight airbags, hill start assist and a brake assist system that helps slow the car down faster during emergency stop situations. As the Lexus RC has yet to be officially crash tested by the NHTSA, we can’t say for certain how safe the car is, though it’s worth pointing out that the Lexus IS and GS sedans (which share a lot of mechanical components with the RC) were each awarded a five-star safety rating Despite the good equipment levels, there are quite a few optional extras you can choose from. Quite a lot of them you can ignore: as cool as the gimmicks on the F-Sport trim are (how can you not like the LFA-inspired digital instrument bezel?), it’s a very expensive trim package that’s at odds with the Lexus’ more relaxed character. Others, though, are worthy of your consideration, such as the blind spot indicators that’ll set you back $600 - a nigh-on necessity, in a car with such poor rear visibility as the RC- and the $500 pre-collision prevention system that not only prepares the car if it detects a possible head-on collision, but also includes radar-guided dynamic cruise control.
If you really need a V6 in your life, then we’d advise you skip the RC 300 entirely and plump for the 306hp RC 350.
Sitting in between the easy-to-recommend safety gear and the rather pricey F-Sport package are optional extras that, whilst not strictly necessary to ensuring a good ownership experience, might make your RC more desirable when you sell it on. The heated front seats included in the $1,240 Premium Package are worth considering if you’d prefer the convenience of having them during the winter months, as is the rear steer system that really comes on its own in improving the Lexus RC’s manoeuvrability in built-up areas. Engine-wise, we’re more inclined to recommend the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder petrol engine in the rear-wheel-drive-only RC 200, as it’s almost as punchy as the more potent V6 in the RC 300, yet is substantially more economical (Lexus claims 22/36mpg for the RC 200, in contrast with the 19/21mpg figures for the RC 300). If you really need a V6 in your life, then we’d advise you skip the RC 300 entirely and plump for the 306hp RC 350, as it’s more powerful, is just as frugal, costs only a few hundred dollars more like-for-like and is available in rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations (the RC 300 is only, for some unbeknown reason, available with all-wheel drive).