Sean Carson | December 2014
There are no two ways about, the Lexus RC F has some stiff competition to fight if it wants to be the best high-performance coupe on the market. BMW’s M4 Coupe currently reigns supreme, with a sophisticated chassis, a masterpiece of an engine and all that M car heritage.
We’ve seen the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, soon to be available with 510hp if you opt for the S model, so expect a coupe version to follow shortly after. The V6 S Jaguar F-Type Coupe is fair game too, with similarly sharp styling and a brawny front-engined rear-drive layout.
Lexus has a tough task on its hands with the new V8 RC F, then. But let’s not forget, the Japanese company has previous.
Notably, the LFA – a shining example of what Lexus can do when it wants to rattle the cage of manufacturers like Porsche. With the RC F, much of that car’s approach has filtered down into Lexus’s new performance coupe.
What’s the Lexus RC F like to drive?
Lexus’s F performance brand likes to do thing differently, so you won’t find a downsized, force-fed turbo or supercharged engine here. No, tucked away beneath that slightly beaky bonnet is a huge, naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 that revs to 7,300rpm – with 477hp, it’s Lexus’s most powerful V8 ever.
However, initially, you might not think that. The lack of forced induction compared to its rivals means it feels a touch sluggish at the bottom end. The motor needs around 3,750rpm on the clock before it wakes up, at which point it starts to break from a slow trot into a fast canter.
You’ll need to keep in the throttle and hit 5,000 before it morphs into a full-on gallop towards the redline, with peak power delivered high at 7,100rpm.
This can sometimes prove frustrating – especially if you want to overtake slower cars in tighter gaps – but it’s the lack of torque that’s the root of the problem.
The Lexus has 391lb ft spread between 4,800 and 5,600rpm; quite high compared to the BMW M4’s 406lb ft from as little as 1,850rpm. That’s turbocharging for you.
This relative lack of torque, a 1,765kg kerb weight and a sluggish eight-speed automatic transmission even in the most hardcore Sport S+ mode (downshifts take a while to complete) means that BMW or Jaguar you were chasing will now be a spec on the horizon.
Keep the engine on the boil, however, and it’s at least as exciting as any of its competition. At 4.5 seconds from 0-62mph, it’s fast, and the hard-edged V8 howl that forces its way into the cabin is addictive.
The engine’s most comfortable on the track – where you’re always in the right gear and always at higher revs, it’s a different story. And luckily we had one to test the RC F on.
Starting in Sport S mode, it’s easy to feel the restraining hand of the stability systems. Moving to Sport S+ its grip is loosened, but for best performance Sport S+ with the traction control set to Expert (we weren’t allowed to turn it completely off) is what you need.
This allows the back end to move around more under acceleration out of corners, but won’t allow you to spin the RC F – call it a fun mode for those who understandably want to enjoy but protect their £60,000 investment.
Better still, it reduces understeer in turns and gives you a greater connection to the chassis. Which is balanced and delivers good feedback as to what the front and rear axles are doing individually.
The steering is direct and means you can place the car accurately. Grip is strong and the engine encourages you to rev it within an inch of its life at every opportunity, for both the good and bad reasons mentioned.
Once the motor is ripping up top, you’ll need to call on the strong six-pot Brembo brakes. Bite and stopping power is good, although the pedal did go a bit long after repeated hard stops on track. They’ll be more than enough for the road.
The RC F’s dynamic ability is all helped by the many different modes for the traction control, limited-slip differential and engine that – once you get used to tweaking them – subtly change the character of the car, helping tune it for circuit or street.
Is the Lexus RC F a good GT car?
At £59,995 the RC F has to be a good cruiser, too. Not just a fast road and track car.
But the Lexus doesn’t get off to a great start on the Queen’s highway. Official fuel economy of 26.2mpg (less if you’re using all the revs) with 252g/km CO2 is not particularly impressive. The BMW delivers 32.1mpg – again, thank turbocharging for that.
Overlook efficiency, however, and in the normal default setting with the ’box just left in D, it works perfectly well – Lexus citing that this is as much a road car as it is a track car, so it needs to be smooth. That it certainly is, with ratios swapped almost imperceptibly. It’s so long geared that you can’t help but feel it needs two fewer, though.
This level of refinement is matched inside the cabin, too – despite the big 19-inch wheels and tyres, they didn’t roar even on broken Spanish tarmac, and the ride quality was supple and composed in the most focused Sport S+ setting.
The interior is comfortable, with supportive two-piece bucket seats, and the cabin design is inspired by the LFA halo car.
You can even get an optional 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo with clever Harman Clari-Fi system that makes your MP3s sound like a live band performing in front of you.
There’s plenty more standard-fit equipment on offer, including climate control, heated and vented seats and LED headlights. Room in the back is limited, like its rivals, so it’ll be extra space for bags (if you overflow the 366-litre boot) or young children you’ll be carrying.
MR verdict: 2014 Lexus RC F
The Lexus RC F is a good GT car. But it’s not without its flaws. Even so, the car does feel different in its approach to the BMW M4, and even though it’s more expensive, it’s still very appealing.
Build quality is immaculate, and that engine dominates with its high-revving V8 howl. It’s a fix you’ll need to secure again and again. All of which makes the RC F a curious car.
Objectively, you’d probably plump for the M4, but go with your heart and there’s more than enough ability present to warrant dropping nearly £60k on the RC F if you desperately don’t want that BMW. And we’re sure there are enough people out there that don’t.
Rivals: Lexus RC F
- BMW M4 Coupe
- Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S
- Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG
- Porsche 911
- Audi RS5
Like all the RC F’s rivals, the Audi’s RS5 is a compelling premium sports coupe, but with four-wheel drive it doesn’t feel as sharp as the Lexus. The BMW M4 is the big one, and unfortunately for the Japanese manufacturer, in the real world, it still has the measure of the RC F thanks to the balance of price (£56,650) and performance. The F-Type costs just £255 more than the Lexus so the call will go down to personal choice, although the Jag is slower. Mercedes doesn’t offer a C63 AMG coupe yet, but the saloon delivers biblical performance – it shares the much more expensive ground with the venerable Porsche 911, which is still one of the best performance coupes on sale.
Specification: Lexus RC F
Engine: 5.0-litre V8
Gearbox: eight-speed automatic with paddleshifters
Price from: £59,995
Torque: 391lb ft
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 168mph
MPG: 26.2mpg combined