Nearly a decade ago, a small team of Lexus engineers began transforming the rather sedate IS sedan into something…sporty. At the 2007 NAIAS, Lexus officially unveiled the founding F, the IS F, alongside the radical LF-A concept. We had the chance to drive the IS F before it went out of production. It was proof positive that this luxury sedan company could make a proper sport sedan. As for the concept car? It would go on to become Lexus’ limited-production halo car, the LFA, in 2011.
Fast forward to the launch of the new IS in 2013 and there was no sign of an F variant. Sure, Lexus had established its F-Sport trim level, but an “F car” didn’t seem to be on the table. The following year, Lexus launched the RC. This “IS coupe” would be available in two versions, one of which was F. The RC F combined the radical styling of the LFA with the V8-powered, rear-drive spirit of the IS F. It was to be Lexus’ next sports car.
To say the Lexus RC F is a sports car would be a lie. The unique styling, which is a mixture of glamorous curves and polarizing angles, did a great job at garnering attention. But the RC’s chassis is comprised of components from three vehicles within the Lexus lineup. The front end is from the excellent GS sedan, the middle from the archaic IS C, and the rear from the current IS. Unfortunately, this means that the RC F is heavy…really heavy. Weighing nearly two tons, the RC F’s mass is a hindrance. The 5.0L V8, an evolution of the V8 from the IS F, churns out 467 horsepower at 7,100 RPM. That’s only 51 more horsepower and 500 more revolutions than the aged IS F. And while the mill made some familiar noises, our opinion on its sound echoed our sentiments of the RC F’s sporting capabilities; muted.
To say the Lexus RC F is a sports car does it a great disservice. It is a grand touring car. If you get behind the wheel hoping otherwise, you will be disappointed. But being a GT car is not necessarily a bad thing. Aston Martin thrives in that market, and Lexus could do the same with the RC F. All the right touches are there. Most notable is the suspension. It works excellently to soak up the bumps to ensure the RC F maintains its composure. The overall driving experience is tailored through various settings on the center console. A dial controls engine, steering, and transmission settings. Nearby buttons toggle though different configurations of the electronic torque-vectoring rear differential and traction control system. Each setting has its own unique feel that ranges from pedestrian to damn good fun.
The RC F is a fun car, it truly is. It has an effortlessness about it. It doesn’t feel like the car or the driver has to try very hard. You can drive all day as reserved or maniacal as you please, and return home no worse for the wear. The 8-speed automatic transmission was fine in any mode other than Normal. In Normal, it was easily caught off guard and hesitated before changing down to accelerate. Our favorite combination of settings unlocked Lexus’ ego-flattering “Expert” mode. Dial the car to Sport S+, set the rear differential to Track, and disable the traction and stability control. A small “Expert” light illuminates to confirm your decision.
The steering is direct, and feels great when driving quickly. In Sport S+, it gains a satisfying weight to it. Gears are held longer and downshifts come sooner to keep the engine spinning up where it is most effective – over 4,500rpms. The rear differential takes some getting used it. In corners, it splits the power appropriately for optimal grip. But if you push hard enough, intentionally or unintentionally, it will lock up and assist in a controllable tail-out slide. Most of the suspension and drivetrain components differ from the RC350, and it shows. But there is heaviness to the RC F. You can feel it pushing away from the apex and under hard braking. It lacks a nimbleness and sharpness of a true sports car.
Ultimately, our initial exposure to the RC F provided the greatest context to understand it. We wearily picked up the RC F in NYC after two days at the auto show. In the three hours it took to get home on the Taconic State Parkway, we experienced exactly why this RC F exists. The interior is pure Lexus. We never had any complaints about their interiors and this RC F is no different. The seats offer possibly the best combination of grip and comfort of any car under $100,000. As we drove out of the city, we wanted a quiet, comfortable, easy-going car. As we got further north, where the road became increasingly animated, we wanted a sure-footed, spirited, engaging one. The RC F can be both, so long as its sporting intentions compromised none of the Lexus luxury. In attempting to make the next IS F, the next Lexus sports car, Lexus didn’t stray far enough from its comfort zone. And in that near miss, they’ve made one stunning GT car.
|2015 Lexus RC-F
|Torque Vectoring Rear Differential||$1,750|
|19″ 20-spoke Alloy Wheels||$1,500|
|As Tested MSRP||$72,970|
Less is More: 2015 Lexus RC350 F Sport AWD
Just Right: 2014 Lexus IS350 AWD
Even Better: 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport
The Founding F: 2013 Lexus IS-F
Categories: Driven, Lexus, Scott Villeneuve
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