The outgoing Lexus IS F will be a future classic. I may sound silly in saying in light of the quirks I found in the car but the wonderful 5.0L V8 shoe-horned into nose of the second generation IS sedan proved to be a highly rewarding idea. Going back to my review of the Lexus IS F earlier this year, my biggest takeaway was that, if Lexus can learn from what the IS F got wrong and push development of what did, they would have a winner on their hands.
Thankfully, the idea of what a performance Lexus can be has been redefined with the release of the 2015 Lexus RC F.
The RC F, for Lexus, is their first foray back into sports coupes since the days of the Lexus SC. While Lexus has been out of this segment for over a decade now, the landscape has changed a little. The Germans still represent the strongest competition via the rear-wheel driven BMW M4, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and the all-wheel-drive S5. Arguably the M4 is the de facto track weapon of this segment with the Mercedes being more of an insane tire-killer, and the S5 rounding out as more subdued Gran Tourer. This is where things get interesting for the Lexus as trying to conquer the current stalwarts – it must be a jack of all trades.
In the mid-2000’s, the IS F was launched as Lexus’ first attempt to thwart the Germans via a hotted up IS sport sedan. However, the offers came with mixed reviews beyond the powertrain. Effectively, the IS F, as an overall package, didn’t lend to the credibility that Lexus is desired as a manufacturer of performance cars. The RC F is a full reset of the F line, Lexus’ equivalent to BMW M-built cars, as a mean to re-establishing itself as a performance car.
BMW Remaker was invited to the world class Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York to try out the all new Lexus 2015 RC F. Stepping from the glass lobby of the paddock into the morning sun, we were greeted by a flock of brightly colored Japanese coupes – all of which were quickly occupied by journalists thumping the start button igniting the thunderous V8 under the hood.
After a quick introductory lap given by – of all things a Toyota 4Runner – we hit the circuit to wring out the sleek two door sports car. Romping on the throttle, I was rewarded with the throaty, deep pitch of the 467 hp V8. The revised V8 is a derivative of the outgoing IS F’s 5.0-liter V8 although with lighter valves, revised crank and a resulting higher redline just a shade over 7,000 rpm. Lexus has managed to take a good thing and make it even better. When asked, exiting a corner the motor was more than capable to use all of its might to pull the coupe out of the corner and rocket it down the straight. Even more, as compared to the ISF’s rather dimwitted gearbox, left to its own devices the RC F’s new, smooth 8-speed automatic allowed me to hold gears up until the last rpm before kicking up to the next gear. A welcome addition and perfectly suited for dealing with the punchy nature of the V8.
While out-and-out power was a great means of allowing the Lexus to beat its chest, the party piece for the RC F is the optional torque-vectoring differential – a first for performance cars in terms of application on a rear-wheel drive car. The differential has two electronic locks to help regulate the application of power coming out of a turn. When set to Track mode, one of the TVD’s three different modes available at the push of a button to the driver, the differential allowed me to more quickly apply power exiting turn thereby making me a hair faster when pouring the big coupe onto the straight.
One thing must be said, I quite enjoyed the fact that the traction control and differential combination felt far less intrusive than the outgoing IS F and even that of the BMW M4. My experience with the M4 at Road America proved that the traction control was more than willing to intervene if I dared request power from the turbocharged S55 before the car was perfectly straightened out.
Power, though, is nothing without control. To reign in the massive V8, Lexus equipped the RC F with pizza dish-sized Brembo 14.9 inch slotted rotor brakes with 13.5 inch rotors out back. The brake pedal feel is strong and the Brembos do an excellent job in scrubbing the speed as a flew past the pit lane and down into Turn 1. However, as strong as the brakes were, after a few hard laps the pedal feel would get a bit squishy – never failing but it was apparent that the RC F, as good as it is, cannot hide its girth. All told, the RCF is a shade above 4,000 lbs or about where the weight of the quattro-driven Audi RS5 clocks in. This heft certainly took its toll on the brakes, though, after a handful of hard charging laps.
Despite the heft of the car, overall, the performance does not disappoint. Thanks to the frankenstein chassis, composed of a reinforced Lexus GS nose, stiff IS Convertible midsection and IS rear; the over chassis feels taught and predictable when pushed through the hairpin on the back half of Monticello. Steering feel, while no doubt eletronic, uses Lexus’ EPS system with surprisingly good results. Haptic feedback through the wheel made placing the nose easy with play in the wheel tightening up as speeds and suspension settings are dialed to 11. As compared to its V6 counterpart, the RC350 F Sport, the V8 was somewhat less willing to change direction though I never encountered difficulties in placing the F where I wanted it.
A car with a 0-60 time of only 4.4 seconds, massive Brembos and cutting edge handling tech like TVD cannot be wrapped in a dull package and the RCF makes a point of standing out against its German counterparts. The overall design of the RC can be likened to a combination of the latest IS sedan and the V10-powered LFA supercar. At the front, the now trademark spindle grille along with a pair of “swoosh” LED headlamps to accentuate the headlamps. Pushing past the long, rakish and vented nose, and the front haunches are flanked by massive vents ala the IS F before pushing down the frame to the widebody rear of the coupe.
Admittedly, I enjoy the aesthetic of the RC F as, slightly chubby from some angles, the flared nose and haunches lend to a very brawny, aggressive stance of the Lexus which marries well with the sports car personality of the car. Gone are the somewhat bloated lower valences of IS F and questionable stacked quad-exhaust replaced by far more chiseled air dams and staggered exhausts that look like more than an afterthought. Performance credentials are further reinforced with the high-waisted trunkline equipped a pop-up rear spoiler sitting atop sleek, flattened L-shape tail lamps.
The styling, no doubt, will be a polarizing factor in the overall appeal of the RC F. That said, I found the styling to be a refreshing departure from the sometimes austere design cues from the Germans. I enjoy the fact that the appearance of the RC F is tying back into a sleeker, and more consistent design language with the “younger” Lexi like the IS along with a dab of LFA. The long, raked nose hiding the massive V8 lends to the RC F appearing fast even while idling at a stop light. In my eyes, this puts the RC F on par with the M4 in terms of performance coupes whereas the Audi RS5 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG are too muted to give a strong sense of performance.
Is It For You?
Summing up the Lexus RC F in one statement is difficult but I would have to go with jack-of-all-trades. I was pleasantly surprised with the fun had in Lexus’ newest sport car. Compared to the benchmark of the segment, the BMW M4, it is a close call as an all-round performer.
Admittedly, if I were to attend a track day, the M4 is going to be my weapon of choice in nearly every case. It is nimbler and more tactile, and has the party piece twin-scroll S55 straight-six with gobs of torque and, if you’re willing to pay for it, unbreakable ceramic brakes. Juxtaposed to that, the Lexus RC F lacks the sophisticated double-clutch gearbox and decades of racing pedigree but still manages to hold its own for a few laps.
However, calling the ball game there means you would be seriously shortchanging the Lexus.
While it lags a bit behind the BMW on track prowess, the RC F’s poise on the road coupled with the rev-centric V8 and relative luxury make for a great GT car. We’ll cover more on the road test portion of the RC F but priced from $62,400, anyone shopping for an M4 is doing themselves a disservice if they don’t take a serious look at the latest offering from Lexus.