What do we have here?
This is Lexus’s new RC 350 coupe. The car the Japanese company hopes will lure younger buyers, and existing ones, who have become interested in the sporty side of the brand since that beautiful lunatic of a supercar, the LFA.
It’s available in three variants: the base Luxury, the F Sport and the Sports Luxury. We spent most of our time in the F Sport, mainly because it scores chassis tech the others don’t, like a tricky rear-steering system, along with variable rack steering and adaptive dampers. It’s the driver’s pick.
Wait up. Often the words ‘young’ and ‘Lexus’ are mutually exclusive.
Not anymore. Look at it: the RC 350 seems daring and explosive. There are a few quirks, sure, like the rear L-shaped lights that depart from its rear bodywork more offensively than John Howard’s eyebrows. But overall it moves Lexus design towards the exciting end of the spectrum, crucial if Lexus is going to call it a performance coupe.
Well, it needs to be exciting in other departments too.
Interestingly its skin isn’t the most fascinating thing about this car. Tear it all off and you’ll discover the platform is a blend of three Lexus vehicles: the GS, IS Convertible and IS sedan.
The GS platform runs from the front shock towers forward and was chosen for its ability to house the RC F’s big mutha V8 (landing early 2015). The IS Convertible’s platform makes up the middle section, for sake of rigidity, while the IS sedan’s rump was chosen for its rear multi-link suspension.
How does it drive?
If you’ve driven a current IS you’ll be familiar with its classy and refined interior. Slither in to its well-crafted leather seats and you’re welcomed by the same layout and centre stack, however there is a welcome new navigating touchpad in place of that old pesky joystick nub just under the gear lever.
Thumbing the start button brings to life the 3.5-litre V6 found in ‘350’ branded ISs and GSs, again matched to the IS350’s polished eight-speed automatic transmission.
And while the engine’s got a lot going for it on paper, with 233kW and 378Nm, in practice the V6 really needs to be wrung out to make straight-line stuff an event. It’s not slow, and it wails once you’re in to 5000rpm, but the experience is like attending a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert only to find Michael Bublé behind the microphone – entertaining, but a little too PG rated.
What about in the twisty stuff?
Surprisingly, the chassis is quite talented. It’s a surprise because over bumps at high speeds the struts and springs feel like they’re working hard to control its heft. Sort of like a sumo trying to sit on the floor. Arrive at a corner, though, and the RC 350 F Sport with its tricky rear-steer tech shrinks around you.
The RC 350 feels competent on smooth challenging tarmac: it’s comfortable with a brisker pace than you’re used to and relishes being taken by the gruff of its neck, while still feeling instinctually easy to place before a corner.
Markdowns, however, are that the brakes and front-end could use a bit more bite and feedback.
What’s the go with the three variants?
The range begins with the ‘Luxury’ base variant at a no-frills $66K, while at the other end is the ‘Sports Luxury’ at $86K. This range-topper keeps the exterior package discreet but loads up on luxury (stuff like a 17-speaker system and wood inserts) and safety features. Adaptive damping also rounds out the deal.
But the ‘F Sport’ is the true golden child of this litter; with all the aforementioned chassis gizmos it also gets tasty 19-inch multi-spoke alloys and staggered rubber. Meanwhile there are bigger two-piece rotors at the front and the LFA-style tacho display inside.
At $73K it’s almost line ball with its four-door cousin, the IS 350 F Sport. This means, unlike BMW, you don’t pay more for the two-door – and that it’s cheaper than its rivals.
Whether it’s faster than its rivals is yet to be discovered, but stay tuned, we can’t wait to find out.