The Lexus RC is a rear- or all-wheel-drive luxury sport coupe whose competitors include the Audi A5, Cadillac ATS coupe, and some BMW 4 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class models.
The 2018 Lexus RC is unchanged over 2017, except the former RC 200t, with the four-cylinder turbo engine, gets its name changed to RC 300. That’s with rear-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive RC 300 is, as before, powered by the V6. Only the names have changed here.
The RC is the right size for swift runs on back roads. It’s nearly three inches shorter than the IS, the smallest Lexus sedan, but more than one inch wider.
The RC comes with a choice of four engines. The rear-wheel-drive RC 300 with its 241-horsepower turbo four and its modest acceleration of zero to sixty in 7.3 seconds, gets the best fuel mileage, an EPA Combined 26 mpg rating.
The all-wheel-drive RC 300 cuts that acceleration time to less than 6.3 seconds by using a 3.5-liter V6, which gains 5 horsepower over the 2017 RC 300, for 260 horsepower.
The RC 350 takes that V6 and pumps it up to 311 horsepower, five more than 2017, for a zero-to-sixty time of 5.8 seconds.
The RC F goes after the BMW M4 and Audi S4, with its 5.0-liter V8 bulging with 467 horsepower, and blasting the RC F to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds and beyond, to 170 mph. It still earns 19 miles per gallon Combined.
The 2017 RC earned a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The 2018 RC 300 comes standard with rear-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Equipment includes leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, LED headlamps and taillights, satellite radio, and Bluetooth audio streaming. A Luxury Package includes perforated leather seats and other interior features. Navigation and 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio are optional.
RC 300 is also available with a V6 and all-wheel drive.
RC 350 increases the horsepower and comes with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
RC F features the 467-hp 5.0-liter V8 with rear-wheel drive.
The RC coupe is sure graceful. In the beauty department, it blows the Germans away. It takes the best from other Lexus models, including some that overall are less exciting; some GS in the nose, some IS C in the profile, and IS in the tail. Or maybe it’s the other way around, those other models take from the RC. If your imagination wanders you might even see some Scion FR-S, but we didn’t say that.
The body surfaces are curvy and subtle. The roofline is handsomely thick, leading down to a sweet kick where the shoulders meet the rear fenders.
The spindle grille looks a bit sinister, which is only appropriate given the car’s intents. The RC F gets rid of the chrome and brings black mesh, to cheers from the crowd on the sidewalk. The F flaunts aggression, with finned vents, stacked exhausts, and a wing that raises at 50 mph, or 80 mph when the car is in Track mode.
The cabin is somewhat less graceful than the exterior. It’s put together well, and the finishes are lovely, but it flaunts chaos the way the RC F flaunts speed. The horizontally divided dashboard sports off-center controls and strangely stacked components. The top half is gauges and 7.0-inch nav screen with touchpad below. The centerstack rides lumpy on the curved console. We don’t get the offset of the LCD and sound system, but we do like the elliptical steering wheel, and the padded center console.
The supple leather seats are low and wide, and use high-density foam for excellent contour up the high backs. The leather is conspicuously and beautifully stitched.
Don’t count on a rear seat. It’s basically just a bench, which folds to access the trunk (not the RC F), which is small, at 10.4 cubic feet, about the size of two golf bags.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the rear-wheel-drive RC 300 suffers from turbo lag, so the power sometimes isn’t instantaneous when you want it to be. When you get there it’s strong enough, with 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. So when you’re driving hard and keeping the revs up, it’s not a problem; just when you’re cruising and suddenly floor it, like passing on a two-lane. But in that situation you’d probably be in Sport mode, which brings the transmission in to help by kicking down quicker.
The all-wheel-drive RC 300 has a 30/70 rear bias, mated to an older six-speed automatic transmission. Its 3.5-liter V6 makes a mild 260 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, focused on all-weather grip, not sport.
Sport is more what the RC 350 is about, with its 311 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It’s standard rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available if you want traction and horsepower both. Rear-wheel drive can reach a top speed of 143 mph while all-wheel drive will go 130. That’s electronically limited; the acceleration is pretty much the same, although the all-wheel drive is naturally heavier.
But it’s not as simple as traction and horsepower both, with the RC 350 and its available all-wheel drive. Because it’s fitted with high-performance tires, it won’t get the same traction as the RC 300 with all-wheel drive. However it does improve stability on slippery roads, while still allowing some wheelspin.
The 3.5-liter V6 in the RC 350 makes a nice growl, a bit coarse, not unlike some Nissan, Ford, and Mercedes V6 engines.
The paddle-shifting eight-speed transmission has normal, sport, and manual modes, and blips the throttle for downshifts. There are also normal, sport, and eco driving modes, that set the throttle response and steering quickness.
Like the Lexus IS and GS sedans, the RC rides on a traditional double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension tuned on the firm side, but still compliant enough to be comfortable when the driving is relaxed. The electric power steering is settled and quick in sport mode. The suspension/steering isn’t as aggressive as some, however offers the right balance between ride and handling for its class.
An option for the rear-wheel drive RC 350 is variable-ratio steering and rear-wheel steering in Sport+ mode. That quickens the car’s response and stability in a situation like a high-speed swerve. The place you might really feel it is if you make the mistake of moving into the lane of a car in your blind spot, and jerk the steering wheel back in alarm.
If you want to go after the BMW M4 and Audi S4 on the track, the RC F is your weapon. It’s not light, at 3958 pounds, but we can report that it’s happy and composed on the track, although it doesn’t make the earth shudder like a Cadillac ATS-V does.
The eight-speed transmission with paddle shifters is programmed well, with Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, as well as a manual mode that holds it in gears longer and quickens the shifts. Even at redline it won’t upshift; of course it won’t over-rev either, with the engine protected by an electronic rev limiter.
The RC F comes standard with a Torsen limited-slip differential, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, and stability control with a track mode that shuts it off. An optional torque-vectoring differential splits the torque between the rear wheels in corners, based on yaw and steering input. This helps the car pivot in corners, and brings a bit of nimbleness to the weight. It has three modes of its own: Standard, Slalom or Track.
The torque-vectoring differential adds 70 pounds of its own, however, and the standard Torsen differential does a good job, its limited slip setup keeping solid control over the rear end.
The RC F suspension is double-wishbone suspension at all four corners, using adaptive dampers and stabilizer bars with ball joints. The bars, bushings and lower control arms are beefier than those on the RC 350, and the F also uses 19-inch wheels with Brembo calipers and rotors, 15 inches in front and 13.6 inches in rear.
The Lexus RC works for us. It’s good looking, the ride is compliant and it handles well. We think the best value might be the detuned V6 with all-wheel drive. The cabin feels a bit archaic and disorganized, but look around inside and decide for yourself before you take our word for it. The hot-rod RC F might not run with the BMW M4, Audi S4 or Mercedes C63 AMG on the track, but this isn’t a race. Beauty counts.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.