The Lexus RC is a rear-wheel-drive luxury sport coupe that’s right for swift jaunts on country roads. It’s almost three inches shorter than the smallest Lexus sedan, the IS, but more than one inch wider. It competes with the BMW 4 Series, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Cadillac ATS coupe. It’s not on their level but it’s getting closer.
Like its close siblings the IS and GS sedans, the Lexus RC uses a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension tuned on the firm side, but suitably compliant for casual driving. It might not be ready for aggressive cornering, but it hits the right balance of ride and handling for this class. Meanwhile the electric power steering feels settled and quick.
For 2016 there are two new models, the RC 200t with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and RC 300, an all-wheel-drive V6. Two existing models are the RC 350 with a more powerful V6, and RC F with a strong V8.
The Lexus RC 200t is the most affordable, in sticker price and fuel economy, but you pay for it with time, zero to sixty in 7.3 seconds, with that full-throttle pause we’ve complained about in the Lexus GS and IS having the same engine connected to the same 8-speed automatic transmission and same electronic program with the same result.
The RC 300 gets to 60 mph in a quicker 6.3 seconds.
We like the sounds from the 306-horsepower V6 in the RC 350, good grunting noises. Its adaptive controls for the transmission, throttle and steering give it a nice balance, with a few rough performance edges.
The RC F is designed to go after the BMW M4 and Audi S4, with its 5.0-liter V8 rippling with 467 horsepower. It blasts the coupe to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds and 170 top speed. It uses an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and four modes. For traction it’s got Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and a Torsen limited-slip differential. For handling and stopping it’s got 19-inch wheels and tires, firmer bushings and roll bars and bigger Brembo brakes. We’ve had it on the track, where it’s happy and composed. We like the firmer ride from the adaptive dampers, but we’re not sold on the variable-ratio steering and rear-wheel steering.
IIHS calls the Lexus RC a Top Safety Pick Plus, with all Good marks and an Advanced rating for front crash protection, with the optional safety equipment, including emergency self-braking.
The RC 200t gets 22/32/26 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined. The RC F sinks to 16/25/19 mpg, which is good considering its 3958 pounds and big horsepower.
Prices for the RC start in the low forty-thousand dollars for an RC 200t and climb to the mid-sixties for an RC F. Standard equipment includes leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, LED headlamps and taillights, satellite radio, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Options include real leather upholstery, 19-inch wheels with summer tires, heated and ventilated front seats, sunroof, navigation, and 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
The graceful Lexus RC coupe styling borrows from other Lexus models. We see some Lexus GS in the nose, some of the outgoing IS C in its profile, and some IS in its tail. And if you squint it might look like a Scion FR-S. But its surfacing is more subtle, curvaceous from all points of view, with an attractive but thick roofline and sweet kick where the shoulder touches the rear fenders.
The spindle grille looks sinister compared to other Lexus models, as it should given its more aggressive thoughts. Especially on the F Sport models and RC F, which flaunt black mesh instead of the standard bars. The RC F features other aggressions, for example finned vents and stacked exhausts at the rear, under a wing that raises at 50 mph or, in track mode, at 80 mph.
The cabin ventures the horizontal theme of other Lexuses, including some of the same misfires, for example off-center bits and strangely stacked components. The dashboard is divided into operational and display zones, with the top zone holding the gauges and 7.0-inch navigation screen, and a layered center with the touchpad. The center stack lacks elegance as it rides over the curved console, with no trim to separate a line of vents on the passenger side. And the sound system is mounted out of kilter with the console trim. While we’re at it we don’t like the offset of the LCD screen.
The steering wheel is slightly elliptical, while the high-backed, low-slung seats are wide and supple, with high-density foam under leather that’s elaborately stitched. Big bolsters and shoulder wings. Padded center console. Two occupants are good, but the back seats are merely a beautifully upholstered shelf, that can be folded to access the trunk, except not in the RC F.
Trunk volume is slim, 10.4 cubic feet, just big enough for two golf bags.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the RC 200t engine also comes in the IS and GS sedans, also coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It makes 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which would be great if it were there for you when you floor it, but there is that lag. If you buy an F Sport and keep it in Sport Plus mode, you can get around it.
The new RC 300 comes only with all-wheel drive, biased 30/70 to the rear wheels, and connected to an older 6-speed automatic transmission. Its detuned V6 makes 255 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. That’s not as much as the RC 350, but if all-weather grip is your priority, it’s the RC you want, and it will likely be fast enough. If not, the RC 350 is available in all-wheel drive.
The RC 350 is unchanged for 2016, with its 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque propelling it to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Like other V6 engines we know, namely Nissan, Ford, and Mercedes, it has a bit of a coarse growl. the former gets to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, the latter in 6.0 seconds. It will go 143 mph with rear-wheel drive and 130 mph with all-wheel drive, electronically limited because of the tires.
The paddle-shifting 8-speed transmission has Normal, Sport, and Manual modes, and blips the throttle for downshifts. There are also Normal, Sport, and Eco modes for the driver to steering assist and throttle response.
The F Sport package adds adaptive dampers, firmer suspension (but still comfortable), 19-inch wheels, and Sport Plus mode. Available for rear-wheel-drive RC 350s is variable-ratio steering and rear-wheel steering in Sport Plus mode, which quickens the car’s reaction. Imagine a cow falling out of a livestock truck on the freeway in front of you, or a six-foot kangaroo jumping across the two-lane highway at night in Tasmania; rear-wheel steering will help you swerve with stability, to avoid the smash to your spindle grille.
If it were us, we’d go for the RC 350 for its 306 horsepower, in F Sport trim for the handling. After all, it’s a coupe. Of course, if you want the style while saving many thousands, the new RC 200t is there for you.