The Lexus RC is a rear-wheel-drive luxury sport coupe that feels right for swift jaunts on country roads, and it’s available with all-wheel drive. The RC is almost three inches shorter than the smallest Lexus sedan, the IS, but more than one inch wider. It aspires to the BMW 4 Series, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Cadillac ATS coupe, though it’s not quite on their level.
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.
The RC 200 Turbo is the most affordable, in sticker price and fuel economy, but you pay for it with time, zero to sixty in 7.3 seconds, not slow but not quick for a sport coupe, and there’s quite a bit of turbo lag from the turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
The RC 300 gets to 60 mph in one less second, or 6.3 seconds, which is quick, and comes standard with all-wheel drive.
RC 350 comes with a more powerful 306-horsepower V6 that delivers good grunting noises.
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 eight-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.
The IIHS calls the 2017 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 200 Turbo rates 22 miles per gallon City/32 mpg Highway and 26 mpg Combined by the EPA. The RC F sinks to 16/25/19 mpg, which is good considering s 3958 pounds and big horsepower.
Lexus RC Turbo ($40,155), formerly known as RC 200t, comes with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine rated at 241 horsepower, 8-speed automatic, and front-wheel drive. Standard 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. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
RC Turbo F Sport ($44,260) includes a sports suspension, paddle shifters and other performance features along with more luxury features and special exterior and interior trim.
RC 300 AWD ($42,770) comes with a 255-hp 3.5-liter V6 and all-wheel drive. RC 300 F Sport ($46,470) adds the F Sport features.
RC 350 ($43,010) comes with the 306-hp V6 and is available with rear-wheel drive or AWD ($45,175). RC 350 F Sport ($47,115) is also available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($48,875).
RC F ($64,165) is a high-performance model with a 467-hp 4.4-liter V8 and rear-wheel drive.
The graceful RC coupe borrows styling 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 chrome 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 flaunts the adventuresome 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 200 Turbo 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 substantial turbo lag here. If you are loafing around at an easy pace and decided to step on it, expect to wait a bit for the power to come on strong. When driving hard and the revs are kept up, it’s not an issue. Sport Plus mode also helps to get around it.
The RC 300 comes only with all-wheel drive, biased 30/70 to the rear wheels, and connected to an older six-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 delivers 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque propelling it to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Like V6 engines from Nissan, Ford, and Mercedes, it has a bit of a coarse growl. 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 eight-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.
All-wheel drive enhances handling stability in slippery situations. With high-performance tires, this car won’t go anywhere on a muddy two-track, but it works very well on slippery pavement, easily controllable and quick. We tested those two conditions but didn’t get a chance to check it out on snow and ice. The AWD will allow some wheelspin, which makes it much more fun to drive.
The F Sport package adds adaptive dampers, firmer suspension (but still comfortable), 19-inch wheels, and Sport+ mode. Available for rear-wheel drive RC 350s is variable-ratio steering and rear-wheel steering in Sport+ mode, which quickens the car’s reaction and can help you swerve with stability to avoid an accident or negotiate a slalom.
The Lexus RC is a solid sport coupe with luxury trimmings. All-wheel drive enhances performance and handling in foul weather, while rear-wheel drive gives it a sportier feel. The RC 350 F Sport is a good package for its 306 horsepower and handling.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough reporting from northern New Jersey.