The all-new Lexus RC coupe is about the size of the Ford Mustang but without the adolescent fixation on running horses or 1960s muscle heritage. It combines sophisticated luxury with sporting intentions and delivers it in an aggressive-looking package that's unlike anything else in the brand's lineup. It's a legitimate alternative to the Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series, even though the RC lacks the harder edge of its German competitors.
What Is It?
The RC isn't strictly a two-door version of any four-door in the Lexus line. Instead it's a mash-up of different structural elements put together for luxury coupe duty. The nose section comes from the larger GS series sedan, the central part comes from the IS convertible and the tail end is lifted from the new IS sedan.
The result is a midsize coupe that's about 2 inches longer overall compared to the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series coupes. The RC is within an inch of both competitors when it comes to width and height, and rides on a 107.5-inch wheelbase that is slightly shorter than those of its German rivals.
Lexus' familiar 3.5-liter V6 engine sits longitudinally under the hood of the RC 350 and feeds directly into a standard eight-speed automatic transmission in rear-drive models or a six-speed automatic in cars equipped with all-wheel drive. Rated at 306 horsepower, the V6 is the only engine available unless you step up to the high-performance, V8-powered RC F model.
What Trim Levels Are Available?
There are two versions of the 2015 RC 350 offered: the base RC 350 starting at $43,715 and the RC 350 F Sport that starts at $47,700. There are all-wheel-drive versions of both that start at $45,950 and $49,530, respectively.
The F Sport package includes an adaptive variable two-mode suspension package, 19-inch wheels and tires, sport seats with contrasting stitching, and digital instrumentation that Lexus says was inspired by the company's ultra-exotic LFA sports car.
Beyond the RC 350 lies the high-performance RC F powered by a 467-hp, 5.0-liter V8 backed by an eight-speed "direct shift" transmission. Starting at $63,325, the RC F is distinct enough from the RC 350 to merit its own road test and consideration.
The car tested here is a rear-wheel-drive RC 350 equipped with the F Sport package and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It's loaded with virtually every option including a $2,610 navigation system and a $1,100 moonroof for a total as-tested price of $54,720.
How Does It Drive Around Town?
There's a creamy elegance to the way the V6 delivers its power. There's not enough pure grunt here to overwhelm the chassis, but speed can build up quickly if you're not careful. It's almost freakishly easygoing and the wide ratios of the eight-speed automatic mean the engine is operating at barely more than an idle under part-throttle conditions.
Leave the traction control and suspension settings in normal mode and the RC 350 feels like it's singing bumps and road divots lullabies. It's a more sophisticated and tranquil experience than that of, say, a Mustang but it's also a bit restrained, as if the car doesn't want to be awakened to romp and play. The BMW 4 Series coupe in particular has an eagerness to it that the RC 350 lacks.
Is It a Legitimate Sport Coupe?
Its subdued nature doesn't mean the RC chassis isn't capable when you give it some spur. The variable-ratio steering comes alive as speed increases, and in Sport mode the suspension begins to report what's going on as the car moves through corners and across irregularities. The chassis feels very neutral — it neither wants to push its nose nor swing its tail — even as speeds go extra-legal.
By using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, it's easy to keep the V6 boiling near its 4,800-rpm torque peak. But there's only 277 pound-feet pattering at that engine speed, and the RC 350 weighs in at a substantial 3,874 pounds, so there's never really quite enough muscle to overwhelm the chassis.
It's not a particularly quick coupe at the test track. The 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds is decent, but hardly exciting. And the quarter-mile saunters by in 14.2 seconds at 99 mph. Those times are roughly comparable to a V6-powered Camaro or Mustang. The 0.86g the RC 350 achieved on the skid pad is similarly modest.
Braking on the whole was solid, with short distances and minimal fade. On Southern California's more punishing canyon roads, the brakes were reassuring and easily modulated.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
As expected in a Lexus, every element of the RC 350's interior is well considered and perfectly stitched together. A wide center console defines the driving experience and divides the cockpit between the front occupants. A conventional shifter lies alongside the knob that adjusts the suspension, while a trackpad for the navigation and entertainment systems sits just behind it. Throw in the straightforward instrumentation and the feel is of a serious driving environment.
The trackpad works well for operating most every element of the RC's ventilation, navigation and entertainment systems. It's an interesting alternative to the blizzard of knobs and dials with which so many cars are burdened. Still, there's a learning curve to mastering all the menus on the central display.
In contrast, the display directly in front of the driver is simple to the extreme. It even does without a conventional speedometer in favor of a digital readout.
As with most coupes in this segment, the rear seat is useful only for occasional short trips. But the front seats are among the best in the business: adjustable in almost infinite ways and comfortable in almost every way. It's luxurious without being pretentious or over-decorated.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Return?
The EPA rates the RC 350 at 22 mpg in combined driving (19 city/28 highway). We observed 24 mpg on our standardized evaluation route, which includes a healthy dose of highway driving. There is an "Eco" mode that you can select to improve mileage in day-to-day driving, but we didn't compare it to the Standard or Sport modes.
What Are Its Closest Competitors? Audi A5/S5: The A5 has been around since 2007 but is still a startlingly beautiful car. It's comfortable, too, and offers a choice of either a turbocharged four-cylinder with 220 hp or a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that makes 333 hp in the S5.
BMW 4 Series: Previously known as the 3 Series coupe, the renamed 4 Series is available as both a 428i powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four making 240 hp or a 435i with a turbocharged 3.0-liter six rated at 300 hp. In its most aggressive guise, the BMW offers sharper handling and an engine that's more eager to run.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
If you've just shipped the last of your progeny off to their own fate and feel the need to treat yourself to a svelte two-door, the RC 350 is a gentler, easier-going machine than many other cars in the category. It's luxurious first, sporty second and good-looking in both ways. The F Sport package adds a muscularity to the car's personality that's attractive. So much so in fact, that we expect most RC 350s delivered to buyers will be F Sports.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you prefer a coupe that leans toward performance over luxury, the RC may leave you cold. Its lack of a smaller engine option also means that you're signing up for middling mileage numbers.