Road Test: Lexus RC on par with elite German coupes

RC200t will appeal to those looking for an alternative to BMW, Audi and Mercedes

Make: Lexus

Model: RC

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: May 6, 2016

Wed, May 11, 2016, 01:00

   

The thing about motoring stereotypes is that they invariably have some foundation in truth. The uniform of a black poloneck on architects is not unknown, nor is the Saab in the driveway of the dentist’s surgery.

When the Swedish brand reached the end of the road, it clearly represented an opportunity for Lexus. In addition to being a viable alternative to the Germans, it also boasted a talking point in its devotion to hybrid technology. So owners had a little moral high ground to mount at the dinner table.

An expanding model portfolio now boasts an impressive coupe. And in theory, as bank accounts return to healthier states and premium buyers return to forecourts, Lexus should be performing strongly.

Yet with a limited number of dealers, the brand has a fight on its hands to keep up with the Germans. By the end of April, for example, Lexus had recorded 367 new 161 registrations. Compare that with Audi’s 3,757, or BMW’s 3,215.

To put it in perspective, BMW has sold 2½ times as many 5-Series as Lexus sold in total so far this year. So a lot done, but an awful lot more to do if it wants to be considered more than a niche brand.

And to compound that challenge, Lexus got its launch strategy for the RC coupe the wrong way around. It’s an odd mistake for the Japanese brand, staffed with highly skilled marketing strategists.

Introducing the new RC range with the roaring RC-F V8 flagship carrying a price tag of €107,000 was not the smartest move. It made the potential buyers baulk and look elsewhere, to the Audi A5 or sleek BMW 4-Series for their new purchase.

Full hybrid version

The problem was the flagship V8 was meant to catch the eye and prepare the road for the arrival of more affordable variants, such as this 200t at €65,000 and the 300h full hybrid version for €50,000. Instead many potential buyers – including a few people we spoke with – have it in their mind that this sleek-looking Lexus comes with a six-figure price tag.

So what of the new RC200t? Well there is no question the RC can snap a few necks and drop a few jaws. I still don’t think it’s as stylish as the BMW 4-Series, but I seem to be in a minority of one. Everyone was in awe.

The swooping front nose and enormous grille makes rival sports coupes look positively bashful. Lexus seemingly discovered the art of creasing sheet metal a few years back and no panel escapes without a bend or curve. It’s all a bit too busy for my taste.

Inside the car again appears quite cluttered and a little restrictive for me but there’s no question about quality and refinement. Lexus has opted to wrap the car around the driver and you certainly feel cosseted. For all that quality, you also have to contend with the Lexus touchpad control.

Big bonnet

The Japanese firm stubbornly refuses to adopt a simple dial system like those in rivals. Under the big bonnet is a turbocharged 2-litre petrol four-cylinder pushing out 241bhp, the mid-range offering between the lairy V8 and the eco-friendly 300h hybrid. And no, of course you don’t ask about diesel at a Lexus dealership.

The power flows smoothly through the throttle and, despite its sizeable footprint and seemingly small engine, the 200t packs a punch. In F Sport trim the RC200t retains the limited slip diff of the RCF and its adaptive dampers. All this combines to give the car impressive composure, though it’s not averse to throwing out its tail if you let it.

It also features the extra Sport + driving mode, which gives a noticeably sharper throttle response, tightens up the steering, and holds on to the higher revs. The engine note is a little high-pitched rather than the deep throaty growl of the V8 version. Nor is it really that dramatic when pushed. A 0-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds is relative sedate these days. We’ve been driving the latest 2-litre diesel Mercedes- Benz E-Class that boasts a faster sprint time, despite being more family orientated.

Realistic price

It’s noticeably different than the RC-F from behind the wheel, but no less striking in the metal. The price is far more realistic as well, given the high level of equipment on the car under the F Sport grade. That said, you may seek to compare this turbocharged petrol coupe with a diesel-powered German rival. BMW’s 4-Series is one to watch.

Many buyers, however, are eagerly seeking out an alternative to the rows of Audis, Mercs and BMWs in the executive parking spots. Lexus fits the parking space once filled by Saab convertibles or their ilk.

It’s perhaps a little more bling than they are used to, particularly with that menacing grille, but in the round it should prove a hit. Expect to see a few shiny RCs outside the offices of your your local dentist or architect in the near future.

The lowdown: RC 200T F Sport
Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder petrol putting out 241bhp and 350Nm of torque from 1,650rpm with an eight-speed automatic transmission
L/100km (mpg): 7.3 (32.2)
Emissions: 168 g/km
0-100km/h: 7.5 seconds
Price: €64,950 (€49,950 for the RC 300h hybrid)