Road Test: Lexus unleashes the power of new RC-F

With its 5-litre V8 engine, the new Lexus RC-F is a growling beast of a muscle car, unashamedly flying in the face of the premium brand’s green image

The Lexus RC-F: Has the dramatic look to turn heads and the meaty performance to prove that Lexus knows how to pack a punch

Make: Lexus

Model: RC-F

Year: 2015

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: March 18, 2015

Wed, Mar 25, 2015, 12:41

   

Akio Toyoda is a petrolhead. It’s easy to forget that traitin the man at the wheel of the Toyota auto giant, amid all the engineering activity around hybrids and even hydrogen. Many associate the brand in Ireland with superminis and saloons, but Toyoda has a passion for motorsport and from the outset promised to bring that passion to the road.

True to his word, he has delivered the Toyota GT86 and driven the development of an upcoming new Supra alongside BMW. He has also reportedly focused his attention of late on Lexus. Hardly surprising, then, that the brand that has hung its hat on hybrid for the last few years has now added an incongruous muscle car.

Just as BMW now has its 3-Series saloon and 4-Series Coupe, Audi its A4 saloon and A5 coupe, so Lexus now has an IS saloon range and these new RC coupe variants.

In the grand tradition of putting your best foot forward, the first RC to hit the Irish roads is its most outlandish: the 5-litre V8 growling beast that is the RC-F.

This is the performance rival for the BMW’s M4 coupe. And just as the Bavarian looks as taut and muscular in the metal as it feels behind the wheel, so this Lexus gets right in your face from the first time you set eyes on it.

The multiple creases, pinches and curves combine with the sloping nose and that monster grille to make sure no one can miss it passing on the road. For all the premium appeal of Lexus, there’s a touch of the no-nonsense blue-collar muscle car about this coupe. The RC-F is motoring’s answer to the Yakuza – you recognise the power and somehow sense you should cross to the other side of the road.

And that’s before you hit the start button. It’s tuned to start with a full-throated roar, like you’ve kicked a dozing lion up the derriere.

Beck and call

Under your right foot you have 471bhp at your beck and call, delivered through an incredibly impressive eight-speed automatic transmission that manages to keep all those horses running in the same direction. There’s a limited-slip differential fitted as standard, with a torque-vectoring rear differential offered as an option. The end result doesn’t mean you don’t get some wheelspin when you pull away, or a little tail wiggle when you hit the throttle hard in a corner, but it’s largely kept under control and delivered to maximum effect. This is muscle car punch managed by engineering prowess.

Yet it’s also a meek tourer when you get a handle on the throttle. At low revs – and after the initial start-up roar – the RC-F calmly, and relatively quietly, potters along, quick and alert to every input, but easily manageable. Hit 3,800rpm, however, and it’s as if the Kraken wakes. The engine noise explodes into full song and suddenly the car turns into a racer. Between 3,800rpm and the supposed redline of 7,300rpm this car is insanely quick. Which perhaps makes it a little annoying that things are just so docile at the lower revs. It’s a bit like an on-off switch rather than a gradual feed.

The double-wishbone front suspension keeps the front end responsive to steering inputs, and there’s certainly a feeling of stability about the entire package. In keeping with rivals there’s a choice of driving modes, from eco through to Sport S+, to choose from. Each changes the throttle response, transmission and even the colour and format of the instrument panel. There are also other menu adjustments available, all combining to let you personalise the car for every drive. And I suspect it will amuse and interest owners for the best part of a week before they settle for the preset Normal mode, veering towards Sport S when they get that rush of blood to the head.

Weight is an issue with the RC-F: it comes in slightly heavier than its rivals and it feels it at the lower revs. Yet somehow, when in full song, everything seems to come together and, crazily, the car seems lighter.

Given the undoubted engineering prowess and innovative talent at Lexus and Toyota, the decision to opt for a naturally aspirated V8 seems an odd choice. Rivals are downsizing and opting for turbos or other forced induction methods.

An eager admirer of the RC-F, who snapped no less than 20 photos of the car, engaged me in a debate on its purpose given the eco-friendly hybrid image that Lexus prefers to portray these days. His view was that a 5-litre V8 delivering 26mpg (10.8l/100km) officially – and much less when driven the way the engineers intended – is openly laughing in the face of those who bought into the firm’s environmentally-conscious marketing campaigns.

 

Size matters

Yet that’s clearly misses the point of Lexus and its global premium position. Lexus is arguably more interested in luring US customers than European ones for now, and in that market, size matters. A 5-litre V8 is nothing exceptional on that side of the Atlantic.

And just as others are trying to cloak their otherwise thirsty fleet in shades of green, so Lexus is opting to show it knows how to deliver traditional full-blooded horsepower as well.

And, aside from the raw power, the RC-F reflects the luxury and premium appeal of Lexus inside the cabin. While we have been critical in the past of some Lexus interiors being too cluttered, the RC-F cabin boasts the best of the brand and feels every bit the sort of fit and finish you expect for a €100,000-plus price-tag.

And so to that €100,000 question: is this a better buy than its German rivals? It’s a fantastic addition to the Lexus range and in full flight you feel like you’re Major Kong riding the bomb in Dr Strangelove. That’s perhaps the only qualm. With smaller, lighter performance cars than the RC-F – or the M4 for that matter – you get a sense you are part of the action rather than simply strapped on for the ride. For the money we’d rather have a full-blooded sports car or a lower-priced hot hatch.

That proviso in place, the RC-F has the dramatic look to turn heads and the meaty performance to prove that Lexus knows how to pack a punch. What’s more, it’s a wonderful calling-card for the upcoming – and more affordable – RC300h hybrid coupe.

Roaring V8

This smaller-engined version (size is relative, as I’m sure you agree) is expected in the autumn. The RC300h will look the same as this roaring V8 version, but will be powered by the more refined petrol-hybrid powertrain taken from the current IS300h. That means a 2.5-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor to give a total output of 181bhp. Prices are still being agreed, but for a guide I guess you could look to the pricing of the higher-specification IS300h versions at around €45,000 and work from there.

That’s a long way off the €106,950 starting price of the RC-F, but no less tempting in looks. The RC was a bit too brash for me when I first encountered it, but as the week went on it really grew on me and when it came time to part with it, I found myself looking back longingly at it sitting there in the car park. That’s the sort of longing you only get from a select group of cars. The RC-F makes it onto that list.

The lowdown: Lexus RC-F
Engine: 4,969cc V8 putting out 477bhp @7,100rpm and 530Nm of torque @ 4,500rpm. Eight-speed automatic transmission
0-100 km/h: 4.5 secs
Max speed: 270 km/h
Fuel economy: 10.8 l/100km (26mpg)
Emissions: 251g/km
Annual motor tax: €2,350
Price: starting at €106,950