First Drive: 2015 Lexus RC and RC F [Review]

We put Lexus\' striking new coupe lineup - including the 467hp RC F - to the test.

Until a few years ago, shopping for an entry-level luxury coupe was a fairly straight forward process - you simply headed down to your local BMW dealership and plunked down the money for a two-version of the 3-Series. But things are a lot different these days.

There are now a number of relative newcomers to choose from in the segment, including the Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe and Cadillac ATS coupe. In fact, things are so different in the small luxo coupe category that the 3-Series coupe isn't even called that any more (it's now the 4-Series).

Muddying the waters even further, Lexus is rolling out a compact coupe of its own known as the RC. Like its competitors, the RC will be offered in several different flavors, ranging from the more sedate RC 350 (available with rear- and all-wheel drive) all the way up to the frenetic RC F.

So in a growing sea of two-door coupe with luxury badges, does the RC rise to the top or sink to the bottom? Come with us as we find out.

A new kind of hybridGiven its positioning against cars like the 4-Series and C-Class coupe, which are all derivatives of sedan models, it'd be easy to think of the RC as a two-door variant of the four-door IS. However, that's not an entirely accurate description of the RC.

The RC's architecture is actually a blend of three different Lexus platforms - the front structure of the RC is borrowed from the larger GS, the middle bit is from the lame-duck IS C convertible and the rear portion of the chassis shares its hardware with the IS. The result of that architectural hodgepodge is a two-door package that is lower, wider and longer than the IS sedan.

Styling is also somewhat of a mix, with the front of the RC borrowing most of its cues from the IS sedan. That means a prominent placement of Lexus' signature spindle front grille, deep-set headlights and LED accent strips. There are also two large air inlet on either side on the RC's front bumper. On the high-performance RC F model, which also gains a functional hood vent, those bumper-mounted inlets house coolers for the transmission and engine oil.

The RC sports a long flowing roofline that gives it a fastback-like profile. Polished metal door surrounds that come to a wide point just before the C-pillar help to accentuate the coupe's swept-back look. To further aid in cooling, RC F models are equipped with gill-shaped vents just aft of the front wheels.

The rear styling of the RC is uniquely its own, featuring wide taillights that protrude slightly from the car's body work, an integrated ducktail spoiler and dual exhaust tips. Following the trend started by the IS F, the RC F uses stacked quad-exhaust outlets.

A number of 18- and 19-inch wheel designs are available.

The RC's styling might not be for everybody, but we find the coupe to be quite striking, particularly when done up in RC F guise.

To back up its athletic looks, the RC is equipped with the more powerful 3.5L V6 from the IS 350 rather than the less potent 2.5L V6 from the IS 250. The RC 350 is good for 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque.

The range-topping RC F uses a highly-modified version of the 5.0L V8 that debuted in the last-generation IS F. Boasting new cylinder heads, a revised intake system, titanium valves and a higher compression ratio, the RC F doles out 467 horsepower and 389 lb-ft of torque.

Rear-wheel drive versions of the RC use an eight-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel drive RC 350 relies on a six-speed auto. No manual transmission is offered in the RC line.

More than skin deepUnder its eye-catching bodywork the RC is quite a technical car, but we'll just hit the highlights to keep the overview brief.

All RC 350s come standard with a console-mounted knob that can be adjusted from Eco, which dials back throttle response and the air conditioner, to Sport, which sharpens the car's powertrain.

Opting for the F Sport trim (think of its as the mid-point between the RC 350 and RC F) adds an adaptive suspension, variable steering and enhanced stabilizer bars. F Sport models can also be outfitted with a trick rear-wheel steering system.

The RC F offers even more go-fast goodies, including upgraded six-piston Brembo brakes at the front, additional chassis bracing, upgraded steering, a torsen rear differential and sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires measuring 255/35/19 at the front and 275/35/19 at the rear. The RC F's dial also gets an addition Sport+ setting.

The RC F can be optioned with a torque vectoring differential, or TVD for short, that uses two electric motors and a pair of clutches to send power to either rear wheel depending on driving conditions. The TVD systems helps the RC F hustle around corners and is ideally suited for track driving.

And track driving is exactly what we did with both the RC 350 and RC F.

The RC 350 proved to be a willing dance partner on the long and winding asphalt of New York's Monticello Motor Club, offering good turn in, near-perfect balance and more than adequate grunt from its 3.5L V6. The RC 350 F Sport upped the ante with sharper steering thanks to its rear-wheel steering system.

When set to sport mode, the RC 350's transmission holds gears and downshifts readily, but there are steering-wheel mounted paddles should you feel the need to take control. The RC 350's disc brakes - measuring 13.15-inches up front and 12.2-inches out back - do a good job of scrubbing of speed, but can succumb to fade after a few hot laps.

And the RC F is just an amplified version of the RC 350, cranking all of the coupe's positive attributes to 11.

Steering in the RC F is quick and precise, albeit somewhat on the light side. When pushed hard the RC F displays mild understeer, but that can be easily corrected with a dab of throttle. When set to Sport+ mode the RC F's stability and traction settings aren't overly intrusive, but we did wish for a bit more wheel spin on some of Monticello's tighter hairpin turns.

The RC F's 5.0L V8 is nothing short of sensational, offering arguably the best intake noise in the business to go along with its head-snapping power.

Lexus hasn't jumped on the dual-clutch transmission bandwagon like some of its closest competitors, but after sampling the RC F it's clear that there's no reason to do so just yet. The RC F selects gears in the blink of an eye and aggressively holds the engine in the top of the rev range. The RC F even employs onboard sensors to ensure that the transmission doesn't downshift, which could upset the rear end, just before a corner.

The RC F's upgraded Brembo brakes - six-piston calipers clamping 14.96-inches rotors at the front and four-pots on 13.58-inch discs at the rear - are truly up to track duties and, unlike the RC 350's brakes, didn't exhibit much in the way of fade. Carbon ceramic brakes, an expensive upgraded available on the BMW M4, and not offered for the RC F.

But perhaps the most impressive part about the RC 350 and RC F is that when you get them off a race track, they're as quiet and comfortable as you'd expect a Lexus to be. Moreover, the RC is very well equipped, offering supportive bucket seats, a high-end sound system, top-notch fit and finish and an available infotainment system with updated track pad and a suite of Lexus apps. The RC's back seat isn't exactly adult-friendly, but the coupe's trunk is big enough to swallow a couple of golf bags.

Like its exterior, the interior design of the RC is polarizing, but we like its straight lines and cockpit-like setting. The RC suffers from a lack of storage, but that's par for the course in this segment.

Leftlane's bottom lineThis ain't you're grandfather's Lexus anymore. After years of cranking out comfortable cruisers, Lexus has a pair of bona fide sports coupes with its RC 350 and RC F.

The RC 350 is a worthy alternative to any vehicle in the segment and, dare we say it, the RC F might be our choice over the M4. That's quite the endorsement, but it's hard to pick against a car that combines the technical gadgetry of the M4 and the V8 grunt of the C63 AMG.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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