2016 BMW 4-Series vs. 2016 Lexus RC: Compare cars

October 6, 2016
2016 Lexus RC (RC 200t)

2016 Lexus RC (RC 200t)

If you're buying a luxury sport coupe, you're right to expect a few things: gripping performance, haute style, the latest luxury features.

With its 4-Series, BMW has long reigned in this niche, back to the days when its two-doors were dubbed 3-Series. Lexus thinks it has a strong challenger in its new RC coupes.

In this head-to-head battle of German versus Japanese sport coupes, how far has Lexus come in taking on the likes of BMW?

It'll surprise you.

Design and comfort

Both cars deliver in terms of exterior style, and their cabins are nicely finished, but tight on space. From the outside, the 4-Series is handsome and flamboyant. It has a perfect balance of glass to metal, a decathlete stance, and some spot-on details, like its sharply creased shoulder line. The convertible's look is similar to the coupe's thanks to a folding hardtop. There's also a 4-Series Gran Coupe, a sleek sedan with a coupe-like rake to its roof.

2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe

The BMW's cabin is adventurous, with some sweeping arcs and trim packages that lift its basic-black wardrobe into something a little more couture. The cockpit is hushed, and the ambiance gets seriously charming with its more ritzy interior trim package. Its sports seats give grip just where it's called for in sporty driving, but the backseat is best left to kids.

A sinister-looking rendition of the Lexus hourglass is in place on the RC's nose, supercharged with visual drama on the F Sport models. The sideview is graceful even if the roofline is a bit thick, and the shoulder line lifts at a pretty point on the rear quarters.

MORE: Read our latest reviews of the 2016 BMW 4-Series and 2016 Lexus RC

The Lexus' interior employs an adventurous look as well, with a horizontal theme. It is fitted to a good standard, though with some foibles, like the Remote Touch control pad and some off-center, oddly stacked components.

The RC is a spacious car for two passengers, and the F Sport's seats are wide and supple enough to support a wide range of body types. However, it's best to think of the backseat as a beautifully upholstered parcel shelf.

Powertrain and performance

Performance is also a win for both models. The BMW 428i uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 to generate 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It can get to 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds. Grippy summer tires give its performance all the backing it needs. You get the familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine in the 435i. It's rated at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft, and it sprints to 60 mph in as a little as 5.0 seconds.

BMW's steering has some nice weight, but it doesn't communicate enough feedback with some of the larger wheel-and-tire combinations. The car hugs the road, however, and ride quality is quite good.

Lexus offers three engines for the RC. The 200t features a new turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It needs 7.3 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, and while power is generally reasonable once underway, it takes awhile for the transmission to downshift for highway passing. We haven't yet driven the RC 300, which pairs a 255-hp 3.5-liter V-6 with a 6-speed automatic; acceleration time drops to 6.3 seconds.

The RC 350, with is 306-hp 3.5-liter V-6, is a nicely balanced luxury coupe with few rough edges to its performance contours. The 0 to 60 sprint falls to 5.8 seconds, which is quick but can't match the 435i. Add in an F Sport package, and a host of adaptive controls get more aggressive tuning, the ride quality firms up but remains tolerable, and the driving experience elevates itself into a Germanic ballpark. We're not convinced by the variable-ratio and rear-steering add-ons, but the adaptive dampers? Sold.

Fuel economy is similar between the two models, though the BMW is rated a little higher. At best, the 428i manages 27 mpg combined, while the 435i gets 24 mpg combined. The RC 200t, gets 26 mpg combined, and the RC 350 gets 22 mpg combined. All-wheel drive drops those numbers for both cars.

2016 Lexus RC (RC 200t)

2016 Lexus RC (RC 200t)

2016 Lexus RC (RC 200t)

2016 Lexus RC (RC 200t)

2015 Lexus RC 350

2015 Lexus RC 350

Safety and features

So far, we are locked in a tie, but the Lexus pulls ahead thanks to safety.  The IIHS has named the Lexus a Top Safety Pick+, but it has no government crash test scores. Standard safety equipment includes eight airbags and a rearview camera. Forward-collision warning with low-speed accident mitigation is also available.

The BMW's lower rating is hardly its fault. It hasn't been crash-tested by either agency. However, it does offer side- and top-view cameras, park distance sensors, blind-spot monitors, lane departure warning, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.

Both cars also offer similar feature sets and pricing, though the BMW comes in more body styles. BMW groups the 4-Series into trim lines, giving buyers a choice of M Sport, Sport, and Luxury themes. For about $5,000, Lexus buyers can get an F Sport package that bundles 19-inch wheels and tires, the adaptive suspension, firmer suspension settings, sport seats, a sport version of the stability control system, digital gauges, and on rear-drive models, variable ratio steering and rear-wheel steering.

In the final analysis, the BMW has a bit more power model-for-model and it gets slightly better fuel economy. However, the RC is proven safer and that brings up its average score, making it the winner in this comparison. How will that change for the 2017 model year, with new BMW engines and our new, tougher rating scale? We'll update this page as soon as we've had some more seat time.

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Summary

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe and Convertible break away from the 3-Series sedans with a little more flamboyance.
8.2
Expert Rating
The 2016 Lexus RC adds more low-end models, but it's still the racy RC F that comes closes to the Teutonic performance titans.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 BMW 4-Series isn't a head-turner in most venues; but it's uncontroversially good-looking.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The Lexus RC is an appealingly designed sport coupe—albeit one with a controversial spindle grille.
Read More

Performance

8.0
Expert Rating
The 4-Series offers performance that delivers in the numbers, but its numb electric steering is a cause for grimaces.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
Base RC coupes are pleasant performers, and the RC-F is a legitimate track-ready competitor.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
The back seat in the 2016 4-Series seems a little silly, yet its cabin is warm and welcoming otherwise.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
Front seats are very comfortable, though the rear seat should be treated as a parcel shelf.
Read More

Safety

7.0
Expert Rating
The BMW 4-Series still lacks U.S. crash-test results, although this model builds on a solid reputation earned with the 3-Series.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The Lexus RC earns a coveted Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS.
Read More

Features

9.0
Expert Rating
You can go several ways with the 2016 4-Series, making it a lean, sporty premium coupe or a lavish grand-touring machine.
Read More
9.0
Expert Rating
A bevy of desirable features are let down only by a fiddly touchpad controller for the infotainment system.
Read More

Fuel Economy

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2016 BMW 4-Series bucks conspicuous-consumer guilt with some reasonably good fuel economy—though it lacks the diesel and hybrid options offered in BMW's sedans.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The turbo-4 RC 200t is the most fuel-efficient in a somewhat thirsty model lineup.
Read More

MSRP

from $41,650
from $39,995

Invoice

from $38,820
from $37,196

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

27
26

Engine

Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L
Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L

Drivetrain

Rear Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Rear Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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