- A distinctive-looking Lexus
- Very plush, sporty interior
- Excellent front seats
- Available all-wheel drive
- RC F is finally in the sports car game
- Punchy front end throws a curve ball on the design
- No manual gearbox
- Unimpressive mileage
The 2016 Lexus RC F can flog the road course with V-8 brute force, but it's just a bit less lithe and talented than its lighter-weight rivals.
The Lexus RC F doesn't have a high-performance sheen built up over decades. Rivals like the BMW M4 have considerable laurels to rest on, in that regard. But the RC F comes the closest yet of any Lexus to nailing the elusive German recipe for track and street two-door performance.
Competition for the RC F includes the vaunted BMW M4 (formerly the M3 coupe and convertible), as well as the Audi S5 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG coupe.
The RC F has its roots in Lexus coupes like the old SC lineup, and the more recent IS convertibles, but the two-door hardtop is one of the more handsome designs to usher out of the Lexus design studio. It's dramatic in its details, traditional in its outline, rendered more sinister than the squatty RC 350 coupes thanks to a mesh hourglass grille composed of a thousands tiny letter Fs. (Look closely, it's like an Escher drawing, but it'll appear.) Finned vents and stacked exhaust outlets add to the aggression, and the speed-activated wing that deploys at 50 mph actually aids performance. The design owes as much to those ancestors as it does to Scion's FR-S sports coupe. The RC F's cockpit is along the same horizontal lines as the current generation of Lexus cars, with some adventurous lines and textures and a few fumbles, like the odd stagger of the center stack and the stuck-on appearance of the Remote Touch mouse controller.
RC 350 coupes with or without F Sport tuning are pleasant enough, but the RC F sits on a higher plane entirely. It exchanges the ample V-6 power for ripe V-8 muscle. Rated at 467 horsepower, the 5.0-liter V-8 can toss the RC F to 60 mph in about 4.4 seconds, and top speed hits 170 mph. That's at least a half-second than Germany's two-doors, mostly because the RC F carries a few extra hundred pounds around—not because it's only offered with a paddle-shifted, 8-speed automatic.
The 8-speed automatic has Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, and in Manual mode, it holds gears in second through eighth gears, even at redline, and cuts shift times even more.
The rear-wheel-drive RC F has a suspension composed of wishbones front and rear, with coil springs, monotube shocks and ball-jointed stabilizer bars. Retuned stabilizer bars, bushings, and new lower control arms are upgraded from the RC 350, and so are the 19-inch wheels and Brembo brakes (15 inches in front, 13.6 inches at the rear). The RC F's electric steering rack conforms to the multiple modes offered on the RC 350 F Sport.
More hardware and firmware uprates its performance into the big leagues: the RC F has a standard Torsen limited-slip differential, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, and reprogrammed stability control with a track-god "all-off" mode.
With its firmed-up bushings and roll bars and bigger Brembo brakes, the RC F punches into a happy, composed demeanor on the track—not yet the equal of an M4, but finally in the conversation.
There's one option that might sound like a must-have, but after track time in the RC F at New York's Monticello speedway, we're not entirely convinced. An optional performance package adds a new torque-vectoring differential, which was a first for Lexus that later found its way into the GS F. In it, electric motors control clutch packs that can shift up to 100 percent of the power to an outside wheel, based on steering and yaw sensor input, all to get the RC F around a corner in tighter fashion. The differential has three modes of operation: standard, slalom or track. Slalom is more like an autocross mode, with lots of darty output, but track mode's a cleaner interface for hard and fast driving.
Still, it adds another 70 pounds to the hefty RC F—and the Torsen differential does a fine job of managing the rear wheels as it is. The Lexus coupe feels settled, with good steering build-up making up for a lack of feedback. The Torsen limited-slip setup maintains so much control over the rear end, the lure of steering by right foot with the torque-vectoring differential isn't as strong, especially since it exaggerates the RC F's less manic body control. The RC F is a very good companion for big fast tracks, but the latest M4 is a truly great one, though it too feels digital and imperfect on tightly composed road courses.
The RC F gives up nothing in the way of Lexus-style passenger comfort. It's spacious for two, and the stitching in the front buckets is said to mimic human muscles. If they do, they're linebacker-grade: the seats are wide and supple, with ample support for a big range of body sizes and shapes. The back seats barely hold medium-sized passengers, and on the RC F, they don't fold to expand access to the trunk.
There's no NHTSA data yet, but the IIHS gives the RC coupes a "Good" rating in every category, including the tough small-overlap frontal test. It also earns an advanced rating for front crash prevention. A rearview camera is standard, and the RC F can be fitted with a forward-collision warning system with automatic braking.
The RC F is priced from the mid-$60,000s, and comes standard with Bluetooth; USB ports; satellite radio; automatic climate control; and a power tilt/telescope steering wheel. Prices climb to near $70,000 with big options like a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with Harman's Clari-Fi sound-restoring coding; ventilated seats; blind-spot monitors; and navigation.
Fuel economy is predictably punished by the RC F's V-8. According to the EPA, the RC F manages just 16 mpg city, 25 highway, 19 combined, which is on-par with other performance models.