2015 Lexus RC Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 25, 2015

The 2015 Lexus RC Coupe takes the brand in a racier—yet still sensible—direction; and it's one of the best-looking Lexus models yet.

The Lexus RC is shorter than an IS sedan, as wide as the GS four-door and is based on both of them. The RC is the brand's first purpose-built coupe since the long-departed SC. It's taking the plunge again with the new two-door in a bid to directly challenge cars like the BMW 4-Series, Audi A5, and Mercedes C-Class Coupe—and it comes far closer than either of its coupe-convertible efforts (the SC430 and IS C) ever came.

A sinister-looking rendition of the Lexus hourglass is in place on the RC's nose, supercharged with visual drama on F Sport and RC F coupes with a mesh made of a thousand Fs. (You'll have to look close, like in an Escher print.) The sideview's graceful even if the roofline is a bit thick, and the shoulder line lifts at a pretty point on the rear quarters. The RC is precisely what the upmarket sibling to a Scion FR-S should look like. Inside, the horizontal theme of the latest Lexus vehicles is in place, with the same adventurous idea and some of the same foibles, like the Remote Touch control pad and some off-center, oddly stacked components.

The RC comes with a choice between the RC 350 six-cylinder coupe and the much hotter, V-8-powered RC F, but there are shades of grey between those black-and-white opposites. The 306-horsepower six is a powerful base engine, with mostly good grunting noises (it's a V-6, not an in-line six, after all). Coupled to an eight-speed automatic, a whole host of adaptive controls for transmission, throttle, and steering, it's a nicely balanced luxury coupe with few rough edges to its performance contours. Add in an F Sport package, and the adaptive controls get more aggressive tuning, the ride quality firms up well within the margins of tolerability, and the whole driving experience elevates itself into a Germanic ballpark Lexus only has really played in with the bigger GS F Sport. We're not convinced by the variable-ratio and rear-steering add-ons, but the adaptive dampers? Sold.

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On another plane sits the RC-F, the performance edition of the RC meant to campaign against the likes of the M4 and S4. The RC-F swaps out the V-6 for a 5.0-liter V-8 with a rippling 467 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph comes in about 4.4 seconds, and top speed hits 170 mph--slower than a BMW, thanks to the few hundred extra pounds carried by the Lexus.

The RC-F shares the eight-speed automatic and paddle shifters with other RCs, and has Econ, Normal, Sport and Sport+. In manual mode, it holds gears even at redline in second through eighth gears, and cuts shift times even more. Bigger differences are made by Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, a standard Torsen limited-slip differential, and reprogrammed stability control with a track-god all-off mode. There's also an optional torque-vectoring differential that lets electric motors determine how power shifts side to side in 8/10ths-and-beyond driving maneuvers: it's trick, but maybe not better than the Torsen diff. 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.

For true Lexus fans, the RC's interior is fitted to a good standard. It's a spacious car for two passengers, and the array of front-seat choices in different models is uniformly great. In F Sports and RC Fs, the seats get almost anthropomorphic stitching that mimics human muscles. More important, the seats are wide and supple enough to support a really wide range of body types. The back seats barely qualify as 2+2; the trunk can be accessed by folding them down, unless you're in an RC F.

While the federal government hasn't yet tested the RC, it's been rated 'good' in every category of testing by the IIHS, including the tough small overlap frontal test. And it earns an 'advanced' rating for front crash prevention, which earns it a Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2015.

The RC comes with eight standard airbags and stability control. A rearview camera is standard on most models. The stability control can be dialed down for more entertaining driving. And the RC offers a forward-collision warning system that's connected with available adaptive cruise control. The same sensors alert on an impending collision; at low speeds, RCs equipped with the system will apply their own brakes in an effort to avoid the accident entirely.

Other features on the base $43,175 RC include automatic climate control; LED headlamps and taillamps; USB ports, Bluetooth audio streaming; and satellite radio. Major options include 19-inch wheels on summer tires; heated and ventilated front seats; park assist; a sunroof; navigation; power tilt/telescope steering wheel; a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with Harman's Clari-Fi sound-restoring coding; and leather upholstery (a synthetic, leather-like material is standard).

For about $5,000, the F Sport package bundles 19-inch wheels and tires; the adaptive suspension; sport suspension, seats, and stability control; digital gauges; and on rear-drive F Sports, variable gear-ratio and rear-wheel steering.

And finally, the $63,325 RC F comes with the usual base features. Options that can drive its price to nearly $70,000 include ventilated seats, a speed-sensing rear spoiler, blind-spot monitors, and navigation, as well as the Mark Levinson sound system.

2015 Lexus RC

Styling

The Lexus RC is the brand's most interesting piece of styling yet, though it has some obvious flaws.

In essence, the RC is most closely related to the IS sedan. But it's longer than the IS and shorter than the GS, with shorter wheelbase than either, and a few more styling details and a little more sex appeal added compared to either four-door.

From the front, the Lexus RC's spindle grille comes off a little more sinister than on other vehicles, except possibly for the NX crossover. Elsewhere, it has the natural benefit of being a two-door in its corner. From the side or back, it looks more graceful and curvaceous, with a handsome if thick roofline and a delicate uptick in the shoulder line at its rear fenders. It's very close to being an upscaled Scion FR-S--though undoubtedly it's more interesting in its surfacing than that car, or than an M4.

While the base RC wears a slatted grille that plays down its hourglass front end, the F Sport and RC F don't skip any drama. The RC F grille is a woven mesh that looks like it's made up of hundreds of letter-Fs. At the rear, the RC F has finned vents that break up the pretty, and its stacked exhaust outlets add a touch of mean. There's a speed-activated wing that lifts at 50 mph (or in track mode, at 80 mph).

Inside, the cockpit is divided into operational and display zones. The upper zone houses the instrument panel and a seven-inch navigation screen while a layered center console integrates a touchpad-driven Remote Touch interface. The steering wheel is slightly elliptical, the high-backed seats are stitched elaborately. Those conflicting themes don't coordinate as well as they could. For all its resemblance to high-end audio, the center stack rides over the curved console frame in an inelegant way. There's no trim line to continue the horizon line of vents across the passenger space.

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2015 Lexus RC

Performance

The RC F is a legitimate player in the super-coupe category now; base RC coupes are pleasant performers.

American buyers will get a choice between the RC 350 and RC F, but the option of all-wheel drive splits a third version off the RC tree, and the F Sport package, a fourth.

The RC 350 includes a 306-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 with 277 pound-feet of torque. It's a powerful base engine, and reasonably efficient with direct injection. It has some of the coarser V-6 growl common to this whole era of 3.5-liter powerplants--from Ford to Nissan to Mercedes--but it's muted by a fair amount of sound deadening.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on the rear-wheel-drive car. The eight-speed transmission offers normal, sport, and manual shift modes to go with paddle controls and a predictive shift logic that blips the throttle to make shifts smoother. It also uses G-sensors in Sport mode to place gear changes more dynamically--in corners, it will downshift for a better exit gear, for example. Separately, there's a Drive Mode Select feature that gives the driver control over steering assist, climate control, and throttle response through Normal, Sport, and Eco modes.

All-wheel drive will be offered, with a torque bias of 30:70 toward the rear. An older six-speed unit is the gearbox in this version, and its performance isn't much off the mark. The rear-drive car will accelerate to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, AWD cars in 6.0 seconds. Top speeds are 143 mph and 130 mph, respectively (tire-limited on the AWD version).

These RC coupes are very closely related to the IS and GS sedans, with a double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear setup that's tuned just slightly on the firm side. It's compliant enough for easy everyday driving, even a little too underdamped on curving country roads, but hits the right ride and handling balance for a pure luxury coupe. Even the electric steering feels settled and reasonably quick.

From this platform, an F Sport package upgrades the handling of the RC 350 with adaptive dampers; a sport-tuned suspension; 19-inch wheels with either all-season or summer tires; sport-tuned stability control; and on rear-drive F Sports, variable-gear-ratio steering that changes ratio according to speed and yaw, and a Sport+ mode that puts the transmission into its quickest-shifting state. Rear-drive F Sports also have a couple of degrees of rear-wheel steering in Sport+ mode, to amplify steering inputs at speeds of up to 50 mph.

The sum of all these parts? A car that's more encouraging to drive quickly on favorite roads, without the overanxious feel of some of the other F Sport vehicles in the Lexus lineup. We're not convinced on the absolute benefits of the variable steering controls, since the base car acquits itself well with summer tires, but the adaptive dampers and drive-mode selectors give the RC a wider latitude in driving attitudes that's on par with similar systems from BMW and Audi. The dampers especially give the F Sport a firmer ride than the standard car, but don't destroy its well-sorted ride quality when cranked into its more intense settings.

The RC-F

On another plane sits the RC-F, the performance edition of the RC meant to campaign against the likes of the M4 and S4.

The RC-F swaps out the V-6 for a 5.0-liter V-8 with a rippling 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque earned through through bigger air intakes, titanium valves, and reprofiled cams. It's blessed with an airy snarl at about 4000 rpm, but some of it is created, not earned: Lexus pipes synthesized engine sounds into the cabin in Sport mode. The RC-F thumps its way to 60 mph in about 4.4 seconds, and up to a top speed of 170 mph--slower than a BMW, thanks to the few hundred extra pounds carried by the Lexus.

The RC-F shares the eight-speed automatic and paddle shifters with other RCs, and has Econ, Normal, Sport and Sport+. In manual mode, it holds gears even at redline in second through eighth gears, and cuts shift times even more.

Traction gets all sorts of electronic attention in the RC F, from its stock Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (255/35s front, 275/35-19s rear on ours; also Bridgestone Potenzas) to a standard Torsen limited-slip differential. An optional performance package adds a new torque-vectoring differential, a first for Lexus. 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 TVD has three modes of operation: standard, slalom or track. Slalom's 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 diff does a fine job of managing the rear wheels as it is.

The traction and stability control systems have their own variable modes, too, including the usual Normal, Sport, and a new Expert mode that turns off traction control--or a final one that turns off all stability aids entirely.

In the handling department, the rear-wheel-drive RC F has front and rear wishbone and coil-spring independent suspension, with monotube gas-filled shock absorbers and ball-jointed stabilizer bars. Returned 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.

On the road and on the track, the RC F feels settled. The steering builds up weight logically, not dramatically, but doesn't excel at delivering 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 track car, but the latest M4 is a truly great one, and not just because it's quicker.

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2015 Lexus RC

Comfort & Quality

Lexus has fitted all RCs with very comfortable front seats, and fit and finish are good; the rear seats are tiny, and some design details are lacking.

The various versions of the Lexus RC may have their own distinct powertrains and suspensions, but they're all built on the same 107.5-inch wheelbase. The body's a mashup of a Lexus GS in front, the midsection from the outgoing IS C, and the rear of the current IS sedan.

It's more than an inch wider than the IS as a result, but nearly three inches shorter. In its class, it's sized closely with the BMW 4-Series and Audi A5, as well as the Cadillac ATS Coupe.

Slip in behind the RC's long doors and into its low-slung seats, and the support is obvious. Lexus says the seats are some of its best yet, and we'd agree. They're formed with high-density foam and stitched to mimic musculature, with more stitching as you move into F Sport and RC F editions. The bucket seats look a lot like the racy chairs you can buy for your office, super-wide and with big bolsters and shoulder wings that appear to fit a really wide range of body types. Tilt and telescope steering is standard, giving even more latitude for drivers big and small.

Space isn't shy for front-seat passengers--and shouldn't be in a car that weighs in at just south of 4,000 pounds even with an optional carbon-fiber reinforced plastic roof and rear wing and a dose of high-strength steel. At the knees, Lexus pads the RC's center console for serious long-distance comfort.

The rear seats are nicely stitched shelves, nothing more. It's a coupe, after all. The back seats of the RC 350 split and fold down for access to the trunk, but not in the RC F. The meager 10.4 cubic feet of trunk space should hold two golf bags with the rear seats up.

As does the related IS sedan, the RC shows how Lexus is learning to build out more exciting cabins to a higher standard. While their predecessors were well put-together, the most recent versions shed the drab look, with nicely coordinated colors and trims, very comfortable front seats, and a dual-tier dash layout that's both functional and very attractive. We don't care for the way some console pieces intersect--the way the audio system sits out of line with the console trim, or the offset of the console's LCD screen--but we'll chalk those up to design decisions with which we don't agree.

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2015 Lexus RC

Safety

The Lexus RX is one of the top-rated coupes on the market for safety, according to IIHS testing.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet crash-tested the Lexus RC. But it's already earned top 'good' ratings from the IIHS, including an 'advanced' rating for its active-safety systems and a Top Safety Pick+ nod.

The RC lineup has the latest safety technology to go with eight standard airbags and stability control. A rearview camera is standard on most models--but we do have some nits to pick with it. That rearview camera does help with the RC's generally dismal rearward visibility--but it displays on a 7-inch LCD screen with a big frame of black around it, as if it's waiting to be swapped out for a 12-inch display.

All RCs also come with hill-start assist control, and the RC's transmissions (eight-speed and six-speed) are integrated with the traction systems to provide better response to slippery conditions. The stability control also can be toggled, on F Sport and RC F coupes, to adjust the amount of intervention according to driving conditions, whether on the track or on the road.

The RC offers a forward-collision warning system that's connected with available adaptive cruise control. The same sensors alert on an impending collision; at low speeds, RCs equipped with the system will apply their own brakes in an effort to avoid the accident entirely.

Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts are optional.

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2015 Lexus RC

Features

The RC's plentiful features veer between great Mark Levinson audio and middling, fiddly touchpad controls.

Standard features on the Lexus RC 350 are selected for its mission: it's a luxury coupe with a sporty edge, not the reverse.

Each RC 350 comes with power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; automatic climate control; LED headlamps and taillamps; a split/folding rear seat; an AM/FM/XM/CD stereo with an auxiliary jack and two USB ports, and Siri Eyes Free; Bluetooth with audio streaming; Enform Remote, which enables some vehicle functions via mobile app, such as remote start; tilt/telescoping steering; and a rearview camera. The RC 350 AWD adds standard heated front seats.

Major options on the RC 350 include 19-inch wheels on summer tires; heated and ventilated front seats; park assist; a sunroof; navigation; power tilt/telescope steering wheel; a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system with Harman's Clari-Fi sound-restoring coding; and leather upholstery (a synthetic, leather-like material is standard).

The RC 350 starts from $43,715, including destination charges; the all-wheel-drive RC 350 checks in at $45,950.

The F Sport package is essentially an option on the RC 350, from about $4,600 on rear-drive cars and $5,000 on all-wheel-drive cars. It bundles the adaptive suspension; 19-inch wheels with summer or all-season tires; a sport suspension; sport seats; heated and ventilated front seats; digital gauges; a heated steering wheel; sport-tuned stability control; and on rear-drive F Sports, variable-gear-ratio steering.

The RC 350 also can be upgraded with smartphone connectivity via the Lexus Enform system, with the new Remote Touch input pad. The Lexus Enform infotainment system at least ditches its mouse in this iteration for a Remote Touch input pad that allows swipes, pinches, zooms, and other now-customary gestures. It still feels out of sync with what's on the screen, and the screen could use an artistic reskin more fitting with the Lexus brand. Base cars without the system use a roller controller to control the audio and phone functions, and are if anything, more maddening.

As for luxury fittings on the track-ready RC F, leather is an option. So are ventilated seats, the speed-sensing rear spoiler, blind-spot monitors, and navigation, as well as the Mark Levinson sound system.

Those prices can drive up an RC F from its base of $63,325 to nearly $70,000. That still leaves it a couple of grand cheaper than the M4, which starts at $65,125, closer to the run-out prices of today's Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, Audi RS 5, and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe.

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2015 Lexus RC

Fuel Economy

With no downsized turbo-four alternative, the Lexus RC lineup has lower predicted fuel economy than its peers.

Fuel economy ratings for the Lexus RC haven't been published just yet, but the automaker is predicting its new coupes will score combined figures of just over 20 mpg.

The standard-issue RC 350 earns gas-mileage figures of 19 miles per gallon city, 28 miles per gallon highway, and 22 mpg combined. That's not just below some of the rival coupes that offer turbocharged fours in base trim--the RC's highway figures are in the same league as the automatic Chevy Corvette and the PDK-equipped Porsche 911.

The figures drop when all-wheel drive is added--to 19/26 mpg, or 21 mpg combined.

EPA-rated fuel economy for the 2015 RC F is 16/25 mpg city/highway and 19 mpg combined, not bad considering the RC F's portly 3,958 pounds, versus the M4’s 3,585-lb curb weight.

 


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