Object of desire
Another thing that characterises Lexus is its engineers. They're wise, disciplined, sensible and always available to answer journalists' questions after a test drive. However, an interview with a Lexus engineer is more like attending a lecture than just having a chat.
However... chief engineer Eiichi Kusama has a twinkle in his eyes and an unusual passion in his voice when he talks about "his" RC. That's because he loved his latest assignment: design your ideal car. And that's why "RC" means "Radical Coupé". Kusama and his team wanted to show that Lexus can be both sensible and exciting.
The term "radical" means that the RC isn't a three-door version of an existing model, but a thoroughbred coupé that's been designed from scratch. The complicated lines and the generous proportions suggest this is a coupé from the top segment of the market. But in fact, the RC competes with the Audi A5, the BMW 4-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé. The first round goes to Lexus!
Once inside, the RC woos the occupants once again. Many carmakers use the same dashboard layout for both their coupé and family saloon. The RC really distinguishes itself from the other Lexus models. As usual, the materials used are of top quality and build quality is immaculate, yet the whole cabin has a more advanced and "technical" feel to it.
The dashboard is stacked, which is highly original. Because of the special atmosphere, driving the RC feels like a real privilege, every second of every drive.
The occupants aren't lying down like in a sports car, but they are not sitting upright as much as in a salon; Lexus found a great compromise. For a coupé, headroom in the front is fine. The standard seats aren't full bucket seats, yet they do provide more lateral support than the seats in the average car.
The space in the rear is only sufficient for children. Adults have to lower their heads and fold their legs around the front seats. So in real life the back seat will be used as an extra boot, just like with most other coupés.
Depending on the trim level, the RC can be fitted with all the luxury and safety features Lexus has to offer. One of Autozine's favourites is present as well: the majestic Mark Levinson audio system.
As it should be with a car like this, the technology isn't limited to just useful features. The speedometer and rev counter have been replaced by a big display. At first, the rev counter is in the middle with a little digital speedometer in the heart. At the push of a button, a second display slides on top of the first displaying additional data. Useless, yet fascinating!
In Japan the Lexus RC is available with three different petrol engines: a 3.5-litre six-cylinder ("RC350"), a 5.0-litre eight-cylinder ("RC F") and a hybrid ("RC300h"). The RC F differs so much from the other versions, that it will be reviewed separately.
For this first test drive, the RC300h (Japanese spec) was chosen. A 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor power the rear wheels. Depending on the situation, only the petrol engine, only the electric motor or a combination of both will be the most efficient choice.
The driver does not have to worry about this; the computer decides which engine is used in any given situation. Even charging the batteries for the electric motor isn't necessary: the energy that normally goes to waste during coasting or braking is being converted into electricity. The computer even takes care of shifting gears; the RC300h is driven like an automatic.
The hybrid drivetrain largely resembles that of the Lexus IS300h. The main difference is that the engine management has been tweaked a little to give the RC a more lively character. Yet, the total output (223 PS / 221 Nm) is insufficient to turn the RC300h into a true sports car. When sports mode is engaged the RC300h does become more lively and alert, but performance still isn't as exciting as its looks suggest.
On the other hand, the hybrid drive line makes the 300h more comfortable, more quiet and more refined than all its rivals. This makes the RC300h a very suitable car to cover long distances.
Another advantage: the RC300h is especially frugal. Lexus states that the RC300h will do 65 mpg, but even when driving very slowly this cannot be achieved. The test drive took place in Japan, where the speed limits are extremely low (30 mph to 50 mph on the motorway) and yet the best the test driver could do was 46 mpg. A lot worse than Lexus promises, but still as frugal as a tiny city car!
Not only the character of the engine, but also the suspension can be changed by the press of a button. In standard mode the Japanese spec RC300h has very soft suspension for a sports coupé. On bumps on the road the bodywork can wobble like this is a limousine!
In sports mode (preferably "Sport+") the RC300 is pleasantly firm and communicates very well with the driver. Only then it becomes clear that the RC300h is in fact perfectly balanced (50/50 weight distribution over the front and rear wheels). Now, the car dares the driver to corner faster every time. This Lexus might be as sensible as the other models, but it is infinitely more desirable!
Does the Lexus RC convince as a desirable and exciting car? Yes, without a doubt! Lexus is synonymous with luxury and clever technology (hybrid drive). The RC300h now adds jaw-dropping looks and the dynamics of a coupé to that mix. While the hybrid drive line is basically the same as in the other models, the experience is more intense.
Please note: this review is based on a test drive in Japan. The test car is a Japanese spec car. The specifications shown are based on calculations and measurements according to Japanese standards and can differ from European norms. At the moment of writing Lexus hasn't decided which (if any) versions of the RC will come to Europe. When the car arrives in Europe, the specs and even the character may differ.
"Bizarre or brilliant?"