DEC 10th 2014

Lexus RC F driven: is it the Japanese BMW M4?

‘F’ is for Fuji, Lexus’ performance brand. The marque has always liked to do things a little bit differently from the premium German machines it wants to eclipse, in this case eschewing the usual letters used for fast cars to name its hot models after the Japanese circuit where it does most of its development testing. Here, the letter is appended to the RC coupé car tilted clearly at the BMW M4.

Lexus is also doing things differently under the bonnet of the RC F, steering clear of forced induction (all the rage nowadays) and going with normal aspiration. This is a delightful piece of whimsy on the part of Lexus; it can get away with it, presumably, because the rest of its products are made up of low-emissions hybrids. As manufacturers have to meet stringent European range-wide average CO2 figures of 130g/km by 2015 and 95g/km by 2021, Lexus has a bit of spare capacity to stick with a relatively dirty V8.

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There have been two entries to the F stable so far, the excellent IS F and the absolutely stellar LFA, a car that has such an incredible aura around it that it has almost become a mythical beast. The RC F has to live up to their reputations on the one hand, while even tougher examinations will come from the M4, Audi’s RS 5 and the forthcoming Mercedes-AMG C 63, which will run a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. Would you be sane to drop sixty grand on an unproven Japanese coupé when there are such established players on the scene?

“The RC F has a commodity that is difficult to quantify – charisma. While you can pick holes in its set-up all day long, there’s no doubt it’s largely well-sorted and hugely endearing to thrash about the place”

It doesn’t take long to expose some of the flaws in the RC F’s make-up, and you’re expecting a few of them because of the car’s spec sheet. An eight-speed automatic gearbox, no matter how fast it’s supposed to shift, seems like an anachronism in an age of super-rapid twin-clutch transmissions. The RC F is also no lightweight, clocking in at a hefty 1765kg – a whopping 193kg meatier than a BMW M4 Coupé. Ouch. This isn’t helped by the V8 delivering its peak torque, no disgrace at 390lb ft (the BMW only makes 15lb ft more from its two turbochargers), in a high 800rpm band starting at 4800rpm. Once on the move, it also feels a softer proposition in terms of suspension set-up than the BMW.

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This translates into a car that can feel underwhelming if you’re not on it. The RC F isn’t helped by gearing in the eight-speed gearbox that is farcically long – 100mph in fourth leaves another 2000rpm in reserve on the cog, with another four ratios still to come – and below 3500rpm the engine is limited to a muted rumble. It’s easy to see why some people would find this frustrating, especially if they’re well versed in cars with torque from idle to top-end.

But surely drivers’ cars are about rewarding driving, not offering lazy, forced induction pace accessible to anyone. Knock the RC F into manual mode and hold onto ratios and the Lexus comes alive. The V8 makes a terrific bellow beyond 3500rpm and continues singing a glorious song out to the redline; it’s all natural, too, with no artificial sounds piped into the cabin. It’s bonkers quick as it hauls through its long, long lower gears, with 120mph and beyond dismissed with contemptuous ease.

The RC F has great steering, with plenty of feedback and nice, precise weighting, mega brakes (six-pot callipers front, four-pots at the back) and lots of grip with only very moderate understeer if you’re too eager into a bend. It proves to be a pliant, benign but involving road car. And then we take it onto Ascari’s undulating track. In the firmest of its multiple set-ups – there are five settings for the gearbox, four on the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management and three for the torque vectoring differential – and with the traction control in a relaxed mode called Expert, it’s more than capable for something so weighty. A BMW M4 would best it on a circuit, no doubt, but the Lexus is still huge fun.

So there are flaws with the RC F and not just in terms of the dynamics. On the aesthetic front, it looks great from the rear and sides, but the front is over-complicated to our eyes. The interior is too, the Lexus controller for the infotainment not as intuitive as a rotary dial, while there are a lot of different shapes and surfaces (some of which are finished in dated plastics). The front seats are excellent, the steering wheel is a great size and there’s a decent boot at the back, although the rear seats are cramped for adults.

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But the Lexus has a commodity that is difficult to quantify – charisma. While you can pick holes in its set-up all day long, there’s no doubt it’s largely well-sorted and hugely endearing to thrash about the place. Although it sets its performance stall out a little differently to the established cars, the RC F isn’t being wilfully perverse for the sake of it. It offers a driving experience that is actually refreshingly unique in today’s marketplace. The net result is that, niggles aside, the RC F is a fitting third entry into the Fuji club. And it’s a genuinely credible Japanese rival for BMW’s M4.

Power/weight: 267bhp/tonne
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 168mph (electronically limited)
Engine: 2UR-GSE 5.0-litre V8
Power: 471bhp at 7100rpm
Torque: 390lb ft from 4800 to 5600rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive with torque vectoring differential
Wheels: –9-inch forged alloys front and rear
Tyres: 255/35 R19 front, 275/35 R19 rear
Economy: 26.2mpg
CO2: 252g/km
Price: From £59,995; RC F Carbon from £67,995
On sale date: Now

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