Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The RC, a four-seat “sports coupe” as Lexus has it, was launched in 2015. It is in a niche but tempting segment, up against the BMW 4-Series, Audi A5 and Mercedes C-class Coupe. The “F” bit denotes Lexus’s sporting range while the “h” stands for hybrid. The RC 300h F Sport therefore is a cunning mix of hybrid technology, sporting design (it’s not the full-fat RC F) and a touch of Japanese luxury which is easily, and wrongly, overlooked in the German-dominated premium segment. The RC range comprises the RC 200t, the entry-level petrol engine, this 300h petrol-electric hybrid, and a 5.0-litre V8 in the RC F proper.
Our RC 300h F Sport is dominated by the F-badge styling, which gives it 19in alloys, F Sport bumpers and dominating mesh grill, brilliant white paint, and a rakish, streamlined appearance, with swoops, curves and LED headlights set back in the bodywork.
Inside, handsome, soft, dark red F Sport leather dominates the snug cabin. There are F Sport aluminium pedals, scuff plates and steering wheel, and the totally-worth-it upgraded mark Levinson audio system.
There’s Lexus’s unique touchpad remote controller to operate the infotainment system if you don’t fancy touching the screen - children will love this sensitive function, which responds in the way an Apple MacBook trackpad does, by lightly scrolling your finger over the surface to move the cursor on the screen.
While the driver sits low in the cabin and the roofline curves steeply back to create a more sporting silhouette, there is room enough for four adults, as befits a marque which does so well in America.
Lexus has a clever box of tricks to hand. Its hybrid system is one of the best in the world, the electric drive working continuously in tandem with, in this case, the 2.5-litre petrol engine and a continuously variable transmission to drive the rear wheels. It means the driver doesn’t have to worry about what button to push when, or what the car is doing – just let it work its magic in silence and you’ll see a decent reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. While the base 200t might see this car off the blocks, the 300h returns about 56mpg with CO2 emissions of 116g/km. The driver is rewarded with 178PS and 221Nm of torque, neither of which are scintillating, but this car is about clever, as opposed to outright, performance.
Lexus is a much overlooked badge in the UK. It plays in the pool where the big German fish swim, and, as a result, never has much UK market share. But those who own a Lexus, love their Lexus. My child says it's his favourite car brand, but can’t explain why – a combination of comfiness, big horizontal dashboards giving a feeling of space, and a quiet ride seem to be it. Both sons loved this car for its exciting sporty design. There’s no doubt Lexus is moving away from its 20-year-old image as the designer of big, boring cars for the American market. There’s more European design and European driving characteristics inserted into the models these days, and they rather stole a march on hybrid technology with the popular RX450h SUV which owners adore. Try one: it won't be what you imagine.