It's a Guy Thing

The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

Lexus RC F

The Japanese sportscar. Instead of flying all the way to Munich, wouldn’t it have been easier for Toyota to peek over the wall at Lexus where the RC-F was being developed and tested?

As it turns out, the current Japanese sportscar comes in two distinct flavors with the RC F representing a cultured Gran Tourer movement to a segment that’s deteriorated into an unwinnable power struggle between BMW and Mercedes.

Arguably, the RC-F takes its place as Japan’s muscle car. Under the microscope of the world’s motoring press, Lexus maintains a squeaky-clean image by spreading milder hybrid systems across their SUVs than any other brand in SA. The RC F’s 5.0-liter V8 is the antithesis, giving the Eco Pendulum a firm swing in the opposite direction to grab a few punchy headlines of its own. This is not a very new engine though. Many of us motoring scribes learned about its character in the IS F which at the time was up against normally aspirated M3s, RS 4s and C63s. Since then they’ve all made the switch to turbocharging, rather successfully we might add. Lexus has its back turned.

Noise might be a reason to own a normally aspirated V8 over the others and sure enough the RC F is mature and barrel-chested, but it doesn’t bark or rattle the tops of the suspension mounts when you kick a big toe at the accelerator while waiting for the lights to change. Closer to the effect of wheezing tremors that build and rumble to towering tidal waves rather than the ubiquitous pop and crackle songs that start from just above idle. Torque is without exception the shove in the backside you miss. Fortunately, it gets tastier as you unpack the rev range – the first couple cogs not alerting the traction control- and road permitting its pulse quickens, swooping you up in a disarming chorus of acceleration without the face-rearranging. In any situation it’s possible to lead-foot the accelerator with zero regard for what carnage might occur at the rear tires. That’s reassuring, as the RC F carries onwards as if corners are nothing more than scheduled appointments one after the other. All safe. Sanguine. A purveyor of peace.

We drove the cars at the coast where figures of 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds were always likely to flatter. That makes the RC F Lexus’s fastest car on sale but it’s nearer the performance of a C 43 AMG or BMW 440i than the fully ripened versions.

Surely that’s enough, you ask sagely. You may have a point, especially since we’re forever moaning how unusable cars have become, or the compromises they need to endure in areas like comfort just to set these superfluous Nurburgring records. The RC F then seems to tick a lot of sense in that 6/10nths area where it’ll be mostly driven by most drivers. Push it harder and things start to unravel as its performance credentials come under practical examination.

For a rear-wheel-drive Radical Coupe, the RC F won’t relent to any oversteer until the last possible moment. The front tires sweating under the weight of a V8 work extra hard as they slip-scrub-itch-grab for what seems an eternity, requiring a patient approach if picking apart apexes is your goal.  Through the basic driving modes there’s little you can do to alter the situation; a tweak of throttle response and firmer damper settings have no cure to mask its size. There’s a lot of weight (far forward) to cajole under braking and the controls are better suited to wider scenery than a racetrack seemingly dropped from the sky and camouflaged across the hilly coastal vegetation.

Inside Lexus’s designers still take wicked joy in hiding buttons in places you’re unlikely to think of resulting in a user experience that’s fraught with confusion. Now we’re not asking for gesture control or nine steps of traction control, but Lexus is due a technology revolution if it wants to grab the attention of the younger generation. The amount of model-to-model inconsistency in the Lexus brand is another bugbear; the RC F digs up relics like a foot-operated handbrake when its other models have migrated to electric systems.

For the latest RC F, it’s the same old story with different pictures. That same giggly tingle runs through our bones when that unmistakably Japanese styling tears through the monotony of platform sharing but this is only a temporary distraction. The RC F is not a new car, carrying over many of the flaws from its marriage of components and software. You might like the overall friendliness from a sheep in wolf’s clothing but then why not buy an RC 350?

“That’s reassuring, as the RC F carries onwards as if corners are nothing more than scheduled appointments”

…Hence the Track Edition?

Despite the flamboyant visual upgrades, the Track Edition doesn’t nail the RC-F’s inherent jiggle onto a stiffer piece of cardboard, dons carbon bonnet and is slowed down by carbon-ceramic stoppers. That carbon fiber, to its credit, placed where its effects are greatest – the roof, bonnet and boot – but if you really want to build a BMW M4 GTS competitor the rear seats need to go. They’re quite impractical for humans as it is. Track rubber would be another minimal requirement.

You find the car extra skittish when the Track’s damper setting is enabled, making it about as jumpy to control at speed as the car’s infotainment scratchpad. I don’t know who calibrated this wrecking ball of a suspension setting but if it’s too firm around a racetrack, I grimace at the thought of these 20-inch wheels slamming the entry of a stormwater drain. So with that one element in the Track’s cachet turning out to be a minus rather than a plus the difference between the two cars is not as day and night as we’d hoped, certainly not when there’s a considerable price difference.