2015 Lexus RC

By September 26, 2014
2015 Lexus RC

The Lexus RC is a sleek new sport coupe with eye-catching styling. Only available as a two-door, RC is based on a new rear-wheel-drive platform but is available with all-wheel drive. Rear-wheel drive generally offers sportier performance than front-wheel drive. An uber-powerful RC F performance model replaces the outgoing four-door IS-F as Lexus's sportiest vehicle.

Two models comprise the 2015 RC lineup: the Lexus RC 350, powered by Toyota's 3.5-liter V6 engine good for 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque, and the low-volume, high-performance RC F, with a 5.0-liter V8 engine that cranks out an impressive 467 horsepower and 389 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are naturally aspirated; no turbocharged choices here, unlike some competitors.

Lexus also snubs the manual transmission for automatics only. The RC 350 rear-wheel-drive model and the RC F gets an 8-speed automatic, while the RC 350 with all-wheel drive is equipped with a 6-speed automatic.

The 2015 Lexus RC was essentially created from three existing Lexus architectures, including the GS and IS sedans, as well as parts from the IS convertible. The RC 350 will make up the vast majority of RC sales.

Chassis rigidity was a top priority for Lexus engineers, who were able to stiffen the chassis using underbody reinforcements and strategic placements of spot welds and body adhesive. Combined with its double wishbone front suspension and a rear multilink setup, the result is a firm, planted car that can handle aggressive driving on the street or track with near-perfect composure and very little cabin noise.

At first glance, the RC can be recognized by its large, hourglass-shaped spindle grille, which bears a family resemblance to both the IS and GS sedans. The RC F's black mesh front grille emphasizes the height and width of its gaping maw, looking like it might just swallow any car that gets in its way. The RC F also gets additional aerodynamics.

Inside, the cabin design is unique but polarizing, with a sharply curved dash on the passenger side that mimics the RC's sharply curved front end, and a slanted instrument panel that is easy to reach, but unusual in comparison with other luxury cars. Front seats are comfortable and supportive, though rear seats will only carry small children or cargo, though this is normal for a sport coupe.

As a daily driver, the RC 350 provides a sporty feel with enough power to handle nearly any driving situation. The optional F Sport package for the RC 350 features a firmer, adaptive suspension, rear-wheel steering, different gauges and other performance goodies.

The RC F, on the other hand, is most at home on the track. Its powerful V8 makes acceleration effortless, and its big, capable brakes make stopping equally exhilarating. It also sounds amazing, especially in the cabin, thanks in part to a sound generator that pipes in engine sound.

Competitors to the 2015 Lexus RC 350 are few but mighty, including the Audi A5, BMW 4 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe, and Cadillac ATS coupe. The Lexus RC F goes up against the likes of the Audi RS 5, BMW M4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG coupe. While it might lack the prestige of a German marque, the Lexus RC is a good choice for those looking for a capable car that isn't as common on the road. And when it comes to track performance, the RC F not only measures up, but in a segment where other brands can tack on tens of thousands for options, the RC F can also offer a better value for the money.

Model Lineup

The 2015 Lexus IS comes in two variants: The RC 350 and the RC F.

Lexus RC 350 models ($42,950) can be equipped with rear-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission, or with all-wheel drive and a 6-speed automatic.

Standard features include NuLuxe polyurethane upholstery, automatic climate control, power door locks/windows/mirrors, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with multifunction controls, cruise control, analog clock, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, first aid kit, Bluetooth handsfree phone and streaming audio connectivity, 7-inch display screen with complimentary traffic and weather information, a 10-speaker audio system with CD player, HD radio, satellite radio capability and voice recognition, USB port, power moonroof, LED headlights and tail lights and 18-inch wheels. All-wheel-drive models also get standard heated front seats.

An optional Navigation package includes the Lexus Enform telematics system, rearview camera and real-time weather, sports, stocks and fuel prices with one-year included subscription. A 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system may also be added (requires navigation). The Luxury Package adds leather upholstery, heated/ventilated seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, memory driver's seat, rain sensing wipers and blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert. The F Sport package for the RC 350 adds a TFT instrument cluster, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, memory driver's seat, aluminum sport pedals, an adaptive suspension, rear-wheel steering, performance brake pads, unique 19-inch wheels and unique interior and exterior styling with F Sport badging.

RC F ($63,225) is rear-wheel drive only and comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include those found on the RC 350 and F Sport package plus dedicated sport seats, unique TFT instrument cluster, unique interior trim and badging, a unique front fascia and grille, speed-sensitive rear wing, additional exterior aerodynamics and unique 19-inch aluminum wheels with performance tires.

Safety features on all models include driver's and front passenger's airbag, driver's and front passenger's knee airbag, front seat-mounted side airbag, front and rear side curtain airbags, Antilock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and brake assist, traction control and stability control.

Walkaround

Size-wise, the 2015 Lexus RC coupe is about an inch longer and an inch wider than the Lexus IS sedan, though it rides on a wheelbase about three inches shorter (therefore more overhang). It also sits more than an inch lower. Compared with the BMW 4 Series, the Lexus RC is about two inches longer, and about an inch taller. Although bigger than its German rival, the RC still feels relatively compact, as opposed to the BMW, which can feel like a pretty large car.

Lines on the Lexus RC are mostly a combination of aggressive angles and sharp curves. The RC's big mouth is a familiar but unique take on the Lexus spindle grille, an hourglass shape (which can resemble and upside-down serving bowl) found on the IS and GS sedans. On the RS, the front end is more sharply curved and protruding, most noticeable from the side view.

RC 350 models have a more traditional split front grille, with strong vertical lines on the narrower top portion, and a wide mesh pattern over the large lower air intake, beset on either side by small, round LED foglights. Standard LED headlights are angular and slightly swept back, with Nike-style swoosh LED daytime running lights beneath. Functional air intakes sit at the base of the RC's wide front fenders. F Sport editions get a single-piece black mesh front grille covering without foglights.

RC F is slightly lower, longer and wider than the RC 350. The front end is fitted with a single mesh piece over the entire grille opening, creating a gaping maw that looks like it might swallow any cars in front of it. Bigger lower air intakes help to cool the big V8 under the hood.

From the side, it's easy to see the RC's low, sloping roofline. A strong crease starts behind the front wheel arch, first curving downward, then cutting straight across the body, through the door handle and into the top of the sharply pointed, wraparound tail light. Along the bottom of the RC 350, a distinct rocker panel angles up sharply behind the door and into the rear wheel arch. RC F models get a functional air dam behind the front wheel arch and different, more aggressive rocker panels.

In the rear, angular LED tail lights mimic the swoosh of the LED daytime running lights up front. RC 350s get twin rectangular exhaust pipes, flanked by black contrast horizontal striping on the lower edges of the rear bumper. The RC F gets a rear wing, which automatically raises at speeds over 50 mph and a different rear bumper, with circular staggered quad exhaust pipes.

Interior Features

Inside, the unique cabin design is practical but also potentially polarizing, with a sharp curves and angles that mimic the RC's exterior design. The protruding, curved dash on passenger side echoes the RC's sharply curved front end, and a slanted instrument panel that is easy to reach, but not particularly easy on the eyes. Although billed as a younger, sexier, Lexus, the RC still keeps an analog clock, which we think is an odd choice.

Seats are supportive and comfortable, especially in the RC F, which holds occupants well around corners. Standard seats upholstery is NuLuxe, a synthetic material made from polyurethane, which designers say holds its shape over time better than leather. An optional luxury package adds perforated leather, but unless you require that leather smell, we don't think you'd miss the cowhide.

The standard 7-inch display sits at the top of the center stack and is set deeply back, which makes for better visibility in bright sunlight. Controls consist of a round knob in the center console, as well as a new touchpad and surrounding buttons that let users draw and tap, similar to the interfaces used by Audi and BMW. We found this relatively easy to use and were able to enter information pretty quickly, though we still think most OE navigation systems are tedious compared with the map apps on most smartphones.

Sound quality from the base sound system is good, and even better from the upgraded Mark Levinson system. Generally, we found iPhone integration to be seamless, although when playing music from our iPhone 5s when tethered via USB, the audio system inexplicably kept turning off. We were in contact with representatives from Mark Levinson, who said they were aware of the problem and were working on it.

The steering wheel is comfortable and meaty, but not overly thick like BMW M cars, for example. Steering-wheel-mounted buttons control audio, phone and cruise control and some menu functions.

The instrument cluster on the RC 350 is composed of analog gauges, with easy-to-read white text on a black background. Models with the F Sport package, as well as the RC F get a TFT instrument cluster that's reconfigurable.

Storage up front is minimal, with two cupholders on the passenger's side of the center console, and a small space within the center armrest. There aren't any extra cubbies or slots on the console for a phone or other small items, and the door pockets aren't wide enough to hold cans or bottles.

Front legroom and headroom is fine for most any size people. The coupe's sloping roofline and nonexistent rear legroom, however, relegate the backseat to small children or cargo, though this is common for the compact coupe segment.

Cargo space is average for small coupe, with 10.4 cubic feet in the RC 350, and 10.1 cubic feet in the RC F. That's on par with the Cadillac ATS coupe, though it falls short of the 15.7 cubic feet in the BMW 4 Series, and the M4's 11 cubic feet.

Driving Impressions

The word test drivers use to describe the Lexus RC: effortless. Both engines offer plenty of power, responsive steering and a stiff, planted chassis. The combination of refined mechanical engineering and sophisticated electronic systems makes drivers feel capable of nearly anything.

The RC 350 is more than able to handle winding roads, freeway passing and other maneuvers with ease, thanks to its 306-hp V6. While the naturally aspirated engine lacks the torquey response of the turbocharged motors used by rivals, the RC 350 has a smooth, linear acceleration feel.

Three selectable modes on base models adjust throttle control, steering and fuel management to suit your mood: Eco, Normal and Sport. The RC 350 is most comfortable in Normal mode. Eco mode, predictably, feels a little wimpier as its primary goal is fuel economy. Sport is the peppiest of them all, and drivers can engage further by using the paddle shifters and changing gears manually.

On the track, the RC F made us giggle out loud as we put the pedal to the metal down the straightaway, reaching triple-digit speeds just before the braking zone. Toyota's 467-hp V8 is superb, offering tons of power while still feeling refined. Combined with the 8-speed automatic, the RC F is exhilarating and fun, without feeling twitchy like the IS F.

Another defining characteristic of the RC F is its sound. Engineers put much time and effort into developing an exhaust note for the RC F that would be both tantalizing and distinctive. They succeeded. The RC F has a delightful refined purr: It's not trying to copy the throaty growl of a BMW or the rowdy roar of a muscle car. As is common with most sports cars today, sound is piped into the cabin through a sound generator, giving the driver pleasure of hearing the RC F without rolling down the windows.

Rigidity was a top priority for Lexus engineers, who were able to stiffen the chassis using additional bracing, underbody reinforcements and strategic placements of spot welds and body adhesive. The result is a firm, planted car that can handle aggressive driving on the street or track with near-perfect composure and very little cabin noise. Although the RC lacks the near-perfect 50/50 balance of a BMW (it's 54/46 in the RC 350 and 55/45 in the RC F), it still feels tossable and well in control.

The RC 350 uses a suspension setup oft used in performance cars, with double wishbones in front and a multilink in the rear, both with (fixed) coil springs and stabilizer bars. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, and certainly nothing like Toyota's FR-S sportscar, which, while capable, can be teeth-chattering. The RC F gets a beefed-up, adaptive suspension that continuously adjust damping rates for the best handling.

Big, biting brakes are perhaps one of the most impressive features of the RC F, made by Brembo exclusively for Lexus. Massive 15-inch discs with six-piston caliper discs sit up front, with 13.6-inch discs and four caliper pistons in the rear. We played with our braking zone distances on the track and found they kept getting shorter, with plenty of stopping power. Still, we were grateful for the RC F's electronic stability control, even at its reduced capacity in Sport mode, when we came in just a little too hot on one corner and recovered nicely without hitting dirt (or a wall). Combined with the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, we had plenty of grip around corners.

Driving the RC 350 after the RC F on the track, we gained particular appreciation for the V8's power and braking capability. We learned fast in the RC 350 to brake much earlier in comparison. The RC 350 was fine, but can't hold a candle to the RC F when it comes to track performance. That's not a bad thing; it's just a different animal. The RC 350 F Sport splits the difference between the two, adding the RC F's adaptive suspension, rear-wheel steering and performance brake pads, making it a good choice for those who want more than what the base RC 350 has to offer without springing for the full-blown RC-F.

Though Lexus offers automatic transmissions only, most drivers won't mind. The RC 350 rear-wheel-drive model and the RC F gets an 8-speed, while the RC 350 with all-wheel drive is equipped with a 6-speed automatic. With the 8-speed, shifts are lightning-quick, and in Drive, the transmission can predict the right gear faster than most mere mortals, thanks to Lexus's artificial intelligence shift feature (AI-SHIFT control), which will select the right gear at the right time based on G-force data from a built-in sensor. We didn't love the 6-speed as much, and found shifts a little abrupt on kickdown. If performance is your priority and you don't live in a snowy climate, stick to the rear-wheel-drive car.

Summary

The 2015 Lexus RC is a solid, unique choice in the luxury sport coupe segment. The RC 350 offers ample power and agile handling for spirited and daily driving, while the high-performance RC F wows on the track with a big V8, planted suspension and amazing brakes.

Laura Burstein filed this New Car Test Drive report after her test drive of the Lexus RC models in Westchester County, New York.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Lexus RC 350 ($42,950); RC F ($63,225)
Engines:3.5-liter V6, 5.0-liter V8
Transmissions:6-speed automatic with paddle shift; 8-speed automatic with paddle shift
Safety equipment (standard):driver's and front passenger's airbag, driver's and front passenger's knee airbag, front seat-mounted side airbag, side curtain airbags, Antilock Brakes (ABS) with Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, traction control and stability control
Safety equipment (optional):rearview camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, automatic park assist
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 mile
Assembled in:Japan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Lexus RC 350
Standard equipment:NuLuxe polyurethane upholstery, automatic climate control, power door locks/windows/mirrors, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with multifunction controls, cruise control, analog clock, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, first aid kit, Bluetooth handsfree phone and streaming audio connectivity, 7-inch display screen with complimentary traffic and weather information, a 10-speaker audio system with CD player, HD radio, satellite radio capability and voice recognition, USB port, power moonroof, LED headlights and tail lights,18-inch wheels
Options as tested (MSPR):Navigation package includes Lexus Enform telematics system, back-up camera and real-time weather, sports, stocks and fuel prices with one-year included subscription; Mark Levinson premium sound system
Destination charge:$
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested (MSPR):$
Layout:rear-wheel drive
Engine:3.5-liter V6
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):306 @ 6400
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):277 @ 4800
Transmission:8-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: mpg
Wheelbase:107.5 in.
Length/width/height:184.8/72.4/54.9 in.
Track, f/r:62.2/61.8 in.
Turning circle:34.2 ft.
Seating Capacity:4
Head/hip/leg room, f:37.8/53.9/45.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: in.
Head/hip/leg room, r:34.8/44.9/27.3 in.
Cargo volume:10.4 cu. ft.
Payload: Lbs.
Towing capacity: Lbs.
Suspension, f:double wishbone with high-mount upper arms, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
Suspension, r:multilink with coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
Ground clearance:5.3 in.
Curb weigth:3748 lbs.
Tires:235/45R18
Brakes, f/r:four-wheel power assisted vented disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Fuel capacity:17.4 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of September 26, 2014.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 800-872-5398 - www.lexus.com