Enjoyable to drive with the bonus of lovely exterior design
Ah, Lexus; purveyor of hybrid-driven SUVs and luxo-barges. Well yes. But also, no.
These days Lexus has an increasingly rich seam of performance-themed weaponry to mine. Under everyone’s noses the manufacturer has made a concerted effort to push the idea of Lexus as a brand you’d see at a track day. And it’s doing a good job of it. It debuted an IS F before there was even such a thing as F; its suffix of choice for models with anger issues, in the same way that BMW utilises M.
As with all cars in the muscled-up four door sedan category, that model was a niche product — possibly now more memorable for debuting the company’s first eight-speed auto gearbox than its performance figures.
Lexus’ next move was to replace the IS F sedan with ... a coupe. The RC line-up — including the fire-breathing RC F V8 — debuted last year. To sate the need for an aggressively-styled four door sedan, Lexus then put its big 5.0-litre V8 into the mid-size GS, creating a GS F and possibly the best part of its performance line-up, what with its effortless mix of premium-level spaciousness and ragged-edged raucousness.
A sub-brand between the normal Lexus models and top-shelf F versions; anything with F Sport affixed to its nameplate is also worth a look, usually offering a nice combination of spindly alloys, snug seats and other exterior and interior elements that up the sports factor over everything else. That Lexus recently debuted an RC 200t F Sport — that is, a turbo version of its RC performance coupe — shouldn’t come as any surprise.
When I first sampled this engine in the IS 200t sedan, I thought it was marvellous; the eager, rev-tastic turbo giving the sharply suited IS a sense of nimble urgency on the road.
There are more powerful IS sedans in the range, such as the 3.5-litre V6 IS 350, but the turbo four-cylinder felt just right. Adding this powerplant to the RC coupe seemed like a sure thing on paper.
And it remains an enjoyable car to drive with the added bonus of undeniably lovely exterior design — all bold origami creases and slippery silhouette — playing in its favour. But somehow I was expecting more. There were a couple of things that challenged my cerebral enjoyment of the RC 200t F Sport. First, having driven the top-shelf RC F, I think I was anticipating the same grunty soundtrack.
The RC F features Lexus excellent 5.0-litre V8 in its engine bay; you hit the ignition button and, before your left foot has gone anywhere near the accelerator pedal, it sounds fruity from the get-go. The RC 200t F Sport doesn’t. At all.
Lexus even pushes the issue with what’s called an Active Sound Generator; essentially a bit of aural trickery that pushes synthesised engine noise into the cabin to provide more of the histrionics you would associate with a performance coupe.
It’s good, but it’s not enough. Secondly, as a sports coupe, the RC weighs more than you’d expect at 2170kg. Now, this isn’t unusual and, thanks to the necessity for extra strong chassis bracing required in cars that’ll be driven with more enthusiasm than your average station wagon, many performance coupes weigh more than their four-door siblings.
It’s true of the RC 200t, although not by a lot; the IS 200t is 45kg lighter. As a result, while undoubtedly fast, the RC 200t doesn’t throw you back in your seat as you might be expecting. A 230km/h top speed is more than enough sauce for anyone, even on a race track, but 7.5 seconds to 100km/h feels oddly treacle-like in this sort of car. Perhaps that’s a key fact to consider though: think of the RC as a GT — rather than an out-and-out racer — and you’ll have a lot more fun. In saying that, you do have the ability to shift the RC from a motorway cruiser to a much sportier drive with the Sport S setting in Lexus Drive Mode Select system. This gives you a sharper throttle response, stiffer suspension settings and the automatic transmission holds its gears longer.
Paired with its lovely long-bonneted exterior style, the RC 200t F Sport is a great thing to sit inside. The TFT instrumentation looks top-notch, the steering wheel and gear shifter nicely chunky and the F Sport-exclusive dark rose two-tone leather trim balances out the extreme exterior design aesthetic with a little internal edginess.
So maybe it’s not that I was expecting more after all.
Perhaps it’s that I mistakenly mapped my impressions of the IS 200t sedan on to the coupe because of the joint engineering, when they’re different beasts despite this. And then, even within the RC line-up, the turbo four and the big V8 are light years apart in their own way as well.
For me, despite my enjoyment of the new 2.0-litre turbo that Lexus has developed, it still has to be the 5.0-litre V8. The RC F remains the best Lexus sports coupe there is.
LEXUS RC 200t F SPORT
ENGINE: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol (180kW, 350Nm) PRICE: $102,900 Pros: Beautiful styling inside and out, still a real point-of-difference
Cons: Not as sporty as you’d expect a turbocharged sports coupe to be