Lexus slips into the fast lane
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Loyal support for its luxury sedans and SUVs spurs carmaker’s move into performance realm with ultra-rapid RC coupe
While the top three premium brands fight it out for dominance, Lexus NZ has a stealth-like approach to snaring customers.
BMW NZ topped the premium market last year, with Audi close behind and Mercedes-Benz pushing its newly released C-Class to grab market share Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, has a solid place in the premium market here, with buyers attracted to the brand for its renowned customer service.With the sedan and SUV segments covered, Lexus now has the fighting power to take on the top three in the performance segment with the launch late last year of the RC coupe.
Designed by Yasuo Kajino, the coupe is based on the IS sedan and takes similarities from the Lexus FL-LC concept car.
The line-up starts with the RC 350 F Sport ($122,500) with the Limited at $125,000 and Driven’s test vehicle, the RC F, at $159,900.Style-wise the four-seater RC looks like a Jaguar F-Type coupe mixed with a BMW M3 and a hefty dose of testosterone chucked in. The standout spindle grille, seen on the likes of the IS sedan and NX off-roader, has revitalised the design of the luxury Japanese brand, and it works exceptionally well on the RC.
Adding to its masculine appeal are tick-shaped daytime running lights that align with the angles of the spindle.
The spindle grille sits solidly in front of the bulging bonnet while the large cabin shows this isn’t just any old coupe, it’s a luxury sports car.
It’s 4705mm long, 1845mm wide and 1390mm high with 960mm of headroom at the front and a respectable 888mm for the two rear seats.
There is plenty of room in the back seat for your average-size adult passenger while the boot is cavernous and so deep that I struggled to reach some runaway groceries from a supermarket trip.
Lexus NZ says the RC 350 and Limited are “everyday cars” while the F (which I reckon stands for Fast) is for the “top-end performance coupe market”, targeting the likes of the Porsche 911.
It’s easy to see why driving enthusiasts would be drawn to the RC F.
It has a stonking 5-litre V8 petrol engine with 351kW of power and 530Nm of torque, hitting 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds with a top speed of 270km/h.
The engine is paired with an eight-speed sports direct shift automatic transmission with the gear ratio altering with the mode you dial in: eco, normal, sport and the eye watering sport-plus.
Dial in the fanatical (okay, maybe the F is for that) Torque Vectoring Differential, which transfers torque to the wheels, and you get three operating modes: standard, slalom or track.
To help counter that powerful engine, the RC F has a Brembo braking system.
Lexus says the RC F is the most powerful V8 performance car it has developed and is made for driving enthusiasts.
In its words, in the RC F you can “drive to the limit without it hitting the wall”.
To show what it’s made of, there are quad exhausts to produce that deep rattling V8 throaty sound.
Air scoops, aerodynamic fins and cooling ducts enhance the performance appearance while the coupe gets the hood air vents from Lexus’ supercar, the LFA.
The New Zealand launch of RC included a drive from Dunedin to Queenstown and a hoon around Cromwell’s Highlands Park race circuit, where the RC F was snaffled by the boy racers among the motoring writers, and the coupe showed it was made to be driven fast.
As a single parent, I don’t want to orphan my kids so I play it safe on racetracks, but that V8 engine demands you stomp on the accelerator.
So I slotted the RC F into sport mode and planted my foot, getting up to a sedate (compared to my colleagues) 190km/h on the straight before I chickened out.
Away from the peer pressure of the racetrack and on a day-long test drive north of Auckland I again trialled the V8 in sport mode.
Actually the RC F had been taunting me for a few days; heading towards a tight corner of a motorway on-ramp near my house I could tell the V8 was desperate for me to turn off traction control, dial in sport-plus and hoon it around the corner so the tail whipped out.
“No, RC F,” I said, “that is track only, behave.”
The RC F wasn’t impressed and I dare say a few Lexus engineers would be shaking their heads in disappointment as they had produced a performance car.
But off the main highway, I found a quiet winding country road where the RC F could do its thing.
I dialled in sport mode, shifted the transmission to manual function and used the steering wheel paddles to move through the gears.
In this mode, the gear ratio is extended with the engine and transmission synchronising to produce an active performance.
I lowered the windows so I could hear the engine, and the dip and rise of the winding road, combined with some tight corners, showed the coupe at its height.
While I may have had fun (okay, the F stands for that), the whole RC range won’t be a big seller for Lexus NZ, with the company conservatively expecting 35 sales in 2015.
“It’s our halo car,” says the company.
But if headturning and stares count, then Lexus is on to a winner — especially from the looks of Gen Y males during my week-long test of the RC F.
In the US, Lexus is an aspirational brand, so maybe younger Kiwis will be lured to the name thanks to the RC coupe.