If you think a Lexus with a giant Boy Racer wing on its rump is a contradiction, you’d only be half right. It’s true Lexus has long leaned toward
s the L end of the luxury-versus-sport continuum, but that’s changing. The current ES sedan, for example, is an engaging driver’s car that doesn’t sacrifice the pampering Lexus passengers expect. And don’t forget the short-lived but highly lauded LFA supercar of the early 2010s.
And then there are the compact RC coupes. Most RC buyers are content to make a fashion statement at the wheel of a base RC 300 with its 260-horsepower 3.5-litre V6. Those wanting a little more brawn could choose the 311-horsepower RC 350, but either way, you get a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Sadly, there was little appetite in Canada for the 2015 RC 350 RWD F Sport, which combined rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed transmission, with variable gear-ratio steering, rear-wheel steer and serious performance rubber. It was my favourite RC, a truly sweet-handling package that I found more entertaining than the hard-core V8-powered RC F. The RWD RC 350 was discontinued after one year.
But the RC F still exists. If you like to keep things simple, just choose the regular RC F with its 472-horsepower, 5.0-litre V8 driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, with chassis and brakes tuned to match. At $85,450, it’s not cheap, but it’s a little less expensive than the German alternatives.
When you start to ponder the two option packages, the Lexus seems a little, well, conflicted. The lesser Performance Package ($11,000) adds comfort-and-convenience features like power-adjustable steering column, high-end audio and intuitive parking assist, plus performance cosmetics like special rims and painted brake calipers … but also goes hard-core gearhead by eliminating the moonroof in favour of a carbon-fibre roof (less weight, lower centre of gravity) and replacing the standard limited-slip differential with a torque-vectoring one (better steering response).
Or, you could splurge $35,000 on the Track Package that omits the performance-package comfort-and-convenience add-ons, and further deletes other frills that are standard on the base RC F (ventilated seats and heated steering wheel, for instance), but keeps the carbon-fibre roof while “adding even more lightness” in the form of forged-aluminum wheels, titanium mufflers, carbon-ceramic brakes, a carbon-fibre aero kit, including a fixed rear wing in place of the standard auto-retracting one, and a unique red Alcantara-fabric interior, which I’m guessing weighs less than leather. All this trims the RC F’s mass by 80 kilograms (about five per cent, or $437.50 per kilogram).
It’s not all just for show. The RC-F has been competing in International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) races since 2017 and last year clinched the Sprint Cup championship by winning four of the seven races.
For all that, the production Track Package is no skittish, loud or harsh-riding track toy. The ride is stiff, sure, but it effectively filters out the harsh edges. The overall cockpit ambience still reeks of luxury. The engine will rev gloriously to 7,300 rpm, yet the throttle response is smoothly modulated for polite launches in traffic. If you push the right drive-mode buttons, it will happily wag its tail exiting a second-gear roundabout, but in normal driving, the on-centre steering response is a little too relaxed and numb for this gearhead’s taste.
All said and done, the regular RC F provides a competitively priced option for contrarians seeking a more exclusive and probably more reliable alternative to “obvious” muscle-coupe choices like the Audi RS5, BMW M4 or Mercedes-Benz C 63 S Coupe. To spring $35,000 for the Track Package, however, you’d have to be a rabid Lexus fan … if that isn’t a contradiction in terms.
2021 Lexus RC F Track Package
Base price/as tested: $85,450/$120,450
Engine: 5.0-litre V8, 472 horsepower
Transmission/drive: 8-speed automatic/RWD
Fuel consumption (litres/100 kilometres): 14.4 city/9.6 highway
Alternatives: Audi RS5, BMW M4, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Ford Mustang Mach 1, Infiniti Q60, Mercedes-Benz AMG C 63 S Coupe
The aero kit may look boy-racerish but Lexus says it’s all functional, reducing both aerodynamic lift and aero drag. It’s all made of feather-light carbon-fibre, as is the hood, the roof and some hidden structural parts.
The Track Package forgoes power steering-column adjustment, but the manual tilt-and-tele column plus eight-way power seat should let most drivers get comfortable at the wheel, at least if they’re slim enough to fit between the aggressive side bolsters of the heavily sculpted seat. From there, you face a distinctive, driver-centred dashboard and aircraft-inspired gauges including a large, central tachometer and G-force displays and lap timers. The 10.3-inch infotainment display is distantly positioned at the base of the windshield and interfaced by a clunky touch-pad. Lacking a sunroof means more headroom for a helmet, and if track driving is in your plans, you probably won’t care that rear legroom is even tighter than in other compact coupes.
The Track’s weight-loss campaign shaves a tenth of a second or two off its acceleration times, yet among its peers the RC F’s maximum-effort zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time is still the only one on the slow side of 4.0 seconds (though not by much). That said, the competition’s smaller turbocharged engines rely on brutal launch techniques to circumvent turbo lag at the track; in the absence of any such lag, the RC F’s big, naturally aspirated V8 can likely hold its own in street-driving mode. And what’s not to love about a naturally aspirated V8 that can soar to 7,300 rpm when the moment is right, or putter through traffic with a contented burble when it’s not?
The RC F doesn’t have Lexus’s most current assisted-drive suite but still includes lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, lane-keeping assist, front-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control above 40 kilometres an hour. For 2021, Android Auto joins Apple CarPlay, and Lexus Navigation with Remote package of connected and telematics services is standard.
The trunk volume of 10.4 cubic feet is a little below class average and the RC F’s seat backs do not fold for extra space.