ROAD TEST: 2016 Lexus RC350 F SPORT

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By Shari Prymak

There was a time when if you wanted a premium sports coupe with proper performance and pedigree, you went to BMW. If you bought an Audi A5 or Mercedes C-Class for a thrilling driving experience, you wasted your money, because the 3-Series was better. Coupes are all about self-indulgence, and none were better than the fun and engaging 3-Series.

These days though, BMW’s have softened a bit, putting less emphasis on thrills. Even though the 4-Series (that’s what BMW calls the 3-Series coupe these days) is an excellent all-around sports coupe, there’s no denying that the BMW magic has become a bit fuzzy. Lexus is the opposite, and is moving in the direction of building more sporting cars. They even have a sporty coupe of their own: the RC.

In the past, performance and sportiness were the last words one would use to describe a Lexus. With the LFA, however, Lexus showed the world what they’re capable of when they really try. Although it’s a stretch to call the RC a relative of the LFA, there’s no denying that it shares a similarly striking design. The styling isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but I certainly dig it. It has a nice boldness to it that’s missing in many of its competitors, including the 4-Series.

It only takes a little while behind the wheel to realize, however, that the RC350 is not a performance car. It’s a fun car to toss around when prodded, but push it to the limit, and it’s a bit of a buzz-kill. The excessive weight can be felt when really hustling through corners. The naturally aspirated, 3.5L V6 engine provides enough power to get the job done, but not quite enough to thoroughly excite. And the 6-speed automatic transmission shifts a little leisurely, especially when compared to the rapid 8-speed units found in some rivals.

For an engaging driving experience, the BMW M235i, or even the 435i, still have the edge. That, however, doesn’t make the RC350 a bad coupe. In fact, it’s quite good, just not at what one might expect. What Lexus has actually made here is an epic grand tourer. The solid feel and smooth ride are perfect for melting away kilometres of highway.  The suspension is even compliant enough to filter out broken asphalt on the daily commute.  It’s pleasing to drive, not fatiguing, and for a daily driver, it might be just about right.

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The interior of the RC is pretty much the same as what you’d find in an IS sedan, which is a good thing. The F-SPORT Package is an excellent piece of kit. It includes a cool sliding, LFA-inspired, instrument gauge, adaptive variable suspension, beautiful 19 inch rims, and several other must-haves such as navigation and blind-spot monitoring. The best bit though are the amazingly comfortable and supportive sport seats. They’re covered in a synthetic material called NuLuxe, which not only looks and feels like high quality leather, but is almost guaranteed to age a million times better as well.

The RC350 starts at $58,550, and for that you get standard all-wheel drive and a V6 engine that produces 306 horsepower. Both the BMW 435i and Infiniti Q60 Red Sport are far more performance-oriented coupes, and will leave the RC350 for dead at a racetrack, or even a stoplight. At $83,150, a high performance RC F is available, complete with a rear-drive chassis and a howling naturally-aspirated V8. It too though suffers from an excessive weight issue, and is more about grand touring than dynamic finesse.

For an MSRP of $53,700, the entry-level RC300 with the F-SPORT Package might just be the sweet spot in the range. It has the same all-wheel drive system and 3.5L V6 engine as the RC350, but detuned to a still healthy 255 horsepower. It looks the same as the RC350, or the RC F for that matter, and the driving experience should be just about identical. Perhaps equally important, being a Lexus, it should have strong reliability and great resale value as well. Serious driving enthusiasts might not be swayed, but to someone looking for a distinctive, comfortable, well-built coupe, the RC is about as good at it gets.

 

For more details, please visit the Lexus Canada website.