New Orleans ? During my career as an automotive journalist, I?ve driven more than 100 different Lexus vehicles. If I had to select one trait to describe the brand it would be that their cars were closer to perfect than any other cars I?ve tested.
As desirable as the idea of being perfect is, I don?t think it?s the main reason people buy a new car, I think emotions play a much greater role in the decision making process. People buy cars for looks, performance, comfort, practicality, safety and a multitude of other reasons other than being perfect.
The luxury performance coupe segment is not a very big niche in the new car market, accounting for only about six percent of the luxury market, but the players are superstars in the automotive world with names like M4, RS 5 and C55 AMG ? now you can add to that list — RC F.
The RC F?s ultra-high-rigidity platform is built from the ground up marrying the best structural elements from the Lexus GS sport sedan, IS convertible and IS sedan using state of the art manufacturing techniques and materials. It?s then fitted with a suspension, steering, brakes, tires and all the supporting systems designed to stand up to the rigors of hardcore track driving.
The impressive 415 hp 5.0-liter V-8 engine used in the Lexus IS F sedan was re-engineered for the RC F. Starting from the same basic cylinder block; engineers changed most everything from cylinder heads to titanium valves to forged connecting rods to an optimized exhaust. The result is 51 more horsepower up to 467 hp ? with no pressurization systems used.
The high output engine drives the RC?s rear wheels through a specially prepared eight-speed sports direct shift transmission, which is one of the fastest shifting automatic transmissions I?ve ever driven. The transmission allows the driver to select from four modes ? NORMAL, SPORT S, SPORT S+, and M (manual). The two transmission SPORT S modes engage the G-sensor Artificial Intelligence-Shift, to provide the optimal gear ratio for more dynamic control. Using this mode on the track rather than shifting manually the transmission shifted down instantaneously as I would brake for a corner, matching the proper gear to the load conditions. It was fascinating to hear and feel this transmission anticipate and literally ?pop? to a lower gear faster than I could even think about shifting. As engine speeds climbed after the corner the up-shifts were equally fast. At other times when I wanted to use the manual mode, the transmission automatically throttle blips to match the engine speed to the gear.
The RC F also has a Torsen? rear differential with limited slip system, and an available Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD) which is controlled by a button on the center console. With the TVD engaged it uses multi-plate clutches to help maintain straight-line stability by adjusting torque from side to side and when cornering distributes more torque to the best wheel to maintain better stability and control throughout the corner. I have quite a bit of track driving experience, but certainly don?t consider myself an expert in handling, however I could definitely feel the difference when the TVD was engaged?it made me a better driver.
The 2015 Lexus RC F is fast. Lexus says it will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and it will run up to an electronically controlled top speed of 170 mph. Driving on the 2.75 mile 16-turn track at new NOLA Motorsports Park, about 20 minutes south of New Orleans, I saw a speed of just over 100 mph before having to brake hard for the chicane about halfway down the 5,200 foot strait stretch. But what impressed me most was how beautifully the RC handles the corners. Only under the hardest acceleration did I feel any waver in directional stability, and that was in a car without the TVD.
A big part of the RC F sensation is the way it sounds. There is nothing better than hearing a big V-8 roaring down the track under full throttle with the quad outlets blasting away. Still, Lexus sound engineers have improved on that experience by supplementing the interior sound with an Active Sound Control (ASC) which lets the driver control engine sounds within the cabin. Taking input from the engine and vehicle speeds plus the throttle position, the ASC amplifies the sound through a system separate from the vehicle?s audio system to provide vehicle occupants with an enhanced auditory experience. The system is only active when the transmission is in the SPORT S+ mode, and does not affect the fidelity of the audiophile quality Mark Levinson audio system.
After a day at the track, the Lexus RC F coupe is ready to handle the rigors of being an everyday driver, too. The EPA rates fuel economy at 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 19 mpg combine ? pretty good for such a high performance car. Lexus engineers get kudos for their creativity. Here we have this super-high performance V-8, but at cruising speeds it operates on a fuel-saving Atkinson cycle like the one used on the Toyota Prius Hybrid. As Lexus explains it, ?the inlet valves are held open longer than normal to allow a reverse flow of intake air into the intake manifold, thereby decreasing pumping loss and increasing thermal efficiency.? Depress the accelerator, and the engine instantly switches to an Otto cycle mode with the full benefits of the 467-hp and 389-lb.ft. of torque.
Aside from the performance elements of the 2015 Lexus RC F, the midsize coupe has stunning good looks from the black mesh spindle grille, long hood and over the sweeping roofline back to the crisp rear edge of the tail that houses an auto-deploying wing. The car has multiple scoops and vents and each functions not only to take in air for cooling or to vent heat, but to improve aerodynamics. Every design element contributes to improving aerodynamics to reach its 0.33 coefficient of drag.
The forged aluminum wheels manufactured by BBS carry 255/35R19 tires in the front and 275/35R19 in the rear. It also has available LED headlights with an L-shaped three-projector design along with ?L? themed LED daytime running lights.
The RC interior is a four passenger configuration and follows the Lexus tradition of tasteful opulence with soft leather seats, clean lines and comfort. I tried out the rear seats, and after a difficult squeeze to get in, I found comfortable seating, but tight leg and head room. The best part of having the rear seats in a car like this is lower insurance rates (because it?s a coupe, not a two-seat sports car) and a nice place to put things. In a pinch, passengers or small children can go back there.
The high back RC F seats are deeply bolstered for outstanding support during high-speed cornering and appear to be designed with a five-way racing seat belt harness. The seats, which have available heating and ventilation, have a unique stitching pattern that seems to add to the support.
The dash appears to have been lifted from the Lexus IS sedan (one of my favorites) with some new additions including the latest generation touchpad on the console for easy manipulation of the cursor on the large high mounted information screen. I liked the old mouse-like system, but found this one even better. The controls are all intuitively placed for ease and convenience.
Pricing for the Lexus RC F starts at $62,400, plus the destination charge, and is available with three main option packages including Premium ($4,400) , Navigation ($1,760) and All-Weather ($280), which combined add $6,440 for the long list of impressive extras.
The 2015 Lexus RC F is a very special car competing in a very special category and it has the elements to make it a strong competitor. Lexus doesn?t expect to sell a ton of these cars, but for a discriminating shopper who wants the ?best? and one of the fastest it?s as close to perfect as you can get. Plus it has all those emotional appeals.
For more information about the 2015 Lexus RC F coupe which is arriving at Lexus dealers now go to http://www.lexus.com/models/RCF/.
The RC F is the special high performance version of the 2015 Lexus RC coupe family. The RC 350 is another impressive coupe which I will save for another time. It will be available in both rear- and all-wheel drive and is powered by a 306 horsepower version of the Lexus 3.5-liter V-6.