Luxury and Performance
As with many luxury automotive marques, Lexus attempts to appeal to buyers with both luxury and performance aspirations. One model of Toyota’s upscale brand designed to ride astride these two opposing realms is the RC 350. The RC certainly brings enough power and sporty styling to the table, but the car definitely leans more toward refinement rather than performance — not a surprise, based on other Lexus models we’ve driven. So while we wouldn’t call it a sports car, the RC still offers a pleasing mix of luxury and performance.
The test vehicle we drove was the 2019 Lexus RC 350 AWD, painted in Atomic Silver. The base RC 350 has rear-wheel drive and an MSRP of $44,075 before destination charges. Our RC was equipped with plenty of options including the All Weather Package, 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, triple-beam LED headlights, a Mark Levinson Audio / Navigation package, Intuitive Park Assist, a Premium Package and a heated steering wheel for a total MSRP of $54,630. Competitors to the RC include the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, Audi A5, BMW 4 Series and Infiniti Q60.
We like the styling of the RC, which nicely incorporates that large signature Lexus grille with sharply-angled headlights. The optional triple-beam LED lights give this sport coupe a high-tech feel. The Atomic Silver paint also works well, showcasing the car’s lines even on a gray day. Overall the silhouette gives the impression that this should be a sportback, but the rear window is fixed — the RC has a standard trunk, rather than a hatch. Large fenders over the rear wheels evoke an impression of power, while the trunk lid has an upswept trailing edge with the look of a rear spoiler. LED taillights that mimic the L of the Lexus logo and dual exhaust outlets also provide a sport-tech look at the rear of the car.
The 2019 Lexus RC 350 has a high-tech feeling inside as well, thanks to a wide and complex center console. At the same time there’s a hint of elegance via leather trim; stitching on the dash, steering wheel and seats; satin-finish vents; and a token piece of wood trim. Seats offer decent support without being too tight, and they underscore the upscale feel of the RC. There’s not much in the way of storage in the cabin — two cupholders and limited space in the covered center console, but no cubbies or other places to keep a phone handy.
Often the case with small sport coupes, the rear seat of the RC 350 is better suited to storage than people — getting in and out of the seat is not too difficult, but there’s not much in the way of legroom unless the front passengers sit well forward of what is likely comfortable. Trunk space is more than adequate for a few suitcases, and we like the fact that Lexus has added a few tie-downs to keep cargo from shifting. The rear seats fold to enhance cargo space when needed.
The RC 350 sources power from a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. That power gets sent to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission — plenty of oomph to get the RC moving rapidly with strong acceleration — the transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. The paddle shifters work well, keeping rpm high to optimize performance in the RC. There is some delay between shifts, but it is consistent and easy to anticipate.
Refinement vs. Sportiness
The 2019 Lexus RC 350 has four selectable drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow. Although each gear gets held a bit longer in Sport mode, we didn’t notice much difference between Normal and Sport in any driving conditions. That said, in either mode handling is actually quite good on winding roads. But it seems that Lexus prioritizes refinement over a sporty feel — the RC is extremely quiet, so there’s not much in the way of an exhaust note. And although the ride is smooth, there’s not much feedback for the driver.
What We Didn’t Like
As good as the Lexus RC 350 is, the interface is so frustrating it would be enough to eliminate this car from our shopping list. The display is not a touchscreen, which means the only interface is a touchpad — the driver moves a finger on the pad to make a selection on the screen. This task requires some precision — not easily done when parked, and almost impossible while driving. Luckily there are hard buttons and knobs for the climate control as well as volume and tuning, so it is possible to perform these important tasks without using the touchpad.
The Lexus RC 350 AWD is attractive inside and out, with sporty exterior styling and a premium interior. Although it offers plenty of power and can certainly hold its own on a winding road, the RC leans more toward Lexus luxury than sports car. And for those seeking a stylish ride with good performance and a high-end interior, the RC certainly makes a fine option. However, anyone planning to purchase an RC should get familiar with the touchpad interface during a test drive, before leaving the showroom — for some buyers it could be a deal breaker.