There was a time when Lexus vied with Volvo for the title of ‘brand most likely to have granddad’s hat on the parcel shelf’. Its origin as a solidly conservative Japanese luxury brand meant its cars became known for obsessive attention to detail and incredible build quality, but less-so for their performance pedigree.
But then along came the exotic carbon-fibre bodied and V10-powered LF-A supercar in 2011, and suddenly it seemed someone had spiked the drinking water at the company’s Nagoya headquarters.
While the limited volume (just 500 were built) and short two-year production run of the $750,000 Ferrari fighter means most people will never even see an LF-A, let alone drive one, the project lit the blue touch paper among closet revheads at Lexus. There’s been a steady stream of performance models peppering the line-up ever since.
F is for fast
A common thread running through these edgier Lexuses is F Sport branding, which the company first applied to the 2006 IS F model in a bid to match the likes of Benz’s AMG, BMW’s M Sport and Audi’s RS. While F Sport may not have the sporting credentials of the race-bred German sub-brands, most consumers at least understand that ‘F’ adds spice and distinction to any given Lexus model.
The LF-A played a seminal role in building the F Sport brand and its influence is still felt today in cars such as the RC F Track Edition, which Lexus claims is the brand's fastest model since the LF-A.
A true lightweight
Boasting features including carbon-ceramic disc brakes, a carbon-fibre bonnet and roof, functional aero enhancements and weight-saving measures designed to strip kilos and heighten performance, the Track Edition is a serious performance coupe and rightly sits atop the RC line-up at $165,690.
The car we’re testing, however, is the ‘standard’ RC F ($134,000), fitted with a pack of enhancements costing an eye-watering $29,000 that almost bring the car to Track Edition specifications.
Both the RC F and the Track Edition share the same naturally aspirated 351kW/500Nm 5.0-litre V8 engine, with the latter’s main claim to fame (and pace) being a 65kg reduction in kerb weight, which shaves three-tenths-of-a-second off the 4.5 second 0-100km/h time of its V8 stablemate.
To put that into perspective, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 Mercedes AMG C63 S coupe ($165,900) stops the clock at 3.9 seconds, while the soon-to-be-superseded BMW F40 M3 matches the Track Edition’s time.
Lexus points to extensive use of carbon-fibre and a titanium exhaust as key components of the Track Edition’s weight loss program, and this RCF fitted with the creatively-named Enhancement Pack 3 (EP3) gets some of the same kit including 19-inch motorsport-inspired lightweight BBS alloy wheels and high-performance Brembo carbon-ceramic disc brakes (together saving 25kg of unsprung mass), plus a titanium exhaust (saving 6kg).
The company doesn’t quote a time for this semi-lightweight RC F, but it’s safe to say it will split the difference between the 4.5 seconds of the standard RC F and the 4.2 seconds of the Track Edition.
While the thus-specified RC F misses out many of the Track Edition’s tasty carbon-fibre components – including carbon-fibre bonnet, roof, front and rear spoiler, and diffuser – it does get generous swathes of the hi-tech weave on its door sills and centre console in an otherwise comfortable and attractively furnished cabin.
Position, position, position
Race-car-like sculpted leather seats offer a terrific driving position with the driver nestled low and snug, while grasping a nicely-sized and -shaped perforated leather wheel behind which are polished aluminium paddle shifts.
Despite this, and in spite of an update which included aero enhancements, new single-piece LED headlights and taillights, and other exterior styling tweaks, the overall interior design and controls looks a little dated.
The 10.3-inch colour screen sits recessed into the dash, whereas on recently updated models such as the Lexus RX the screen has been brought forward and includes touch control. The infotainment interface is also now at least a generation behind the best from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, with a finicky mouse pad-like touch control that frustrates as often as it facilitates.
Bark to match the bite
All that is forgotten, however, when you press the start button and the engine fires up with a raucous V8 bark, before settling into a more subdued idle. Select Sport or Sport+ mode via the rotary selector on the centre console, give it a blip, and the cabin instantly fills with a properly brawny V8 note that will stand up the hairs on the back of your neck.
The drive mode switch from Eco to Sport or Sport+ firms the adaptive suspension and changes the digital instrument cluster so that the tacho becomes more prominent in the display. That’s all the better to follow the bristling atmo V8’s swift progress toward its towering 7100rpm redline, while your ears drink in its titanium-infused thunder.
The steering is quick and direct, the RC darting into turns with ferret-like eagerness, the firm suspension restricting roll and maintaining good body control to enable full appreciation of the car’s entertaining rear-wheel-drive handling characteristics. The ride, while firm, is not brutal and there’s an underlying layer of engineering refinement to the entire package.
The engine, which is the same unit Lexus fits to the $55K-more-expensive LC500, drives through an impressively sharp eight-speed auto which puts the power down through a limited-slip differential and sticky low-profile Michelin rear hoops offering terrific grip.
Rapid, yet relaxed
When pressed hard the RC F feels sharp and cohesive, giving the sense it would relish a track day session to really show its wares.
With the RC F Track Edition, Lexus set out to create a direct rival for the likes of the AMG C63 and the BMW M3. But not every driver wants such a performance focus, and to that end the RC F fitted with the EP3 option treads a more appealing middle ground.
It’s still a very focused and rapid sports coupe, but sacrifices some outright pace for a few extra comfort and convenience features such as electrically adjustable steering and heated and ventilated seats.
Just remember that if you are planning on placing granddad’s hat on the parcel shelf of this raucous V8 beast, make sure you Velcro it in place.