2015 Lexus RC F First Test
F Stands For Frankencoupe: How Lexus Made One Track Toy Out of Three Cars
Heavy metal. One of my favorite types of music, sure, but it’s also a difficult fact to overcome when dealing with cars built mostly from steel. Because steel vehicles, like bricks, are heavy. Aluminum and composites such as carbon fiber are the future. Just ask Ford. But for now most cars are still built from steel. Like the new Lexus RC 350 F Sport and RC F, for example. I’m leading with this materials mini-lesson for a reason. We weighed the RC F and it clocks in at a lardy 4040 pounds. For some comparison, the similarly sized and totally targeted BMW M4 weighs 3604 pounds, a 436-pound difference. Before you mount an angry letter-writing campaign against Lexus, know that the AWD Audi RS 5 is just 13 pounds lighter than the RC F, 4027 pounds. Still, why’s a brand-new car so heavy?
A very weird reason, it turns out. The RC 350 F Sport and RC F are not simply two-door versions of the IS four-door sport sedan. The new coupes are, in the parlance of our times, mashups. The front section is from the wide-body GS, the middle section hails from the previous generation IS C (a convertible), and the rear third is stolen from the current-gen IS. Crazy, no? But why? Why not just make a new platform? Well, friends, I posed that exact question to the RC twins’ engineering team and was told that to achieve the rigidity they wanted the car to have and keep costs down, the Frankencoupe was the best solution, weight be damned. Furthermore, it was explained, the GS section allowed them to fit wider tires than the IS chassis would have, the IS C chunk was already reinforced, and the IS rear end allowed for a shorter overhang. But does it work?
Oh, yes, quite well, it turns out.
First things first: When we compared the Audi RS 5 to the dearly departed Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG 507 Coupe, we loved both cars. Our pro racing driver buddy Randy Pobst thought that, as a track weapon, the RS 5 was far superior to the 507 (and he ran around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca about 1 second quicker in the Audi), though both Ron Kiino and I preferred the beefed-up AMG as a street car. The point is, both the hefty Audi and the not-a-lightweight, 3952-pound Benz work as kick-butt, top-shelf performance machines. So it’s possible that the RC F (and to a lesser extent, the RC 350 F Sport) are able to do the same. Let’s start by looking at some numbers. Real quick: We were only able to test the RC F, so you’ll have to stay tuned for a fully instrumented first test of the RC 350 F Sport.
Under the bulgy hood of the RC F sits a hot-rodded version of the Lexus 5.0-liter V-8. Hot-rodded is probably an understatement as Lexus is claiming that only the aluminum block is carryover. The heads, cams, titanium valves, forged connecting rods, crank journals, the intake manifold, and even the larger throttle body (previously 76 mm, now 83 mm) are all-new. Power, therefore, is way up, from 420 horsepower in the discontinued IS F to 467 hp in the RC F. Torque also rises, from 371 lb-ft to 389 lb-ft. The 5.0-liter’s also pretty savvy, for not only does it avoid the gas-guzzler tax but it converts from Otto cycle to Atkinson cycle under light loads. Why not just use cylinder deactivation like everyone else? Lexus is worried that after 100,000 or so miles, activated cylinders will have much greater wear and tear than deactivated ones. Makes sense, but it also shows how Lexus/Toyota is able to leverage its hybrid knowhow in a non-hybrid vehicle. Note: These are naturally aspirated ponies. Audi, BMW, and soon the new AMG C63 and Cadillac ATS-V will all be force-inducted. I give huge props to Lexus for gutting it out with a big ole V-8 that does it the old-fashioned way. The resulting sound is killer.
Lexus says that the RC F will hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Our testing revealed that the car needs 4.5 seconds. A small discrepancy, some might say. Others might say that the BMW M4 hits 60 mph in 4 seconds flat, while the Audi RS 5 takes 3.9 seconds. Just to toss it in there, the out-of-production AMG 507 two-door needed only 3.8 seconds. The RC F is able to dispatch the quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at 110.3 mph. Comparatively, the M4 does the deed in 12.2 seconds at 117.8 mph, the RS 5 takes 12.3 at 112.2 mph, and the AMG 507 Coupe finishes in 12.2 seconds at 117.4 mph. Not so hot for the new Lexus. Two caveats. One is that the car we tested was an early build prototype and the engine management software has reportedly been updated since we touched it. The other is that Lexus claims that accessible performance will define the F brand going forward and that somehow superquick acceleration scares people who can’t drive as well as others. I say losing 400 pounds would make the car as quick as its competitors. Either way, the new software should shave precious tenths off those elapsed times.
In terms of braking, the RC F stops from 60 mph in 108 feet. The M4 with optional $8000 carbon-ceramic brakes needs 98 feet, the Audi RS 5 requires 104 feet, and the old AMG 507 needed just 103 feet. Asked if the brand is considering a carbon-ceramic option, Lexus says, “No.” I say Lexus should, especially with all that weight. In terms of handling, the RC F’s peak lateral grip was 0.95 g and it completed our figure-eight test in 24.7 seconds -- the exact same time it takes the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and one of the three Alfa Romeo 4Cs we've tested, mind you. The M4 can pull 0.98 g and run the figure eight in 24.2 seconds, the RS 5 pulls a max of 0.99 and takes 24.6 seconds, whereas the AMG 507 pulled only 0.91 g and needed 25.2 seconds. Half a second difference between two cars is quite stark on a 1600-foot handling course. Again, weight is the enemy, though the 450-hp Audi mitigates its porkiness with AWD grip out of corners. Numbers-wise, this looks like a pretty solid victory for the BMW M4. But keep reading.
Lexus took the nation’s car writers to the quick and nifty Monticello Motor Club about 90 miles northeast of Manhattan. There we were treated to a roughly 4-mile course and about as many laps as we (and the brakes) could stomach. I drove a few sessions in the RC 350 F Sport because A) those cars feature two degrees of rear-wheel steering and I wanted to see how four wheels turning worked on a track and B) Lexus didn’t bring enough RC Fs for all the track sluts in attendance and I hate standing around. The RC 350 F Sport, while underpowered (when did 306 hp become so little?), was a hoot around Monticello’s 18 turns. The rear-wheel steering helps point the nose and rotate the chassis pretty well. Understeer is minimized, a cool trick in an under-tired, nose-heavy street car. However, I must point out that I got two different RC 350 F Sports to overheat their transmission fluids. Doing so caused a limiter to kick in at around 4000 rpm that kept me from revving the engine, downshifting, or having fun. Half a lap of slow driving cooled things off and the error message went away. But still … Also not good, the brakes on the RC 350 F Sport are simply not intended for the track. The pedal got real soft, real fast. In fairness, the first time I boiled the tranny fluid, I was driving like an animal, trying to not let a buddy behind me in an RC F catch up. The second time I was trying to see if I could duplicate the error. Tee hee.
As for the RC F, she’s impressive. One of the few options on the car is a torque vectoring differential, or as Lexus calls it the TVD. Like those in the C7 Corvette and the Jaguar F-Type, the TVD uses two electronic lockers to overpower the outside rear wheel in turns. The standard differential is a Torsen limited-slip unit and it puts the power down pretty well. The car we tested at our facility had the TVD. Figure-eight rat Carlos Lago and I both felt that the RC F handled better around the figure eight in Slalom mode. Track mode was too much at the limit, as we both were wrestling with the wheel too often. Things were reversed once on the track, where I set the TVD to Track and as a result was able to get on the throttle earlier and harder than I could in either Slalom mode or in the Torsen-equipped car. There’s that low barrier to performance that Lexus was talking about. The transmission is greatly improved compared to the IS F. Shifts are not only fast, but the transmission seems to go out of its way to give you the shift you want when you want it -- a rare attribute in an automatic. Even dual-clutches struggle with that task, often beeping and denying shifts. Part of this is due to the relatively wide power band of the naturally aspirated engine.
Also on the positive side of the ledger, front-end bite was tenacious. Understeer only showed up in the most throwaway of corners (18, really), and it was easily corrected with the brake pedal. The TVD and a little bit of trail braking made the RC F rotate beautifully. The throttle response was nice and linear, and the 5.0-liter’s power was pretty much OK, though I’d like it if the engine revved out a little faster, say the way the V-10 in the LFA did. Losing weight would help there. Compared to the M4’s turbocharged inline-six, the RC F is lacking torque. BMW rates its motor at 406 lb-ft of torque but as always, that’s a massive understatement. I’d also like it if Lexus would develop a track pack that maybe tossed in some lightweight aluminum or better yet carbon-fiber body panels, carbon-ceramic brakes, and Michelin Cup tires, or some sort of rubber more suitable for track work. There is an optional carbon-fiber roof, but the car needs more light-weighting. In fact, it’s begging for it. Body panels make sense. After all, Lexus, y’all got that fancy loom.
It’s difficult to outright say that Car X is better than Car Y -- in this case the RC F and the M4 -- without driving them back to back on the same day on the same road. However, I am able to turn my mind back to the old days circa 2008 and talk about the IS F versus the E92 BMW M3. In that particular case, I think it’s safe to say that the BMW was the better car in every measurable way. However, I remember preferring the Lexus to the Bimmer. There was just something more macho, more hardcore, and less fussy about the IS F. Frankly, the more than 400-pound weight difference between the RC F and the M4 is enough to tip things in favor of the BMW. But the RC F, at the very least, is a compelling alternative. Exactly how compelling we’ll have to find out at a later date when we compare them directly. Until then, I want you to understand that I enjoyed the new Lexus Frankencoupe much more than the numbers would lead you to believe. You probably will, too.
Find more than 70 additional photos of the 2015 Lexus RC 350 and 2015 Lexus RC F on the second page of this review.
|2015 Lexus RC F|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$72,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||5.0L/467-hp/389-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4040 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.8 x 72.4 x 54.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.9 sec @ 110.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.95 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.7 sec @ 0.77 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/25/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||211/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.02 lb/mile|