Friday 24 October 2014

Driven - 2015 Lexus RC F Track Review


The outgoing Lexus iS F will be a future classic. I may sound stupid in saying in light of the quirks i found in the...

The outgoing Lexus iS F will be a future classic. I may sound stupid when saying in light of the quirks i found in the car however the wonderful 5.0L V8 shoe-horned into nose of the second generation IS sedan has proved to be a highly rewarding idea. Looking back on the review of the Lexus IS F earlier this year, the biggest takeaway was that, if Lexus can learn from what the IS F got wrong and push the development of what they did, they would have a winner on their hands.

Thankfully, the idea of what a performance Lexus can be has been redefined with the release of the 2015

The RC F, for Lexus is their first foray back into sports coupes since the days of the Lexus SC. Meanwhile the Lexus has been out of this segment for over a decade now, the landscape has changed a little. The Germans still represent the strongest competition via the rear-wheel driven BMW M4, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and the all-wheel-drive S5. It can be argued the M4 is the de facto track weapon of this segment with the Mercedes being more of an insane tire-killer, and the S5 rounding out as more subdued Gran Tourer. Therefore this is where things get a little bit more interesting for the Lexus as trying to conquer the current stalwarts - it must be a jack of all trades.

In the mid-2000's the IS F was launched as Lexus' first attempt to thwart the Germans via a hotted up IS sport sedan. However, the offers came with mixed reviews beyond the powertrain. Effectively, the IS F, as an overall package, but it didn't lend to the credibility that the Lexus is desired as a manufacture of performance cars. The RC F is a full reset of the F line, Lexus' equivalent to BMW M-built cars, as a mean to re-establishing itself as a performance car.

BMW was invited to the world class Monticello Motor club in upstate New York to try out the all new Lexus 2015 RC F. Also stepping from the glass lobby of the paddock into the morning sub, we we were greeted by a flock of brightly colored Japanese coupes - all of which were quickly occupied by journalists thumping the start button igniting the thunderous V8 under the hood.

The Performance: A quick introductory lap given by - of all things a Toyota 4Runner - we was allowed to hit the circuit, as wring out the sleek two doors sports cars. Romping on the throttle, i was rewarded with the throasty, deep pitch of the 467hp V8. The revised V8 is a derivative of the outgoing IS F's 5.0-litre V8 although with lighter valves, revised crank and a resulting higher redline just a shade over 7,000rpm. The Lexus has managed to take a good thing and make it even better. when asked, exiting a corner the motor was more than capable to use all of it, might have to pull the coupe out of the corner and rocket it down the straight. Although even more, as compared to the ISF's rather dimwitted gearbox, left to its own devices the RC F's new 8-speed automatic allowed me to hold gears up until the last rmp before kicking up to the next gear. Its a welcome addition and perfectly suited for dealing with the punchy nature of the V8.

While out-and-out power was great mean of following the Lexus to beat its chest, the party piece for the RC F is the optional torque-vectoring differential - a first for performance cars in terms of the application on a rear-wheel drive car. The differential has two electronic locks to help regulate the application of power coming out of a turn. However when set to the track mode, one of the TVD's three different modes available at the push of a button to the driver, the differential allowed me to more quickly apply more power exiting turn thereby making me a hair faster when pouring the big coupe onto the straight.

The one thing must be said, i quite enjoyed the fact that the traction control and differential combination felt far less intrusive than the outgoing IS F and even that of the BMW M4, my experience with the M4 at road america proved that the traction control was more than willing to intervene if i dared request power from the turbocharged S55 before the car was perfectly straightened out.

The power, though is nothing without control. to reign in the massive V8, Lexus equipped the RC F with pizza dish-sized Brembo 14.9inch slotted rotor brakes with 13.5inch rotors out back. The brake pedal feel is strong and the Brembos do an excellent job in scrubbing the speed as a flew past the pit lane and down into turn 1. However, strong as the brakes were, after a few hard laps the pedal feel would get a bit squishy - never failing but it was apparent that the RC F, as good as it is, no one can hide its girth. All told, the RCF is a shade above 4,000ibs or about where the weight of the quattro-driven Audi RS5 clocks in. This heft certainly took its toll on the brakes, though, after a handful of hard charging laps.

Despite the heft of the car, overall, the performance does not disappoint. Thanks to the Frankenstein chassis, composed of a reinforced Lexus GS nose, stiff IS convertible midsection and IS rear; the over chassis feels taught and predictable when pushed through the hairpin on the back half of Monticello. The steering feel, while no doubt electronic, uses Lexus' EPS system with surprisingly good results. Haptic feedback through the wheel made placing the nose easy with play in the wheel tightening up as speeds and suspension settings are dialed to 11. Compared to its V6 counterpart, the RC350 F sport, the V8 was somewhat less willing to change direction though i never encountered difficulties in placing the F where i wanted it.

The Styling: 

A car with a 0-60 time of only 4.4seconds, massive Brembos and cutting edge handling tech like TVD cannot be wrapped in a dull package and the RCF makes a point of standing out against its German counterparts. The overall desgin of the RC can be likened to a combination of the latest IS sedan and the V10-powered LFA supercar. However at the front, the trademark spindle grille along with a pair of "swoosh" LED headlamps to accentuate the headlamps. Pushing past the long, rakish and vented nose, and the front haunches are flanked by massive vents ala the IS F before pushing down the frame to the widebody rear of the coupe.

So admittedly, i enjoy the aesthetic of the RC F as, slightly chubby from some angles, the flared nose and haunches lend to a very branwny, aggressive stance of the Lexus which marries well with the sports car personality of the car. Gone are the somewhat bloated lower valences of IS F and questionable stacked quad-exhaust replaced by far more chiseled air dams and staggered exhausts that look like more than an afterthought. The performance credentials are further reinforced with the high-waisted trunkline equipped a pop-up rear spoiler sitting atop sleek, flattened L- shape tail lamps.

The styling, is no doubt will be a polarizing factor in the overall appeal of the RC F. Saying that, i have found that the styling is to be a refreshing departure from the sometimes austere design cues from the Germans. I really enjoy the fact that the appearance of the RC F is tying back into a sleeker, and more consistent design language with the "Younger" Lexi like the IS along with a dab of LFA. The long raked nose hiding the massive V8 lends to the RC F appearing fast even while idling at a stop light. However in my eyes, this puts the RC F on par with the M4 in terms of its performance coupes whereas the Audi RS5 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG are too muted to give a strong sense of performance.

Is the car for you?: 

The summing up of the Lexus RC F all in one statement is difficult because i would have to go with jack-off-all trades. I was pleasantly surprised with the fun i had in the Lexus' newest sports car. But compared to the benchmark of the segment, the BMW M4, is a close call as all-round performer.

Admittedly, if i were to attend a track day, the M4 is going to be my weapon of choice in nearly every case. Its nimbler and more tactile, and has the party piece twin-scroll straight-six with gobs of torque and, if you're willing to pay for it, unbreakable ceramic brakes. Juxtaposed to that, the Lexus RC F lacks the sophisticated double-clutch gearbox and decades of racing pedigree but still manages to hold its own for a few laps.

Although, calling the ball game there means you would be seriously shortchanging the Lexus. Mean while it lags a bit behind the BMW on rack prowess, the RC F poise on the road coupled with the rev-centric V8 and relative luxury make for a great GT car. We'll cover more on the road test portion of the RC F but its priced from £62,400, anymore shopping for an M4 is doing themselves a disservice if they don't take a serious look at the latest offering from Lexus.

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