Lexus RC F, Reviewed!

Blake Z. Rong
by Blake Z. Rong

Get in the RC F and press the starter button hidden, out of place, next to the gauges. That little tingle crawling up your spine is perfectly normal. Point that gaping rabid spindle maw at your nearest runway, skidpad, industrial plant, Ken Block Gymkhana set, or empty freeway on-ramp. Step on the throttle, hard. Harder, firmer! (Stop giggling!) Watch that trick digital gauge, front and center, as bright as Times Square: when the needle hits about 3,700 RPM the windshield gets blurry, the blood rushes to the head, the chests of every occupant is shoved firmly against the seatbacks, and the exhaust baffles open up and the cabin fills with a WOOOOHHHHHHHH, deep and warbly and just slightly parodic of itself. At this moment, it is the Loudest Thing in the Known Universe. And it rings with the same unmistakable baritone earthquake as the last genuinely insane Lexus—the dearly departed IS F.

Lexus took this photo for our amusement. From an F-Sport extravaganza in Las Vegas, where anything goes, but mainly tires.

Oh, yes, the IS F—Lexus’s first hot-rod experiment in that most American vein, whose inventors should be enshrined in the Hot Rodder’s Hall of Fame, right next to Bob Hirohata. The RC F is 200 pounds heavier, but packs 50 more horsepower: it’s the ISF, only more in every direction. It shares the ISF’s 5.0-liter V8, but with a lighter crankshaft, forged rods, 32 titanium valves…outside it’s all ducts, fans, flares, and gaping maws that could swallow jaywalking schoolchildren, all of which will score points with any wannabe street racer east of the 710 Freeway. It’s all very exciting.

Given the above, the RC F puts on a good show. All singing, all dancing, tail-wiggling, noise-making. If you conjure a performance bent out of nowhere, you’re allowed to be shouty. Interestingly enough, the turn signals ping exactly like grandfather clocks, the cupholders squeak incessantly when stuffed with plastic water bottles, and the stacked diagonal exhaust tips are finally real exhaust tips. But that’s neither here nor there.

What is important, however, is that the RC F addresses two of Lexus’s greatest shortcomings: first, its clumsy traction control. Turn the drive selector knob twice to the right, for Sport Plus: the steering firms up, the throttle gets touchier, and the brakes are preloaded for the exuberantly talentless. And here, if you press the traction control button, once, you immediately enter “EXPERT Mode. Expert! Nothing more could stoke the ego of our Playstation generation: hell yeah I got all my A licenses in Gran Turismo! Time to take every off-ramp sideways! LIFE DON’T HAVE A RESET BUTTON, SON!

Sport mode means you’re serious. Sport Plus mode means you’re seriouser. (Photo by Lexus)

Which is appropriate, this video-game thing. Because even though the plasticky paddles lend it a Forza feel, they control what is finally one of the RC F’s biggest improvements: it finally has a competent transmission.

The eight-speed automatic shifts hard on full attack, upshifts as fast as you can flick the paddles: bam. Bam. Bam. In certain modes, it even kicks a little bit. (Though not like the BMW M4, the RC F’s archnemesis, which boots you in the kidneys with steel-tipped Doc Martens.) It’ll hold a gear until it’s aurally painful to do so, then blip the throttle on a downshift just like a 21st-century sporting machine should. Even the LFA had an automatic that “ kinda sucks.” But now, here it is: a Lexus transmission that does a seamless job of transmitting!

Turn an RC F through a corner and the effect is a slight delay through that heavy, cliff-like proboscis, before the Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential squares away the rear, eager and snappy, and the traction control lets swing a nice arc before calling it in. You’ll get addicted jumping around every intersection at full throttle. The brakes are terrific. The steering is weighty, which is nice, but slightly numb, which is not. Crash over a particularly rough stretch and while the jolty suspension will send shivers all up your glutes, the wheel will remain rock steady, a triumphant exorcism of both feel and bump steer. (It’s a nice time to mention that the seats are wonderful: thin and flowing and perfectly sculpted.) But the wheel itself is small in diameter and absurdly thick, like squeezing a fat lil’ Buddha—and for our purposes, it’s just what a wheel should feel like.

That suspension corners nearly flat, all the time. It jolts, sure, but it is never abusive, never crashing. Our producer for the Hooniverse Podcast, Chris Hayes, met up with a girl for a date—as you do, when handed the keys—when she asked, where shall we go for dinner? “Why not Santa Barbara?” he said. So they blasted the 95 miles to Santa Barbara, then back, at night, in under an hour. Why not, indeed. The long-legged RC F can do this to people.

Lexus wants to take out BMW and the M4, which is a given, because every luxury manufacturer short of Bristol wants to take out BMW and the M4 these days. What’s the biggest difference between this and the M4? You can have fun with the RC F at any speed. The M4 sneers at your lack of talent, your nonchalance, your daily driving—it grumbles and protests below 10/10ths, and will continue to do so until you press 37 separate buttons to put it back in its place. If you don’t panic-flog an M4 to the upper limits of your nerves it yawns like a bored supermodel, unimpressed at your attempts at sexual fulfillment.

Lexus had to conjure a performance bent out of nowhere, and the LFA is suffering for it*—and yet it worked on the IS F, the ground level of a side of Lexus we once considered new, and groundbreaking, and impossible. With the RC F—and the recently unveiled Lexus GS F—dare we say we now expect it?

* For a completely different set of circumstances, mind you.

The RC F is thirsty. Around town it’s a truck-like 14 miles per gallon. To paraphrase Public Enemy, Eco mode is a joke in your town.

Blake Z. Rong
Blake Z. Rong

Held under these smothering waves / By your strong and thick-veined hand / But one of these days / I'm gonna wriggle up on dry land

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2 of 34 comments
  • Baconator Baconator on Feb 25, 2015

    This review really needs a "1 year later" followup that chronicles how many units get sold in the first year, compared with the M3/M4 and C63. It seems to be 90% of an M4 for 100% of the price, but Lexus definitely has its own fan base. Pretty sure TTAC's commentariat isn't really the demographic for either car, so it will be fun to see how the sales numbers turn out.

  • Mattlv Mattlv on May 18, 2015

    I actually like this car. I test drove one at Lexus of Las Vegas and was impressed with its power.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.