2015 Lexus RC F Review (with Video) - Is F Greater Than M?

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes

The last Lexus coupé-only model to grace luxury Japanese dealer lots was the 1991-2000 Lexus SC 300/SC 400. Since then Lexus has tried to satisfy luxury coupé and convertible shoppers simultaneously with the hardtop SC and IS convertibles since 2001.

That is until the folks in Japan decided to change their strategy to compete more directly with BMW, Mercedes and Audi in every segment. The result is the development of the RC.

Perhaps because Lexus decided against a 2-coupé strategy, as utilized by BMW and Mercedes, the RC is mix mash between the compact IS and the mid-sized GS — with a little bit of Lexus IS C tossed in for good measure.

In theory, the new coupé was also to serve as the basis for an all-new convertible. Unfortunately, the dealer network revolted and demanded another change in course, redirecting efforts into a 3-row crossover. As a result, the all-new RC is sold alongside the aging Lexus IS C convertible, a situation that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. Fortunately for enthusiasts, Lexus developed their M4-fighter at the same time as the more pedestrian RC 350, otherwise the very-blue 467-horsepower RC F you see above may have met the same fate as the moribund convertible.


Exterior


Lexus’ last M fighter, the IS F, was as unassuming as the RC F is bold. The Lexus ES says, “I’m on my way to the mall,” while the front end of RC F says, “I’m on my way to an anger management intervention.” Base RC 350 coupés have a grille that’s bigger and angrier than Lexus has ever used before. For the RC F, the visual impact gets downright ferocious.

Something struck me as odd when I first set eyes on the RC F a few months back in New Orleans: I’m not a fan of the front end on the IS, largely because the daytime running lamp is divorced from the headlamp. In the RC F, this theme actually works. The difference is the rest of the IS’ form is mainstream and the headlamps themselves look like any other lamp module, making the swoosh seem out of place. For the RC, Lexus reshaped everything, giving the design a more three dimensional feel with concave headlamps. The look works, especially with the optional tri-beam LED headlamp modules (a $1,160 option) fitted to our tester. The only thing missing from this nose are the tiny LED fog lamps you find in the RC F-Sport. At the launch event I attended, Lexus claimed their desire for “no-compromise cooling” meant the fog lamps were left on the cutting room floor.

Now to identify the competition. The RC F obviously has the BMW M4 in its sights and Lexus features an Audi RS 5 in a few commercials, but there are two other players: the new Cadillac ATS-V and the current Mercedes C63 AMG coupé. (The new C63 Coupé should be out in 2016 as a 2017 model, but my local dealer still has three 2015 models on the lot.)

Cadillac’s ATS sedan appears small when stacked against the BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS, but the coupé segment is different and all the entries are but a hair apart. The largest variation at work here is the wheelbase. The Lexus has the shortest span at 107.5 inches and the M4 the longest at 110.7 inches. This helps accentuate the M4’s low and long profile. The other main difference is curb weight. Thanks to standard Quattro, the RS 5 is the heaviest at 4,009 pounds and the M4 is the lightest at 3,530. Curb weight is crucial in a performance vehicle and that’s a sizeable variation. The RC F weighs in second heaviest at 3,958 (or about the same weight as a Jaguar XJ). The Merc is a cupcake lighter and the Caddy straddles the middle at 3,700 pounds.

Interior


Although the RC is a hybrid of the IS and GS, the interior is pure IS — which I found a little disappointing. Instead of the upright dash and large wide-screen infotainment screen you find in the GS 350, we get a multi-tired dash and a small LCD with narrow proportions. As with the IS, I find the interior somewhat jarring, mainly because of the enormous airbag bump on the passenger side.

The RC F suffers from the same problem as every other entry in this segment: an interior designed for a car half the price. This isn’t unusual. In fact, the RC borrows its interior from the IS 250 while the M4 leverages the basics from the 320i. Also similar to the competition, you won’t find real cow in the base RC F. Lexus insists the NuLuxe pleather seating is a premium feature as it’s bonded to the seat’s foam and won’t “pucker” or “wrinkle” like leather. However you slice it, it still won’t faux anyone.

The only major change to the IS interior for coupé duty is a rearrangement of the cupholders and the incorporation of Lexus’ new infotainment controller. F models get a different partial LCD instrument cluster versus the RC 350 with a small fixed speedometer on the right and everything else replicated by the disco dash. In terms of overall parts quality and design, I found the ATS, RC and M4 to all be quite comparable while the aging RS 5 is still the most pleasing to my eye. Narrowing the ranking, I put the M4 above the ATS and the RC F last. If the ATS had the LCD cluster we see in the CTS, it would take top honors, and the RC F is last because the large expanse of injection molded dashboard can’t compete with the extra touches we get in the rest.

I found the front seats to be comfortable and on par with the Audi RS 5 and a notch above the old C63’s narrow seat backs. As we have come to expect from BMW recently, the M4’s front seats are excellent and offer more adjustability than we find in the RC. Unexpectedly, Cadillac has taken a page from BMW’s playbook and offers your choice of 16- or 18-way adjustable seats with more range of motion than you find in the Audi or Lexus.

Infotainment


Since the RC shares its dashboard with the IS sedan, the coupé also adopts the small LCD infotainment screen of its four-door sibling. U.S.-bound models get a standard 7-inch LCD screen perched high on the dash. Unfortunately, the distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen measuring smaller than the competition. As with the IS sedan, the standard display audio system is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch system. Thankfully, the base system is well featured with HD Radio, SiriusXM, CD player, iPod/Bluetooth integration and weather/traffic displays.

I find myself very conflicted about the Lexus Enform navigation and infotainment system. When coupled with a touchscreen — as in the Lexus GX 460 — I find the system easy to use and intuitive. Admittedly, the software lacks some of the polish of BMW’s iDrive, but it is still one of my favorites. Sadly, in most Lexus vehicles, the touchscreen has been swapped for a joystick-like device which transforms the system from easy to use to frustration itself. For 2015, Lexus is trying something new: a track pad in the RC and NX. The laptop-like unit works essentially the same as the former joystick and offers haptic feedback in addition to some limited pinch and scroll gestures. HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio are standard, so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall, however, I rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infiniti’s new two-screen setup, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. On the flip side, Lexus is one of the few manufacturers to offer complete voice command of your USB/iDevice a la MyLincoln Touch and the luxury automaker continues to expand the number of smartphone integrated app features. New for 2015 is an OnStar-like app that gives you all the standard “did I lock my car” telematics features in addition to alerting you if the car is speeding (handy if Johnny Jr. drives your RC F to school), exceeding a geo-boundary or violating curfew.

Drivetrain


This segment is split in two camps. On the left we have the turbocharged, six-cylinder engines from Cadillac and BMW, and on the right we have the naturally aspirated V-8s from Lexus and Audi. (Next year is likely to bring a unicorn to this segment: a twin-turbo V-8 from Mercedes.)

F buyers get a reworked 5.0L V-8 from the discontinued IS F. Based on the 4.6L V-8 found in the LS 460, the 5.0L version has some significant changes in addition to the displacement bump. We get the usual bevy of performance tweaks, such as titanium valves, a fuel surge tank and high-lift cams. We also get something unusual on a performance vehicle: the ability to operate on the Atkinson cycle. (Technically, a modified Otto cycle.) Unlike most engines, however, this V-8 can switch between Otto and Atkinson cycles, depending on what is needed at the time. This is accomplished by swapping the variable valve timing system found on the old 5.0L design with a new electronically controlled unit on the intake side, allowing a greater deal of control over both valve lift and duration. When efficiency is needed, the intake valve stays open part way into the compression cycle, effectively making the compression stroke “shorter” than the expansion stroke, improving efficiency. According to the engineers, the advantage to employing this fuel-sipping tech is that switching back to max-burn mode takes less time than cylinder deactivation and it can be done across a broader range of engine RPMs. The advantage to the consumer is the solution is 100 percent transparent; cylinder deactivation systems can change the exhaust note and decrease engine smoothness. Thanks to these modifications, the RC F produces more power than the hybrid implementation of this engine present in the LS 600hL while still delivering a 2 mpg bump in the EPA highway score of 25 mpg. The RC F achieves 19 mpg on the combined cycle.

Sending power to the rear is an eight-speed automatic made by Aisin. For those into trivia, this is a variant of the first production eight-speed automatic (in the Lexus LS) for automotive use and was introduced a year before the ZF eight-speed that’s sucked all the air out of the room. For F-duty, Lexus beefs up the internals and allows the torque converter lockup clutch to engage in gears 2-8. (Lexus calls this SPort Direct Shift, or SPDS, but it the same concept used in many modern automatics like Mazda’s SKYACTIV six-speed.) Aft of the transmission is a standard Torsen limited-slip rear differential or an optional electronically controlled, torque-vectoring rear axle as part of the performance package.

Drive


Every coupé in this segment handles incredibly well, zips to 60 in the blink of an eye, and stops on a dime compared to your average compact luxury sedan. In truth, the difference out on the road — aside from the raw numbers when it comes to 0-60 times and road holding — is down to personal preference and how your priorities stack up against the facets of the car’s road personality.

Let’s start with the big dog, the artist formerly known as the M3 coupé. At just over 3,500 pounds, the M4 is light for this segment. Despite making 10-percent less power than the Lexus, the BMW is faster to 60 because it is nearly 15-percent lighter and turbocharged. Thanks to less mass, the torque curve flattening effects of the German hairdryer, and the quick-shifting dual clutch transmission, the Bimmer will run to 60 half a second faster than the Lexus — if you can find the traction.

On the downside, this is not the E92 M3 you’re longing for. The steering feel in the Lexus is a hair more precise and, overall, it’s an easier car to drive hard. I’ll leave the track day diaries to Jack Baruth, but when pitted back to back, there is something artificial about the Lexus torque-vectoring rear axle. Unquestionably, it allows the rear of the RC F to rotate in ways the standard Torsen diff can’t (I had the opportunity to test a few cars at NOLA recently), but the feeling isn’t as satisfying as the M4, despite the M4 having a torque-vectoring rear end as well.

That said, the RC F is just as quick around most tracks; I chalk that up to how easy it is to pilot and the programming of the eight-speed auto that aggressively downshifts based on your braking Gs. Back out on the paved road, the transmission’s shift logic lost its charm. When you’re on your favorite mountain highway having a little fun, you look like a dweeb while the transmission hangs onto 2nd gear as you cautiously pass a pack of cyclists. It also means that real-world passing maneuvers take considerably less time in the M4 as the DCT is far less reluctant to downshift. On the flip side, the ride on the RC F is more livable, is likely to be more reliable, and my insurance guy tells me it’d cost me a lower premium, too.

Audi’s RS 5 is seriously spendy ($8,500 more than the RC F) and it is the oldest car in the group now that Mercedes has sent the C63 out to pasture. Like most Audis, the RS 5 has a weight balance “problem” because the engine and part of the transmission hang out ahead of the front axle. The resulting 59/41 (F/R) weight distribution is the most skewed of the bunch (identical to a Honda Accord Sport or Mazda6), but thanks to Audi’s engineering it hides it fairly well — though push the RS 5 in the corners and you get more plow and less feeling from the front axle. Although I find the RS 5 the best looking option, the heavy curb weight, standard AWD, electric power steering, weight balance and high price tag make the RS 5 a dynamic choice only on an ice circuit.

Then we have the ATS-V which, aside from the surprisingly cheap looking instrument cluster, is my choice. A few years ago, the mainline auto press would have scoffed at Cadillac putting a turbocharged six-cylinder engine under the hood of a BMW M fighter — except that’s exactly what BMW has done. Cadillac, for their part, kicked it up a notch further. The larger displacement V-6 approaches the RC F’s horsepower figure at 464, but crushes the segment with 445 lb-ft of torque at just 3,500 rpm. With the new GM 8L90 automatic transmission and a curb weight that’s 200 lbs heavier than the BMW, the Cadillac is slower off the line — by a slim 1/10th of a second. GM also offers a six-speed manual in the ATS if you prefer to row your own, and get to 60 slower. As good as the Lexus eight-speed is, GM’s new slushbox is better. The shifts are faster and crisper and the shift logic is more country-road appropriate than the DCT in the M4. The 8L90 will hold gears in Sport mode like the rest, but it’s more willing to up-shift after you’ve passed the slow poke.

As a package, the ATS is more willing to turn in and it feels more nimble than the BMW or the Lexus. The transmission isn’t as sharp as BMW’s dual-clutch box, but it is more livable for a daily driver in stop and go traffic. As with the ATS sedan, the steering feel and general dynamics are superior, but it lacks the polish you get with the German. Where the ATS really scores is value. When priced similarly to our $74,000 Lexus tester, the Cadillac offers more comfortable seats, a heads-up display, adaptive suspension, the best automatic in the group, and an overall style that splits the difference between the more sedate Germans and the over-the-top Lexus.

Lexus’ latest performance vehicle is the finest example of what Lexus does best: incremental changes. The RC F is the sum of everything Lexus has learned over the years about competing in the luxury market and, lately, the performance luxury market. The “Lexus way” is to continually improve while taking the “safe route” with a naturally aspirated engine and a proven traditional automatic. Unfortunately, playing it safe is what puts both the M4 and the RC F tied in second place. Although each vehicle has its pros and cons, they balance out on my tally sheet. While the M4 is faster and more direct, BMW is also playing it safe with conservative styling and road feel that isn’t as direct as the Cadillac. It’s hard to go wrong with the 2015 RC F, but the Cadillac ATS-V is a new instrument cluster away from perfection.

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.2 Seconds

0-60: 4.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.5 @ 115 MPH

Average Economy: 20.8 MPG

















Alex L. Dykes
Alex L. Dykes

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2 of 45 comments
  • Hifi Hifi on Jul 21, 2015

    The design is incredibly amateurish. Parked next to the M3/4 or ATS-V, the RC F design is downright goofy.

  • Bazza Bazza on Jul 22, 2015

    As the previous owner of an IS-F, the $74,000 question is why on God's green earth would I choose this car, not over its stated competitors, but over a Challenger Hellcat or even SRT 392? Dodge has the heavy, high-horsepower Grand Touring niche on lock, with a lot more usable interior space, a real trunk, a better street ride, and astronomically better styling. I can give Lexus a couple of points for fit, finish, and *maybe* reliability although regular scheduled maintenance will be expensive. I generally like Lexus, I loved my IS-F, but I don't see anything about the RC-F to get the vapors over. For the money, the Hellcat is a better GT with the 392 being a no-brainer at almost $25K less than the Lexus. And before the track drivers chime in, if I were looking for a track monster I'd be heading in a completely different direction.

  • Blueice Patient 28, sorry, but it is Oktoberfest. Bring a kegof Kraut beer and we will 50% you.
  • Bd2 Probably Toyota, Hyundai is killing them these days.
  • Bd2 Japan is evil, stop buying their vehicles. I hope TTAC has a holiday for PEARL HARBOR.
  • Wolfwagen If Isuzu could update this truck and keep the cost between $25K - $30K they would sell like ice pops on dollar day in a heat wave.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic I'm at that the inflection point of do I continue to putting money in a 12 yr old SUV entering a heavy maintenance cycle or start shopping.I have noticed comparable new SUVs with $2.5k knocked off the sticker price, but still with the shenanigans of $300 for nitrogen in the tires. However, I have noticed the same 2 yr old SUV which are only $4.5K less than the original sticker price. Usually the used cars price should be 35% to 40% less. This tells me there's a stronger market for used as opposed to new. Part of this is to handle the monthly note. Considering installments of 72 months, you'll never pay the beast off. Just wait till the end of the model year which is just two months away, and I think the comparable new SUV will come with larger markdowns. May not be the color you want, but there are deals to be made. 🚗🚗🚗
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