2016 Lexus RC 350 F Sport Review - Slower Than It Looks, Better Than It Looks
The quickest Nürburgring lap times make no difference to me when I’m driving across town for a Monday afternoon dental appointment. In fact, the best Nürburgring lap times will likely result in a car that shakes my fillings loose before I get to the dentist.
A spec sheet that lists competitor-besting horsepower and torque figures might have held sway over me a decade ago, but I’m much more captivated now by how a car responds to my inputs.
The 2016 Lexus RC 350, even with all-wheel-drive traction and the F Sport package, is no track monster. Nor, in comparison to more established rivals from Audi and BMW, is the RC 350 a winner on paper.
And that’s okay. I don’t need, nor do I want, a track monster. I don’t spend much time analyzing horsepower wars.
The RC 350 F Sport is, however, a frightful Solar Flare orange beast to behold, and I’m not sure I can cope with offensive styling.
Or can I?
To be fair, beauty, or the lack thereof, is always in the eye of the beholder. I’m not saying you can’t love the RC 350’s exterior treatment. My neighbour calls it “pretty.” My two-year old, typically impressed only with pickup trucks and large cargo areas, fell in love at first sight, telling me while examining the RC’s cabin, “I sleep in here tonight.”
I PERSONALLY BELIEVE…
To my eyes, a Solar Flare RC 350 F Sport festooned with garish inlets and outlets, a grille seemingly as large as a Scion iQ’s whole front end, and enough slicing and dicing on the headlamps to make a home cooking show is the antithesis of the classy Toyota 2000GT, the 1965 Lancia Fulvia Coupe, the second-generation Mercedes-Benz SL, and even Audi’s first-gen A5. The RC 350 goes out of its way to beg for attention, rather than simply accepting whatever respect is due a $54,375 Lexus coupe.
It’s not impossible for me to set aside feelings of stylistic discontent to render an unbiased judgement of a new vehicle. Manufacturers send me a new car to drive every week — as often as not, I’m not a fan of the design. I can set that aside as a non-factor, because it doesn’t invariably mean TTAC and GCBC readers aren’t.
But we’re not talking about TTAC and GCBC readers now. I don’t like the way this car looks. No, I detest the way this car looks. It’s only been here for a few days and I’m already sick of seeing its rear end appear before my eyes when I let the dog out at 6:30 every morning. I’m almost embarrassed to have it sitting in my driveway on a street full of Civics. I’m going to get my haircut this afternoon — where do I park this thing so the hairdressers don’t make every kind of negative assumption about my vehicular tastes?
And yet, I truly am enjoying every moment I have with this car, supplied for the week by Toyota Canada. I’m attaining a level of enjoyment with this car the likes of which no other car that aesthetically offends me has ever come close to managing.
For example, if I was an avid camper and the revolting Pontiac Aztek’s tent impressed me, I still wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the way it looks. If the SsangYong Rodius had a Chrysler Pacifica’s Stow’N’Go, the Kia Sedona’s SXL’s interior, and my Honda Odyssey’s LATCH accessibility, I would still never be able to stop thinking about the SsangYong’s grotesque exterior.
Here I am in this RC 350 F Sport that’s as easy to find in a parking lot as John McEnroe’s New York Mets hat in the Wimbledon Court Two bleachers, a car which has me wondering why 21,000 U.S. car buyers took the plunge, and I no longer care that its bodywork grieves me so.
Granted, perhaps many of those 21,000 owners bought or leased an RC because they liked the way it looks, perish the thought. Some may have even been under the impression that it’s sporty.
The 2016 Lexus RC 350 F Sport AWD is certainly not sporty in the straight-line sense of the word, not in comparison with a BMW 335i, Audi S5, or Cadillac ATS 3.6. Nor will you believe much about the RC’s alleged sporting credentials once you’ve heaved its 3,900+ pounds into a hairpin and found yourself washing wide.
The fact that the RC’s on-road behavior contradicts the wild and wooly exterior is nevertheless no bother, not to me. Perhaps if the RC 350 had all sorts of straight-line gumption, I’d be dismayed by its lack of agility. Indeed, if the RC 350 possessed the lithe chassis of the Scion FR-S but lacked the power to put it to use, I’d likewise be disheartened.
Instead, the RC 350 is quick enough. Throttle response is natural, and it takes some revving for the 3.5-liter V6 to feel like a 307-horsepower engine. Instead of a suspension stiff enough to make a near-4,000-pounder tackle a corner like the proverbial Fiesta ST, the RC 350 F Sport rides with suppleness befitting a Lexus LS.
Rather than imply a false sense of athleticism with hefty steering and snap-bang gear changes, the RC 350’s steering is light and its six-speed automatic (rear-wheel-drive RC 350s use an eight-speed) draws no attention to its civilized shifts. In every way, the means by which the RC 350 makes forward progress is in keeping with every other facet. Relaxed, but not apathetic. Swift, but not sudden. Composed, not calculating.
Steering weight, throttle response, transmission shifts, the degree of body roll — it’s all operating on the same plane. The RC’s sport mode amplifies the car’s ability but doesn’t conflate differing priorities. In appreciating the balance, I find myself wanting to drive the RC 350 more and more, especially if I don’t need to look at it as I go to hop in.
Hopping in, mind you, is no joy. The roof is low; the seat bolsters are high. Visibility, as you’d therefore expect, is awful, and I sometimes find myself driving slower than I otherwise would because I don’t feel I have the full picture of what’s going on around me. I’m also distracted by the Lexus touchpad, though there’s an increasing level of comfort with the controller.
The RC’s is certainly a well-built cabin, from the plush dashtop to the signal stalk engagement to quality centre stack, which doesn’t look expensive but feels worthy of the MSRP. It appears as though Lexus persistently asked, “Why use one button when we can use two?”, which adds a measure of Japanese character. The seats are terrific but could be improved with four-way lumbar. And the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is jaw-dropping.
The Lexus RC 350 F Sport rides far too smoothly to shake my new fillings loose. Turning up the wick on that stereo, however, may well provide my dentist with some unforeseen work.
[Images: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.
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