The term "coupe" has been usurped in recent years for some four-door sedans and even crossovers, but there are still genuine two-doors around. The Lexus RC is one, and it certainly looks the part with its low-slung proportions and racy, exuberant styling. The F Sport package for the RC350 model additionally brings dark gray trim, a unique grille design, 19-inch wheels, and in the case of our test car, an optional rear spoiler. It's an extroverted look, though one not quite as dramatic as that of the jaw-dropping Lexus LC. And in the case of the RC350 F Sport AWD tested here, it arguably overstates the performance contained within.
The RC dates back to 2014, and the car's age is evident in several areas. A series of updates did arrive with the 2019 model year, and the RC rolls into 2022 unchanged from last year. Surprisingly, given this shrinking segment, Lexus still fields a broad spectrum of RC models. They range from the turbocharged four-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive RC300 to the V-8-powered RC F, which, in Fuji Speedway Edition form, can reach six figures. In the heart of the lineup, you'll find a 3.5-liter V-6 in 260- (RC300 AWD) and 311-hp (RC350) strengths. Lexus has never offered a manual in this car. Instead, there's an eight-speed automatic in the rear-wheel-drive models, while the all-wheel-drive versions of the RC300 and RC350 have just six forward gears.
The naturally aspirated V-6 sets a slightly nostalgic tone from a time before turbocharging and electric assistance became pervasive. This bent-six sounds great, and there's definitely something to be said for the progressive throttle response of a naturally aspirated engine. Still, with 280 pound-feet of torque arriving at 4800 rpm, the beefy 3.5-liter doesn't have the easy shove of a turbo engine at low revs. At the track, that translates to a 60-mph time of 5.6 seconds, which trails far behind its turbocharged six-cylinder rivals from Germany: the Audi S5 at 4.2 seconds and the BMW M440i xDrive at a scorching 3.8 (despite the BMW exactly matching the RC's 3986-pound curb weight). The RC350's straight-line acceleration puts it behind even four-cylinder versions of the Audi and BMW, with the last 430i xDrive model we tested hitting 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and a 2018-model A5 taking 4.9 seconds. Similarly, the RC350's quarter-mile run of 14.1 seconds at 100 mph would have it staring at the taillights of the M440i (12.3 at 112 mph) or the S5 (12.8 at 107 mph).
As you might expect with just six forward gears and 3.5 liters of displacement, the all-wheel-drive RC350 also doesn't win any prizes with its fuel economy. EPA estimates are a deeply mediocre 19/26 mpg city/highway, against 21/30 mpg for the Audi S5 and 22/31 mpg for the BMW M440i xDrive. We averaged 19 mpg.
Despite its underwhelming thrust, the RC350 doesn't feel lethargic on the street, in part because we spent so much time in Sport+ mode. It's common for the sportiest powertrain mode to lock out the transmission's uppermost gears, but the RC350 can be driven in Sport+ without droning along at elevated revs on the highway, the major effect on the powertrain being automatic downshifts under braking.
The RC's drive modes, in fact, only nibble at the edges of the car's dynamic persona. The steering purports to have two different levels of assistance, but we were hard-pressed to feel the difference. Without wild variances in effort or quickness, there is instead a natural build-up of force as you bend into a curve and a solid sense of on-center when the road straightens out. The RC's natural steering feel is notably better than the artificiality of the M440i's variable-ratio steering or the S5's optional Dynamic Steering. On winding two-lanes, the RC is relaxed and fluid, but push it harder, as we did at the skidpad, and it exhibits a good bit of understeer. (The rear-drive F Sport gets a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, but not the AWD version.) It ultimately posted a middling 0.86 g of grip, and stops from 70 mph required a reasonable 162 feet.
The F Sport has an adaptive variable suspension, yet we found little difference between its standard and stiffer settings. An upside is that, whereas its German competitors' firmest settings often deliver a punishing ride on anything other than freshly laid blacktop, the RC is pleasantly nonplussed by lumps and bumps in the road. Despite the F Sport having firmer tuning than the base car, this is the rare sports coupe that still serves up a supple ride in its sporty setting, making it tolerable even on the broken pavement that a sudden February thaw brings to the Northeast.
The F Sport–specific front seats enhance the RC's comfort quotient. Their deeply curved seatbacks provide both lots of lateral support and a layer of cushy softness. The driving position is fine, although a wide transmission tunnel bulges out under the driver's right calf, which some might find bothersome. The cabin's numerous padded surfaces provide a Lexus-appropriate level of plushness, even if the design is more pedestrian than some. While the front seats are plenty comfortable, the back seats are cramped even for anything more than a quick jaunt across town. Think of the RC's rear quarters more as a place to toss a backpack or a shopping bag.
Whereas screen-based instrumentation is now the norm, the RC has a hybrid cluster design with a tachometer rendered on a round LCD screen that also contains a digital speed readout. That screen lives within a physical dial that's central in the display and bracketed by fuel and temperature gauges; alternately, the dial can move slightly to the right, making space for an info screen to the left. The dial-plus-screen arrangement is at once modern, easy to read, and more interesting than a simple flat screen. The tach display varies slightly based on drive mode; it also changes to orange when engine revs reach 5000 rpm, a neat flourish.
After much criticism, Lexus has begun to move away from its touchpad infotainment interface, but the RC still has it. The good news is that you don't have to use it all that much. There are physical knobs and buttons for most audio functions and for the climate controls, plus additional buttons on the steering wheel. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also on hand. The Mark Levinson Audio package with navigation ($2725) upgrades the display from a rather puny 7.0 inches to a modern-size 10.3-inch unit.
Typical of coupes, rear visibility is not great; good thing a comprehensive array of driver assists is standard, including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Our test car was also optioned with triple-beam LED headlights ($1160), which do a fantastic job lighting up the night and peering around curves on dark two-lane roads.
The aforementioned options, plus a handful of others, put the total for our RC350 F Sport AWD test car at $59,995, up from a starting price of $52,555. You'd pay more for a six-cylinder, all-wheel-drive coupe from any of the German automakers: some $4000 more for an Audi S5, $7000 more for a BMW M440i xDrive, and $9000 more for a Mercedes C43. Only the Infiniti Q60 is cheaper.
Though its newer competitors outshine the RC350 F Sport in several objective measures, the Lexus is not without its charms. It's a grand tourer that, despite its looks, emphasizes comfort more than absolute performance. And as with a well-worn pair of jeans, sometimes there's appeal in the not-so-new.