THE NEW Lexus RC F is expensive, cumbersome, blazingly immodest, fundamentally impractical, comes fitted with an unnecessarily large and uneconomical engine and is altogether, in a naggingly high number of ways, boilingly inappropriate. I can’t think of many cars this year that I’ve enjoyed driving quite as much.
Let us begin with the engine, which comes alive at a press of the start button with an urgent burble and builds under acceleration to a bass-intensive roar. It is a 5-litre V8 producing 471bhp and 391 lb ft of torque, a package so flagrantly old-school that you expect to throw open the bonnet and find it looking up at you flickeringly in black and white.
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As for impracticality — well, yes, there are two seats in the back of this 6ft wide, 15ft-plus-long, wind tunnel-sculpted coupé. But if even two standard-issue 10-year-old girls complain over a journey of less than three miles of acute cramping and of the overall sensation of being closed in a cupboard, then I think we are obliged to dispense with the notion that the RC F can be passed off even glancingly as a sensible family wagon.
Then again the boot (opened by a remote control that causes it to pop and, rather pleasingly, pause in thought for a couple of seconds before rising slowly) is only marginally smaller than Northampton. Purists will tell you that the boot is where the engine ought to be, and they may have a point. At the same time, last-minute Christmas shopping? Done.
What I like about Lexus is that it cares about sound — and not just about the sound of the engine, which in the RC F is boosted into the cabin via a dedicated speaker, an add-on that I can take or leave. More importantly, it cares about the sound of the hi-fi, in this case offering 10 speakers’ worth of tonally rich gloriousness, which most supercar manufacturers would surely dismiss as excess weight.
I also noted with a pang of jealously that the upscale £67,995 Carbon-spec version of the RC F features a 17-speaker Mark Levinson setup and includes a device that high-mindedly restores the frequencies compressed by digital MP3 formatting. Roll on the day when Lexus takes this hi-fi snobbery all the way and plugs in a high-end, belt-driven, diamond-stylus turntable.
Then there’s the indicator, which ticks with the woody “chock” of a grandfather clock. Meanwhile the seats, though ostensibly sports-style kidney-grippers, are also pieces of leather-draped luxury furniture, entirely cossetting. But then it has always been the function of a Lexus to be part-car, part-spa treatment, and the RC F is simply the brand’s patent blend of hardcore driving and soft-core pampering in its most extreme form. This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but has always been to Alan Partridge’s and is now apparently to mine.
For £3,500 above the basic £59,995, you can add the torque-vectoring differential, or TVD, which represents a hot upgrade over the RC F’s standard limited-slip differential. This offers you — beyond the four basic drive modes of Manual, Eco, Sport and Sport+ — push-button access to three settings that vary the torque sent to the individual wheels.
From experience I can’t entirely recommend the Track option on the streets of south London, where it seemed to awaken in the car an intense desire to plough into parked vehicles at every opportunity
Move from Normal into Slalom and the already sharp steering further tightens while the dashboard helpfully lights up with a small Alpine scene. I found this label worrying, tending to associate slalom with Ski Sunday and plucky Lycra-clad Austrians unhappily spatchcocking themselves on sheets of orange plastic fencing amid a din of cowbells. Clearly, though, if you’re up for a bit of drifting and sliding, with the possibility of a hot chocolate and a crêpe afterwards, this is your mode.
And then there’s Track setting (cue image of tarmac and grandstand), which removes most of the electronic nannying, leaving your destiny in your own capable hands, though if the car senses you’re about to go into a spin those systems snap back on again. From experience I can’t entirely recommend the Track option on the streets of Balham, south London, where, while a spin was never on the cards, it seemed to awaken in the car an intense desire to plough into parked vehicles at every opportunity. Fun elsewhere, though, no doubt.
How exactly does TVD work? Search me. I read the literature until a steady ache developed behind my eyeballs and I’m still none the wiser. “The feedback control suite comprises a yaw-rate, differential-rotation suppression control and VDIM (vehicle dynamic integrated management) co-operative control . . . Each electric motor controls the pressure on the corresponding multi-plate clutch via a ball-cam actuator.”
At this point, I’m afraid, the ache behind my eyes began to spread to my ball-cam actuator. In essence the system aids cornering by varying the torque sent to the individual wheels and effectively aiming the car into the corner. Anyway, the important point is a) it clearly does work and b) that Lexus can excitedly hymn this system as a world first for a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports coupé so you in turn will never be short of a conversation opener in mixed company.
There’s an argument that supercars such as this are best enjoyed on private ground, away from other traffic and particularly policemen. And that’s no doubt the case if we’re talking about pushing all this exquisite engineering to the point where the stability systems switch themselves on again.
But I feel eager to report that the RC F can play host to legal pleasures too, and that for this driver Christmas came early in a moment of yowling and perfectly law-abiding (as well as utterly comfortable) acceleration on the A3 near Cobham, in Surrey. And it doesn’t get much more Lexus than that.
Giles’s verdict ★★★★★
- We like Head-turning looks and superb cornering
- We don’t like It’s a bit of a squeeze in the back
Lexus RC F specifications
- Engine: 4969cc, V8
- Power: 471bhp @ 6400rpm
- Torque: 391 lb ft
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Performance: 0-62mph in 4.5sec
- Top speed: 168mph
- Fuel: 26.2mpg (combined)
- CO2: 252g/km
- Road tax band: L
- Price: £59,995
- Release date: On sale now
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Lexus RC F rivals
BMW M4 coupé £56,650
- For Barnstorming acceleration and handling
- Against Slightly cramped in the back
Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG, £58,500
- For Monstrous power; great engine noise
- Against Not a car for everyday use