Krugersdorp - Lexus's 8AR-FTS turbocharged 2,0-litre engine has now found its way into the striking RC as a softer and more affordable alternative to the RC 350 F-Sport. From dodging fearless warthogs to slipstreaming the construction trucks of Krugersdorp, it didn't take long to realise that the RC 200t has as many ups as it does downs in terms of its goal of being a proper grand tourer.
What is it?
The RC 200t makes use of the new engine – the same that has been employed in the NX, GS and IS models previously tested by us – and also features a little less kit than the range-topping RC 350 F-Sport. With 180 kW and 350 N.m of torque being delivered to the rear wheels of the hefty coupe, its main goal isn't to be a hardcore, track-oriented machine, but rather an executive daily drive with somewhat of a sporty element to it; a philosophy that its predecessor, the SC, also possessed.
With CAR magazine concluding that the RC 350 F-Sport falls short of exciting in terms of dynamics, I made sure not to approach this latest experience expecting a performance car, but rather a soft grand tourer. Indeed, with only three F-Sports sold across South Africa in the month of June, one has to ask whether this car is worth the effort for Lexus or whether the 200t variant will serve to broaden the coupe's appeal.
The RC 200t looks virtually identical to the F-Sport model, both inside and out. With plenty of sharp, jagged lines, there's no denying that it stands out from the crowd, but it can come across as a little too aggressive for a car that's aimed at the more conservative driver. It's also not a design improved or ruined by a specific colour, although with just six fairly ordinary hues from which to pick, there aren't many bad decisions to make in this case. Something that does impact the visual aesthetic of the RC 200t are the arguably undersized 18-inch wheels, however these do add to the car's high level of comfort. In terms of interior equipment, the RC 200t misses the electronically adjustable steering column and rain-sensing wipers of the RC 350 F-Sport.
The RC 200t makes use of fewer electrical assists than the F-Sport. The artificial intelligence-shift control, four-wheel steering, variable gear ratio steering and adaptive variable suspension are not available, but seeing as it's 53 kW and 28 N.m down on power from the F-Sport, these assists aren't sorely missed (particularly if you exclude the variable gear ratio steering). Being the EX trim, it is far better equipped than a standard BMW 430i or Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe, which are cheaper at base price but once specced to the equivalent trim become about R50 000 more expensive than the
RC 200t's asking price of R699 100.
The most exciting part of being in the RC 200t was that split-second in slow motion in which I pondered whether my co-driver would be able to avoid the nonchalant warthog crossing the road as we approached it at highway speeds. A progressive dab at the brake pedal followed by a composed change in direction to the left found the RC 200t cross halfway onto the gravel before accelerating back onto the tarmac as the hog continued its journey across the road, almost as if the whole thing never happened.
Basically, despite looking rather dramatic, there is very little drama in this most subdued version of the Lexus RC. The ride is soft, quiet and effortless, largely owing to the forgiving 235/45 R18 tyres and a very impressive spring rate. This means that you can drive it at high speeds on less-than-smooth roads without being burdened by fatigue. The steering is also very soft but this is to its detriment; with there being a lack of variable steering, the electronically assisted system offers minimal feedback and a surprising amount of instability at high speeds.
The lag you get from the 8AR-FTS powertrain, especially when mated to the eight-speed automatic transmission, makes the RC 200t rather unresponsive when you adopt a dynamic driving style, but it is not completely incompetent as at cruising speeds there is access to power above 1 500 r/min. The coupe is well planted in the corners and shows little to no signs of over- or understeer on the bends if you place enough faith in the steering system. Again, this goes against the values that the RC sets; it's aimed at being a comfortable GT, which means it needs to adopt a comfortable ride, with generous access to power and easy-to-use controls.
These boxes, although not completely perfected, are certainly ticked. Indeed, at moderate speeds, the RC 200t is a joy and requires little to no effort to place on the road despite its significant proportions. NVH levels are also low and the density in the leather seats make for a comfortable experience.
When presented to us, the RC 200t was billed as not being aimed at the dynamic coupe market (think BMW 4 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe and Audi A5), even if such vehicles are in reality its main competitors. In terms of comfort, it feels a step ahead of the competition, but not as much as it needs to be to establish its own niche. And the way it combines the elements of comfort and dynamism isn't quite enough to consider it over the Germans as an all-rounder.
However, if your number one requirement is a coupe with comfort, then look no further than the RC 200t. In this respect, it is ahead of its competition as it requires the least amount of effort from its driver to pilot. Instruments such as the steering, gear shifts and pedals are much softer than what you would experience in a 4 Series, for example.
However, if a dynamic coupe is what you're looking for (which happens to be majority of the market) then this will leave you wanting more, as the engine and transmission lack responsiveness and the steering feels somewhat lifeless.
With an asking price of R699 100, it looks significantly more expensive than the Germans, but in terms of what you get for your money, it is actually quite generous, with all of the equipment available offered as standard, including a four-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.