FRANSCHHOEK – Lexus was not hiding from anything with the route they chose for the local launch of the Lexus RC 350 F Sport.
After picking up the cars at the Cape Town International airport, our route map took us along the False Bay coast road through Pringle Bay, before cutting across country and ending in Franschhoek via the Franschhoek Pass. It was a route any performance car would love… but if your vehicle wasn’t up to scratch, it would be found wanting.
It was a pretty brave move, because the Lexus RC 350 was always going to be a tough sell. Using the same 3,5-litre quad cam V6 petrol found in its GS sibling, the RC 350 is good for 233 kW and 378 N.m. Not bad stats… until you have a look at its price. R730 900. Stack that up against its performance rivals and you’re either looking at a BMW 428i at R586 988 or Audi A5 3,0T Quattro at R676 000… or starting to tread on BMW 435i (R754 027) and Audi S5 (R791 000) territory.
The former Germans comfortably beat it on price, and the latter two comfortably out perform it. Indeed, as a performance car, the RC 350 doesn’t exactly blow your hair back. It doesn’t quite deliver on the aggressive, muscular visage it presents – especially in the black the vehicle allocated to me was painted.
On paper its power and torque stats look decent but being a naturally aspirated engine, nothing much happens before 4 500 r/min when the ponies kick in and gallop along until they slow to a canter at 6 400 r/min. It’s also not helped by an eight-speed torque converter gearbox that feels sluggish relative to other autoboxes on offer in this segment.
Then there’s its mass. It weighs 1 726kg fully topped up with the requisite fluids. That’s over 110kg more than the BMWs and the RC 350 pays the price in both acceleration – it’s claimed 6,3 sec 0-100 km/h is almost half a second off the 428i – and handling. That extra half ton was clearly noticeable through the Franschhoek pass. Its steering is also not what you’d expect in a performance car. Turn in is pretty sharp, especially when the Dynamic Rear Steering system kicks in causing and whip it around a corner, but there’s not nearly enough feel through electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering.
Rather oddly, the underpinnings of the RC range are a little Frankensteinian too, with the front end coming from the Lexus GS, the centre from the IS C convertible, and the rear courtesy of the IS sedan. With with the rest of the premium motoring world adopting a single (usually scalable) platform, this is a bit of a head scratcher.
So… very little reason to choose the RC 350 then?
It is if you are looking for an out-and-out performance coupe. However, if you are looking for an accomplished GT coupe that will effortlessly eat up the miles, then this starts to make a little more sense.
Our route also took in some well-cambered, rolling hills and national roads, and here the RC 350 really came into its own. As standard, it features Lexus’s Drive Mode Select that works with the Adaptive Variable Suspension system and even in Sport mode provides you with a very well-damped chassis. The ride is excellent despite big 19-inch wheels and low-profile rubber. It is pliant enough to remain settled over some of our uneven road surfaces, but still stiff enough to be considered a sports car.
A big tick in the RC 350’s favour is how well it is specced. This derivative is only available in F Sport trim and everything is standard – from its leather interior, power-adjustable driver and passenger seats, eight-way power steering column adjustment, eight airbags, speaker audio system with Advanced Bluetooth and USB input, and StaNav with a seven-inch multimedia display, to a reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, Parking sonar front and rear, and Lane Departure Alert.
Of course there’s also the card all these new Lexus play… the fact that it’s different. It is the alternative choice to the default Germans and you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy a large degree of exclusivity on SA roads. Sure, their avantgarde new “L-finesse” design language isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I like it. As the RC shows, it works particularly well in a performance car execution with the combination of angled facets and arced curves giving the RC 350 a hunkered-down, sporty persona.
To sum up then: It gets a “adequate” in the quick and responsive column, but a “very good” in the comfortable GT cruiser one.
Then there’s the “Elephant in The Room” question…
One can’t end the RC range’s SA introduction without mentioning the RC F Sport. “What about the RC F?” was certainly a question we all asked. The answer, unfortunately, is that the mighty kW, 5,0-litre V8-powered version will not be available here. According to Lexus SA, they could not bring it in at a price that would make it viable.
The good news is that there is a performance halo-model Lexus on the horizon. “Watch this space” was their comment. My money’s on it being a new Lexus IS F.
Toward the end of the year, a second RC derivative will arrive in SA – the cheaper RC 200t – that will feature the same 2,0-litre turbopetrol engine that debuted in their NX SUV crossover.