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PORT SHEPSTONE, KwaZulu-Natal  – A razor-sharp howl rattles my eardrums as we arrive at Dezzi Raceway. Conducting the atmospheric V8-led orchestra with his right foot is none other than South African racing legend Giniel de Villiers who, with a deft flick of the tiller, adds some tyre squeal to the ensemble as he clears the corner and powers onto the main straight. 

With lunch fast approaching, I wonder whether having a meal is a sensible idea before climbing behind the wheel of the most-hardcore RC F model. But that thought quickly leaps to the back of my mind as the strikingly styled coupé enters the pits and I make acquaintance with the RC F Track Edition.

Purposeful, sharp design

Dressed in White Nova paintwork, the RC F Track Edition is easily distinguishable from the standard darker-hued RC F derivatives (which are waiting in the wings at Dezzi Raceway), with its visible carbon-fibre-reinforced-plastic bonnet adding to the menacing design. 

Based on parent company Toyota's N platform – interestingly comprising the GS saloon’s front-end, previous-generation IS cabriolet’s middle (for increased rigidity) and the latest IS sedan’s rear – the RC F Track Edition sports a shorter wheelbase than the IS. But make no mistake, measuring 4,7 metres long, this is a large sportscar. 

Weighing around 1 650 kg – note the Track Edition tips the scales at 80 kg less than the standard RC F thanks to various weight-saving measures – it is not insubstantial by any means.

For its most hardcore RC F, Lexus has jettisoned the original roof (which includes a sunroof) for a carbon-fibre item. At the rear, a fixed wing fashioned from the same lightweight material has replaced the retractable spoiler for improved aerodynamics and downforce. Also aiding in the latter is a bespoke carbon-fibre front splitter.

Red and ready

With lunch now a thing of the past, I clip the racing helmet into place and climb into the RC F Track Edition’s Flare Red cabin. The model-specific interior is a special place, with the door handles and facia featuring carbon-fibre accents with red highlights. The bucket seats (covered in semi-aniline leather and Alcantara) look and feel great; they're both comfortable and supportive. 

I tweak the thick, manually adjustable steering wheel (the tamer RC F’s electrically adjustable item has been ditched to further save weight and, as the instructor told me, add to the car’s track-bred persona). In mere seconds, I dial in my preferred driving position. 

Taking a quick glance round the interior, I notice the beautiful analogue clock below the infotainment screen. Although being the track-focused variant, thus model does not want for convenience features, with a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, dual-zone climate control and cruise control on the list of standard equipment. 

Now seated as pleasingly close to the ground as the driver's pew allows, I’m ready to engage the ignition. But before pressing said button, I have to mention the naturally aspirated engine sited in front of me.

Lexus’ most powerful V8

Yes, this engine does have racing pedigree, although not where you might expect. Another vehicle that makes use of this mill, albeit a regulated version, is the Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux bakkie, one of which won the 2019 Dakar Rally. 

In this application, however, it is the most powerful 5,0-litre V8 the firm has produced. Coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, 351 kW and 530 N.m of torque are directed to the rear rubber. The RC F Track Edition rides on 19-inch lightweight alloys, wrapped in specially designed Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres fore and aft. 

I reach for the ignition. A thunderous roar escapes the titanium exhaust system and enters the cockpit. In a world where forced induction has become the norm and emissions regulations have resulted in, ahem, toned-down exhaust notes, the sonorous atmospheric engine makes me grin. 

Back on track, literally

With the driving mode switched to sport, I move the stubby gearlever to "drive" and turn onto Dezzi Raceway. Although the suspension is firm, it's by no means unbearable.

The digital rev-counter, which Lexus says was inspired by the LFA supercar’s, looks video-game-like, with its needle raising as I head towards a sweeping right hander. I apply the large Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes (the most expensive item Lexus has fitted to the Track Edition) and turn in. The sticky Michelin rubber does a good job of keeping the rear in line. 

Negotiating a narrow track such as Dezzi Raceway, especially when attempting to extract the most from a sportscar of the RC F’s mass, can be tricky. And although the Track Edition does feel its size, it's more nimble than I expect. 

As I make a swift right turn onto the main straight, the instructor turns the centre console-mounted dial to "sport+". I pin the throttle. Hard braking, followed by another right turn results in some oversteer but I quickly recover and aim the reworked spindle grille at the next corner. This is oodles of fun.

Summary

It's clear this RC F derivative does what it says on the box. Compared with the standard model, the Track Edition is the more focused proposition, while still being perfectly capable of playing the role of daily driver. Indeed, it's comfortable sportscar with which to live. You can drive to a track day, thrash it on a circuit (without voiding the warranty, says Lexus SA) and stop at the shops on your way home. 

Priced at R2 098 000, the Track Edition commands a R779 900 premium over the standard RC F. To some, this price tag may be too much to stomach, as there are other German sportscars (though not quite as track-focused as this) costing considerably less. But that's fine. The Lexus will retain its exclusivity, making it even more special. And when it's spotted in traffic, it'll turn the heads of even those driving the aforementioned German rivals. 

JOHANNESBURG – Facts and figures aside, one of the reasons the automotive world remains such an intriguing space is the unquantifiable levels of emotional attachment placed on everything; from a poster mounted on a bedroom or workshop wall to a proposed purchase. While the match-up boxes and comprehensive road test summaries featured across CARs platforms are purposed to assist with making a final decision on where to spend your hard-earned money, no amount of research or comparative fact-checking can replace the emotion of opening your garage door to the sight of a car that simply makes you feel great.

Long-time proponents of sensory appeal, Lexus may not sell a lot of cars monthly in South Africa. Yet, boasting a 70 percent retention rate of satisfied customers, you can be sure those who do opt for the badge denoting the luxury division of Toyota definitely enjoy opening their garage doors in the morning.

This is also likely the rationale behind keeping the mid-cycle updates granted to modern Lexus offerings like the striking RC coupé subtle rather than radical.

Introduced in 2015, the RC’s sleek and elegant two-door stance still does well to hide this model’s somewhat complex underpinnings (a hybrid of GS, IS C and IS platforms). By incorporating the outgoing model’s distinct L-shaped LED driving lights within the updated model’s revised headlamp cluster, Lexus aims to strengthen the lineage between the RC and its larger LC sibling. While newly designed 19-inch alloy wheels and minor modifications to the rear bumper ‒ reducing both the overall length and rear overhang ‒ add further distinction, those with a bold sense of style can now opt for a Lava Orange paint finish (one of 10 colour options).

Updates to the interior include new instrumentation and a fresh focus on the look and feel of materials. While perceived build quality is first class, the brand’s overly fussy infotainment system controls remain a black mark within this car’s interior package. Where previously black was the only available trim colour, owners can now choose between mustard, flare red and white leather.

In refining its local line-up – and in anticipation of the more hardcore RC F and RC F Track models arriving in SA later in 2019 – Lexus South Africa has discontinued the RC300 EX offering, focusing solely on the RC350 F Sport derivative. Here the brand’s 3,5-litre 2GR-FKS naturally aspirated V6 engine delivers 232 kW and 380 N.m of torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Viewed in isolation, these figures make for relatively promising reading, but a closer look at the RC F Sport’s specifications reveals an astonishing claimed gross-vehicle mass of 2,1 tonnes.

From a brilliantly comfortable driver’s seat that I would have loved to have dropped further than its lowest setting, the RC F Sport feels every bit as solid as that claimed mass figure suggests; yet, not necessarily in a bad way. Yes, there are certainly rivals within the RC’s lofty price bracket ‒ including the Audi S5 coupé ‒ which feel discernibly lighter on their feet and capable of showing the Lexus a clean pair of heels but there is something to be said for the sense of occasion and surefootedness the beautifully crafted RC delivers. That said, it’s on an open-road cruise where the F Sport feels most at home, away from the optimistic promises offered by sport and sport+ driving modes (the latter corresponds with a firmer damper setting). Instead, enjoy the car’s well-insulated cabin and relative comfort afforded by a new intuitive adaptive variable suspension (AVS) arrangement.

While the facts and figures suggest the updated RC faces a battle to compete with rivals at this price point, what those performance stats don’t consider is the sense of individual style and flair, backed up by rock-solid build quality and enviable levels of reliability (including a seven-year/105 000 km maintenance plan), the Lexus brings to the party. Theres also little to want for in terms of standard specification.

I almost hope Lexus continues to sell cars like the RC in small volumes because it’s so much more of an occasion for fellow road users when you sporadically spot one in traffic...

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