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May 2, 2015

2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

by Mark Savage

Great-looking Lexus RC 350 packs performanceLexus profile1

Lexus cars always look luxurious, rarely racy, until now. Lexus stylists have cranked up their angular mojo to create their first truly sporty looking sports coupe – the RC 350.

I’ve read or heard all sorts of jawing from other car writers that the RC isn’t racy enough, sits too high, has too big and bulgy of wheel wells, won’t break the sound barrier, etc. Let me tell you that’s hogwash – except the sound barrier thing.

First, the RC is exceptionally good looking with a rakish stance, sleek sloping windshield and roofline, extreme spindle grille that Lexus has made its trademark of late, and slim beautifully sculpted lights front and rear along with fins on the lower rear bodywork. Plus those twin exhausts sound pretty sweet. Yes, this baby would look fast in a car wash!

Speed, handling, ride and performance are all first rate.

lexus tailOne could argue that this isn’t as track worthy as an off-the-truck Porsche, but it’s a street racer of distinction. And by that I mean it’s plenty fast, sounds like it means business and handles like a high-end sports coupe. It’s not an $80 to $100 grand racer, it’s a $42,700 sports coupe and as tested with the F Sport package and other goodies, hits $54,815. That’s not cheap, but it’s not so pricy you’ve got to sell the house and kids.

Power is generous. A typically smooth Lexus 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing and direct and port injection gives the RC 350 its oomph. Officially it creates 306 horsepower and 277 ft.-lbs. of torque. Because the Lexus is refined, not a beast, its engineers provide it with Drive Mode Select, allowing the driver the option of Eco mode to save fuel (it drinks premium), Normal, or Sport. The later keeps rpm up as it holds lower gears longer to boost acceleration.

RPM jump considerably in Sport mode and the car is a blue streak (the test car was a bright metallic Ultrasonic Blue Mica) away from stoplights. In normal mode it’s quick, but not nearly as racy.lexus profile

Because of the $3,985 F Sport package this one also had a Sport+ setting to further enhance its “track” performance, if you DO care to take it racing. Other goodies in the package include sportier looking front bumper and grille, 19-inch F Sport wheels and R19 summer tires to offer better grip, a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, a changeable instrument cluster, heated and cooled F Sport seats up front wrapped in leather, a leather steering wheel and shift knob along with aluminum floor pedals and a power steering column.

Oddly the F Sport does not include a flat-bottom steering wheel, which would help its inner racy appearance considerably.

Making the car handle well is a sport-tuned suspension. The basic layout is double wishbone front and multi-link rear. Thankfully the car feels sporty without being punishing. This model comes down closer to the performance side than luxury though, where the small sporty Lexus IS sedan and convertible have always leaned more heavily toward luxury.

lexus nose1Steering effort is moderate and feel is not as crisp as a BMW, but still quite precise in all modes. Braking comes from big Brembo brakes that quickly slow and stop the coupe and the car’s 8-speed automatic shifts efficiently and smoothly.

While riders and friends oohed and aahed over the car’s gorgeous blue paint scheme, just $595 extra, the interior didn’t garner as much appreciation, although it’s comfortable and relatively quiet, considering this emphasizes performance over fluffy pillow seats.

These seats are perforated black leather, a bit on the flat gray side, with lighter gray stitching. The seats are extremely supportive with good side bolsters top and bottom and both front seats are powered. The driver gets three memory settings for that seat and power lumbar, as you’d expect. I wasn’t impressed though, with the magnetic strap on the seats’ door side. This was to hold the seatbelt in place so a person could reach it easily, but the strap constantly came loose creating a rib crunching reach back for the belt.

Trim was a bright carbon fiber tweed metallic look that brightens the interior some and there’s a touch on the passenger’s side dash too. The headliner is black, but there’s a small sunroof up there, another $1,100 option. That lets a little light into the attractive, although somewhat dim, interior.Lexus interior

Everything is well laid out and simple to see, with good climate control buttons and a radio volume and tuning knob. The test car added a fancy Mark Levinson premium sound system with 835 watts and 17 speakers for $2,610. That includes some other upgrades too, like a rearview camera. The stereo sounds great.

However the radio/nav screen is indented deeply into the dash’s top center portion and is not a touchscreen, as it would be hard to reach. That’s fine, but Lexus uses a horribly touchy quadrant style touch-pad on the console that is hard to use and awkwardly placed for short drivers.

I had to hold my right arm at an odd angle to get at it, and then the mouse’s cursor jumped willy-nilly around the screen like a demon bunny. Even tapping the touchpad to retrieve a pre-set (not easy) radio station once the cursor had landed on the correct screen icon was iffy. The cursor often moved to a different icon to call up the wrong station.lexus stack

These systems are particularly distracting when driving and should be used while the car is stopped. This would be a deal breaker for me if buying this car, and several friends agreed. Give me some real station buttons, please!

On the plus side the RC 350 offers its driver an adjustable instrument gauge pod. Press a button and the speedometer slides from the middle to the right and re-arranges the digital displays you see. Two choices, not waiting.

From a practical standpoint, and even a sports coupe must deliver some practicality, there is good cargo room for a couple suitcases and sundries. The rear seat splits and folds for increased cargo capacity too. And let’s face it, the rear seat is cramped so only two of you will be traveling any distance in this coupe.

Gas mileage is so-so and the RC drinks premium fuel. I got 21.8 mpg in about 60% city driving and the EPA rates this at 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. You don’t buy a sports coupe for its gas mileage rating though.

Love the angular lights and expressive styling of the nose and tail.

Love the angular lights and expressive styling of the nose and tail.

If you prefer lower gas mileage and much more power, the RC F is available starting at $63,325, including delivery. The F comes with a mighty 5.0-liter V8 that creates 467 horsepower and is rated 16 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. But you will be much faster and more likely to succeed on a race track.

Yet at $42-45 grand the RC is an attractive buy and means for us non-competitive drivers an RC with only a few frills will do the job. It’s plenty fast in that mode and a head-turning coupe too.

FAST Stats: 2015 Lexus RC 350

Hits: Exceptional styling, fast, nimble handling, excellent brakes and moderately sporty ride. Adjustable power mode. Supportive seats, attractive interior, sunroof, blind-spot warning and rearview camera. Good cargo room.

Misses: Horribly touchy touch-pad radio/nav adjustment on console, lame seatbelt restraint on side of seatback to hold belt within reach, no racy flat-bottom steering wheel and drinks premium gas.

Made in: Japanlexus nose

Engine: 3.5-liter VVT-i V6, 306 hp

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Weight: 3,894* lbs.

Wheelbase: 107.5 in.

Length: 184.8 in.

Cargo: 10.4 cu.ft.

MPG: 19/28(EPA)

MPG: 21.8 (tested)

Base Price: $42,790

Dealer’s Price: $40,721 (includes delivery)

Major Options:

Fog lamps, $410

F Sport package (F Sport front bumper & spindle grille, 19-inch F Sport wheels, R19 summer tires, blind spot monitor w/rear cross-traffic alert, TFT instrument clustr, heated/ventilated front F Sport seats, perforated leather steering wheel/shifter, black headliner, alum. pedals, power steering column adaptive variable suspension & Sport + mode), $3,985

Nav system/Mark Levinson prem. Audio w/17 speakers, 835 watts, backup camera, remote touchpad controller, Lexus Enform Destinations and App Suite, voice command, Lexus Insider, $2,610

Intuitive parking assist, $500

Special paint, $595

Moonroof, $1,100

Variable gear ratio steering, $1,900

Delivery: $925

Test vehicle: $54,815

Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com and *Car and Driver

Photos: Mark Savage

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