Driven: 2015 Lexus RC F

Written by Shaun Keenan | Photos by David Dewhurst on .

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The LFA Supercar is one heck of a car that, for a few short years, fulfilled its duty as the pinnacle of Lexus high-performance. Well out of the price range for most new car buyers, I would have given my left testicle – kidney at least – just to drive it for a few minutes, but it never materialized.

The RC series is the new, aggressive face of Lexus, and the RC F succeeds the LFA as the automaker’s halo product. More importantly, perhaps, company president and CEO Akio Toyoda believes that performance, not just luxury, will be the company’s guiding light for future product, and critical to the success of Lexus as a global luxury and performance brand.

Building on the higher-volume RC 350 and RC 350 F Sport rear-wheel-drive coupes, the RC F is a true high-performance luxury coupe that is lower, wider and longer than its cousins. Lexus Canada says it will account for 10 percent of all RC sales in the first year. The goal is 1,000 units.

From a design and engineering standpoint, Lexus wanted a platform that makes a statement at first sight – one that would stand up to badges such as AMG, M and RS. Using a GS section in the front for wide wheels, an IS C centre section for rigidity, IS rear section for a short rear overhang and GS suspension, bushings and other enhancements, the GS/IS underpinnings ensure the RC series is a sporty, aggressive and fun-to-drive platform.

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An all-wheel-drive version will also be available; and the RC 350 F Sport (RWD only) does have rear-wheel steering that adds up to two degrees of steering angle. It wasn’t at the launch event, but the RC F is already pretty impressive without it.

“It is designed for anybody to drive,” says Yukihiko Yaguchi, the car’s Chief Engineer. Yaguchi-san has been with Toyota and Lexus since 1977; and has been responsible for many key Lexus vehicles, including the original GS 400 and IS F.

Driven Lexus RC F PRNMAG 007The “F” in all this madness refers to the Fuji Speedway, which is where this car has been developed and refined just like its IS F and LFA predecessors. Of course, the Nürburgring Nordschleife was also important for benchmarking the RC F.

As the new flagship for Lexus, expect to see a lot of the RC F on TV, the Internet and in print. And, much like other performance flagships – the Acura NSX, Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Viper, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage, for example – expect to see raced-out versions of it competing around the world, too.

There are already six teams competing in Japan’s exciting Super GT Championship with a pair of RC Fs narrowly leading the eight-race 2014 championship over two GT-Rs and an NSX-GT with one race remaining. To date, four of the GT500-class victories belong to teams running the new RC F race car; and the 540-horsepower RC F GT Concept shown at the Geneva Motor Show last spring will soon provide even more customers factory support from Toyota/Lexus and its subsidiaries for other series’ worldwide in 2015.

For the everyday buyer, Lexus makes three key promises about the RC F: first is that it provides a feeling of limitless power; second, that it’s incredibly responsive; and, third, it comes with a visceral sound experience.

And it does deliver. Helping on that latter promise is the newly-developed five-litre V8, which mates with an eight-speed direct shift automatic that sends 467 horsepower and 389 lb-ft of torque through either a Torsen rear limited slip differential or torque vectoring differential (TVD). The latter is optional, and found on the RC F Performance Package model (for an extra $7,400) along with upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels, a carbon fibre roof, spoiler and trim that’s good for 6.6 kg in total weight reduction.

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As for the base RC F, the list of standard features and technologies on the $80,800 coupe is hardly basic – the car already comes with a uniquely-tuned suspension benchmarked on the Fuji Speedway, big Brembo brakes, 19-inch wheels with performance tires and a speed-activated rear spoiler.

In either configuration, the howling V8 sounds amazing, thanks to quad tailpipes inspired by the LFA supercar and active sound control technology on the intake side. The electronic, power-assisted, sport-tuned steering is quite amazing and provides precise feedback; the heated, leather-wrapped wheel with paddle shifters is the perfect size and has good weight to it. It’s even better on the racetrack where all the other elements come together to maximize driving fun.

The transmission boasts sequential operation and several driving modes, including M (or manual), Sport, Sport S+, as well as normal. Gear changes happen in a tenth of a second in M mode (using the paddles or the tiptronic shifter), while the Lexus G-AI shift control logic uses on-board G sensors to increase dynamic performance in the sport modes under high-load situations such as track days.

Furthermore, the engine and transmission cooling systems have been designed to increase track day suitability; and, the RC F is the world’s first vehicle available with a TVD, which electronically optimizes torque distribution to each rear wheel, regardless of throttle position.

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Unlike the standard Torsen diff, but similar to the driving modes, the TVD can be set to normal, slalom, track and expert modes, allowing the driver to fine-tune the vehicle dynamics integrated management (VDIM) system for the conditions. On the track, the TVD makes the car noticeably more predictable than the Torsen-equipped car, so it is certainly worth the extra money.

The RC F’s lack of a manual transmission may be considered an annoyance, however, the automatic is surprisingly good, impressing during the road test as well the 22-turn, 6.6-kilometre Monticello Motor Club road course where Lexus has been letting journalists flog on it for an entire week. The Brembo brakes provide good initial bite and resist fade well, but are showing signs of abuse from hard track use by my peers throughout the week.

Driven Lexus RC F PRNMAG 050The multi-coloured, adaptive instrumentation is inspired by the LFA and avionics, and adds all sorts of goodies like a digital stopwatch and lap timers, G-force and torque distribution meters and more. The standard seven-inch VGA centre multi-display makes it easy to interface with the vehicle, although it is set quite far back and low into the dash that it will be difficult for some to see the entire screen. The remote touchpad interface is extremely sensitive, but does get easier to control the more your fingers get used to it.

The RC F-specific seats are comfy and supportive for cruising or spirited driving, whether in the heat of summer or throes of winter. A host of comfort and convenience technologies, including a new climate control system and 17-speaker Mark Levinson Clari-Fi audio system, combine to make the interior a wonderful place to spend time. Standard safety features on the car include a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, pre-collision, eight SRS airbags and more.

The 2015 RC F is undoubtedly the best Lexus I have ever driven. It’s miles better than the original 2007 IS F sedan, and its light years ahead of the original Spectra Mica Blue 1998 GS400 sedan my friend loaned me while I was in town after the New York auto show last April. Whereas the latter feels like you’re rolling around town on a big, purple, puffy couch, the RC F is a proper GT car with a bright future on the road and in racing circles. So bright, in fact, that Lexus had to make it available in Solar Flare Orange so that all will see it coming.

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It’s amazing to see how far Lexus has come in its 16 years. That said, with its spiritual links to Toyota and the automaker’s performance and racing heritage, there is one key entry on the list of halo cars I mentioned near the top that I am bubbling over with anticipation to have come back into production.

And that’s the next generation Toyota Supra, which I believe Toyoda-san and company have been hiding in plain sight in the form of the Toyota FT-1 Concept since its unveiling at last year’s Detroit auto show.

It is only a matter of time before the elite assassin returns from its exile (now 13 years and counting), as this Future Toyota (hence FT) is already available to test drive virtually in Gran Turismo 6 on the Sony PlayStation. I will be completely shocked and utterly disappointed if that doesn’t happen by 2017, but the RC F will certainly help tide people over until that does happen.

A wise Yoda once said: “Always two there are. A master and an apprentice.” But which one is the apprentice.

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ESSENTIALS
2015 Lexus RC F
Base Price: $80,800
Engine: 5.0L V8
Horsepower: 467 hp
Torque: 389 lb-ft
Dry Weight: 1,795 kg
Configuration: FR
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport (275/35 R19 front, 255/30 R19 rear)
Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy. / comb.): 15.2 / 9.5 / 12.6 L/100 km
Warranty (mos / km): 36 / unlimited

By the Numbers
$173.20/hp (base MSRP)
93.4 hp/L (engine displacement)
293.4 hp/ton (horsepower to weight)
12.6 L 100/km (combined rating)

Notable options: Performance package ($7,400) – Torque Vectoring Differential, 19-in. forged wheels, carbon fibre trim, carbon fibre roof, carbon fibre spoiler.

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