How many F Sports does it take to convince the rest of the automotive industry that you’re serious about performance? According to Lexus, the answer is four plus one more, the hardcore RC F coupe that joins F Sport editions of the IS sedan, the RX crossover, the GS sedan and, of course, the standard RC two-door.
In the luxury world, where marketing is at least as important as reality, I was curious to find out just how much sharper the F Sport models were compared to their standard cousins. A recent morning spent at the ICAR motorsports facility just outside of Montreal, Quebec, provided me with almost all of the answers to my questions. I say almost, because even though we asked nicely, Lexus wasn’t keen on us hooning the RX F Sport around a track.
STARTING AT THE TOP
It made sense to kick off my first session behind the wheel of the 2015 Lexus RC F, in the hopes that the most potent factory hot rod available from the brand would set the tone for the rest of the day. The RC F offers the same 5.0-litre V8 that was previously available with the now discontinued IS F sedan, only wrapped in a heavier, two-door package. I mention the weight of the Lexus coupe because it’s unavoidable: the overbuilt chassis (intended for a cancelled convertible model) informs every aspect of the car’s drive, especially in a high-performance setting.
That’s not to say the RC F (which retails for just over $80,000) is in any way unpleasant to pilot, even on a tight and technical course like the one found at ICAR. Its 467 horsepower and 389 lb-ft of torque make short work of the straights, and despite the presence of baked-in understeer the car’s suspension tuning and rear-wheel drive layout allow for precise turn-in and predictable body control through S-curves.
What’s missing from the Lexus’s impressive lap times is driver engagement. Modest steering feel (despite a weighty tiller) doesn’t allow for much communication between the car and the concrete below, and there’s no manual transmission option to be had with the coupe. I left the eight-speed automatic transmission in Sport+ mode and it performed admirably, but there are a pair of paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel if you feel like clicking up and down the ratios yourself.
A TRIO OF F SPORT SHENANIGANS
Next up on my list was the Lexus IS 350 F Sport. Although the sedan’s 3.5 litre V6 doesn’t receive any extra power with the addition of the F Sport package – output remains a steady 306 horses and 277 lb-ft of twist – it does gain more aggressive styling, better brakes and an adaptive suspension system not found on the RC F (which is essentially tuned to ‘hard’ all the time).
The all-wheel drive model I piloted was missing the variable-ratio steering that is available on rear-wheel-drive models, but it didn’t really matter: the amount of understeer dialed in to the F Sport’s all-wheel-drive system meant front tire feel wasn’t going to be much of calling card for the four-door model. That being said, even with AWD the IS 350 F Sport felt lighter and more tossable than the RC F, and – dare I say it? – a bit more fun as a result. It’s the classic case of lower limits making it easier to push the car hard and not pay a terrible price at a high rate of speed, something not possible with the balls-to-the-wall V8 of the eight-cylinder Lexus. Tires play a role here too, as the all-season rubber on the IS didn’t offer nearly the same amount of bite as the Pilot Super Sports on the RC F. Moving from the IS 350 F Sport AWD to the RC 350 F Sport was somewhat of a revelation. While the two-door was saddled with the same weight issue facing the RC F (almost 1,800 kilos at the curb), the addition of a passive rear wheel steering system to the same equipment list found with the sedan, combined with the absence of all-wheel-drive, really allowed the car’s chassis to come alive. This was particularly true when pivoting the car on throttle lift-off through tight, connected corners.
My final chariot at ICAR was the admittedly ponderous Lexus GS 350 F Sport AWD. Checking in at a hundred kilos more than the RC 350 F Sport and saddled with a taller greenhouse, it almost didn’t seem fair to back-to-back the mid-size GS sedan against its somewhat smaller siblings, especially given the pitching and rolling that wasn’t controllable even with its uprated F Sport suspension package. Still, were one to A-B it with, let’s say, an S-line Audi in a similar environment, the Lexus wouldn’t embarrass itself – it just might look a little flustered at the end of the session.
PICKING A FAVOURITE
With the same 306 horses as the IS, the RC 350 F Sport is in the somewhat awkward position of being slower to 100 km/h than its lighter sibling, despite its racier appearance. Nevertheless, out of all the cars I drove today it was the one that spoke to me the most clearly, and it was also the F Sport model that translated into the most ‘fun’ in a track environment. Would a lighter, rear-wheel drive IS 350 F Sport change my tune? It’s entirely possible, and I wish Lexus had brought one along for me to play with as the reduced mass may have trumped the RC 350 F Sport’s trick four-wheel steering.
I’m not saying the V6 edition of the coupe is in any way the quickest option for lapping a road course. That honour belongs to the mightier, and more focused RC F, and if you’re looking to set a lap record, then it’s the obvious choice of the group. In terms of putting a smile on your face, however, you could save yourself $20,000 off the retail price of the RC F and still feel good at the end of a track day or two with the more affordable RC 350 F Sport model.
BY THE NUMBERS
$206.51/HP (CALCULATED W/ MSRP)
5.8 KG/HP 1
0.7L/100 KM (DCT – OBSERVED)
2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport
BASE PRICE: $6,194
ENGINE: 3.5L V8
HORSEPOWER: 306 hp @ 6,400 rpm
TORQUE: 277 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
DRY WEIGHT: 1,770 kg
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY / HWY.): 12.4 / 8.4 L/100 km
WARRANTY: 48 / 80,000
ALTERNATIVES: BMW 435i, Mercedes-Benz C450 Coupe, Audi S5, Cadillac ATS Coupe