Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fast and Orange: 2015 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport

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 The all-new Lexus RC coupe is about the size of a Ford Mustang, but without all of the pony car heritage to go with it. It combines luxury with sporty intentions and delivers an aggressive package unlike anything else in the Lexus lineup. You could think of it as a true alternative to the Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series.

     Unlike the other automakers, the Lexus RC isn't just a 2-door version of a sedan. Instead, it is a blend of different elements put together for luxury coupe duty. The nose, for example, comes from the larger GS, while the center section comes from the IS convertible, and the rear comes from the new IS sedan.

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     This results in a car that is about 2 inches longer compared to the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series coupes. The engine is the standard 3.6 liter V6 that feeds directly to an 8-speed automatic, unless you opt for all-wheel drive, then it feeds directly to a 6-speed automatic. Rated at 306 horsepower, the V6 is the only option unless you opt for the RC-F, then you get a V8.

     There are 2 versions of the RC 350 offered: The base RC 350, and the RC 350 F-Sport. The F-sport package includes an adaptive suspension package, 19-inch wheels and tires, sport seats with contrasting stitching, and digital instruments that Lexus says was inspired by the LFA.

     One step higher than the RC 350 is the RC F. That beast is powered by a 5.0 liter V8 that thumps out 467 horsepower, and is mated to a 8-speed Direct Shift transmission. I feel that the RC F is different enough to warrant it's own review, so stay tuned for that review.

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 There is a certain elegance to the way the V6 delivers its punch. It doesn't have enough power to truly overwhelm the chasis, but you can certainly build speed rather quickly if you aren't being careful. It's almost to easy going and the wide ratios of the 8-speed auto transmission mean that the engine is barely operating at higher than idle, up to about half-throttle.

     Leave the traction control and suspension settings in normal, and the RC 350 feels like it is singing bumps and lullabies to the road. It is more composed than a Mustang, but it also seems like it is asleep, like it doesn't want to be woken up to play.

     Its subdued nature doesn't mean that it isn't capable when you give it some gas. The variable-ratio steering comes alive as speed builds, and in Sport mode the suspension begins to tell you almost exactly what is going on. The chasis feels neutral, the tail nor nose feel like they want to wag, even when speeds go beyond legal.

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     By using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, it's easy to keep the V6 near its 4,800 rpm peak. However, there is only 277 pound feet of torque to keep the 3,800 lb car at speed, so there never is quite enough power to overwhelm you.

     It isn't a super fast car. the 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds is decent, but hardly enough to light the charts on fire. The quarter mile saunters by in 14.3 seconds at 99 mph, or the rough times of a Mustang or V6-powere Camaro. The 0.86g on the skidpad is also modest. Braking was solid overall, with short distances and not much fade to report.

     As you may have come to expect from a Lexus, almost every element of the RC 350's interior is well considered and perfectly stitched together. A wide center console defines the driving experience and divides the cockpit between occupants. A conventional shifter lies alongside the knob that adjusts the suspension, while a trackpad for the navigation and entertainment systems sits just behind it. When you throw in the straight forward instrumentation, and you feel like you are in a series driving situation.

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     The trackpad works well for operating most of the a/c, navigation and entertainment systems. It is an interesting alternative to all of the knobs and switches and buttons you might find on other vehicles in this class. Still, there is somewhat of a learning curve to all of the menus and options that you have.

     In contrast, the display directly in front of the driver is simple to the extreme. It does without a conventional speedometer in favor of a digital one.

     As for most coupes, the rear seat is only really useful for short trips. However, the front seats are among some of the best in the business. They are adjustable in an almost infinite number of ways, and comfortable in just about every way as well. It's luxurious and without being pretentious or over-decorated.

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The EPA rates the RC 350 at 19 city/28 highway for a combined number of 22. I observed 24 mpg during testing. There is an ECO mode that you can try, but i didn't observe a huge increase in numbers compared to standard or Sport.

     If you have just shipped the last of your brood off to college and feel the need to treat yourself to a 2-door coupe, the RC 350 is a softer, gentler easier going machine than many of the other choices in this class. It's luxurious first, sporty second, and good looking in many ways. The F-Sport adds a dose of masculinity to the car's personality that is rather attractive.

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