Two door, 2+2 seats, V8 or turbo six engine, race bred paddle shift auto transmission, and a note that will rattle windows in exclusive suburbs. They are the ingredients for the most exciting versions of European high performance coupes. But the menu starts with a razor-sharp chassis and suspension that is known for keeping tyres glued to the road in any conditions. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have that in spades, and the difference is usually measured in something less than seconds on a race track. So far BMW has the bragging rights with its M4 supercoupe – it’s the quickest of the bunch on any given surface.
But, apart from the freakish Nissan GT-R which will show them all a set of taillights on the track, there was nothing from Japan to take these guys on. Until this, and it’s from an unlikely entrant in this sector - Lexus.
The Lexus performance line is known as the F range (after Fuji International Raceway), and it’s taking the brand from a retiree’s favourite to a serious contender in the performance stakes. It’s clearly working, as 31.7 per cent of current Lexus sales are F Sport variants. That’s why Lexus took on a key role in V8 Supercars a year or so ago. Two of the brand new RC F’s were the pace cars for the championship, an IS 350 F Sport the medical car, and a GS the course car for various official duties. With this level of involvement, Lexus aimed for 1,500 guests ride in these cars during the year. It means Lexus can have a V8 Supercar experience without having to develop a V8 Supercar.
The RC F is far more than a coupe version of the IS R Sports Sedan. It’s a new chassis, new drivetrain, suspension, and even the 5- litre V8 has been essentially rebuilt, with only the block making it across unscathed. RC F has new pistons, rings, conrods, crankshaft, main bearing and caps, intake and exhaust manifold and valvetrain, and cylinder head and cover. It has gained electric motor driven VVT, an alternator clutch system and engine and transmission oil coolers.
The high compression quad-cam engine churns out a healthy 351kW of power at 7,300rpm and 530Nm of torque between 4,800 and 5,600rpm, all accompanied by a tuned exhaust system that benefits from the absence of a turbocharger muffling the V8 snarl. Very un-Lexus. Drive is enhanced by an 8-speed sports transmission and what Lexus claims is the first active torque vectoring system on a front engine, rear wheel drive car. If you want to get really serious, there’s a “Carbon” version, which drops nearly 10 kgs off the weight, and gives the car an even more aggressive appearance.
The car’s dynamics are managed by three settings for suspension, steering and transmission, and on a drive around the Mt Panorama track I got to try them all at flat out speeds. From Normal through to Sport and then Sport Plus, the RC F tightened up, became more responsive and delivered outstanding road feel, particularly up through the cutting and over Skyline. The V8 has a classic – and very un-Japanese - roar about it on full throttle, and at certain points it felt more stable than one of the high performance Germans I drove around the track a few years ago.
For a car with such a performance emphasis, Lexus hasn’t skimped on interior trim or features. The cabin is clearly premium grade, with leather accented seats front and rear, shaped for performance support. The centre console and dash surrounds are contoured to indicate purpose rather than pizzaz, and the instrumentation can be as minimal or detailed as you want to select on the menu screen, which is controlled by a touch pad alongside the transmission selector lever combined with buttons on the steering wheel.
But it’s on the road where the RC F’s Lexus connection is least felt. Unlike some of its competitors, the suspension is not adjustable, so it’s set with track work firmly in its sights. No Lexus has ever left the showroom with so harsh a ride before. The target market will mostly like it, but if you only intend to drive your RC F on a commute, you might get a bit tired of it. Mind you, the car does has a vertical G sensor, so if you get it airborne over the odd railway bridge or crest, the brakes will compensate when you finally come down to ground! However, when you feel like driving, there is no substitute for the limpet-like grip this Lexus conjours up with its combination of technology and geometry.
Lexus boss Sean Hanley planned on selling around a dozen RC Fs a month. But with international releases spreading the tech details around for several months now, Lexus already had over 60 orders for the car before release.
This is one Lexus that will be on a bucket list rather than a shopping list.
LEXUS RC F; RC F Carbon
Price: $133,500; $147,500
Engine: 5-litre Naturally Aspirated V8, combined Atkinson/Otto cycle
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic