Gen­tle­man racer

Lexus de­parts from the lux­ury lounge to take a re­fined route to the track — and a sooth­ing ride home af­ter­wards

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - PE­TER BARN­WELL pe­ter.barn­well@news.com.au

YOU wouldn’t ex­pect a Lexus to cut it at the race­track be­cause they are all about lux­ury driv­ing, right?

Not ac­cord­ing to Lexus. The Ja­panese brand says its top of the range RC F coupe can be used for track days in the same way you’d use a BMW M3 or M4 or a Benz C63AMG S.

The brand is also build­ing a bit of a rac­ing pedi­gree in Ja­panese GT, Ger­man GT3 and Pikes Peak.

The com­pany’s en­gi­neers say the RC F has been de­signed to be durable “for con­tin­u­ous cir­cuit driv­ing’’.

That was like wav­ing a red flag at a bull, so we got hold of an RC F and took it to Wake­field Park race­track for a spot of track­ing.

On pa­per, the $133,110 RC F looks un­suited to track work, es­pe­cially with its 1800kg weight and eight-speed Di­rect Shift auto trans­mis­sion.

But for the doubters they are bal­anced by a 351kW/530Nm V8, 380mm front brakes with six-pot Brembo brakes, sticky Miche­lin Pi­lot rub­ber, a torquevec­tor­ing dif­fer­en­tial and mul­ti­ple trans­mis­sion, sus­pen­sion and steer­ing set­tings.

Other track day par­tic­i­pants were scep­ti­cal about the sexy Ja­panese coupe, un­til they were rounded up down the straight and also, sur­pris­ingly, un­der brakes and around some of the cor­ners.

We spent time di­alling-in the RC F through its var­i­ous driv­ing modes and set­tled on Sport S+ in “Slalom”. There’s one more set­ting called “Ex­pert” where the sta­bil­ity con­trol is turned off, but that proved a tad slower due to loss of drive out of some cor­ners.

With a bit of sta­bil­ity con­trol on, you can use the full power of the V8 out of cor­ners with­out wor­ry­ing about time-wast­ing tail-out over­steer.

The en­gine per­co­lated sweetly all day dur­ing some 40 or 50 laps of Wake­field but used a con­sid­er­able amount of fuel. That’s to be ex­pected when you keep the 5.0-litre up around the red­line much of the time.

Lexus claims the RC F will achieve 10.9-litres/100km driven nor­mally.

Though it sounds im­pres­sive in­side the car, spin­ning out to 7300rpm, the ex­haust note out­side is be­nign.

The en­gine is a beau­ti­ful piece of en­gi­neer­ing but Lexus might have kept a bit too much in hand. Why not go the whole hog and crank out 368kW (500hp) in­stead of stop­ping at 351?

Run­ning a high 12.3:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio, it has race­car en­gine in­ter­nals in­clud­ing strong forged steel con­rods, spe­cial fuel in­jec­tors, vari­able cam tim­ing and other high-end bits and pieces. Oil cool­ers are fit­ted to the en­gine and trans­mis­sion.

It’s a Yamaha de­sign that started in the ear­lier IS F sedan and was mod­i­fied for the RC F.

From a dy­namic stand­point, there’s no ig­nor­ing that 1800kg bulk but the car man­ages to gather it­self and main­tain tidy laps when pushed hard.

The dampers and springs fur­nish a rel­a­tively flat stance through cor­ners and re­sist pitch­ing un­der brakes.

The eight-speed auto feels like a dual-clutch manu­matic of­fer­ing sharp changes up and down the range with the throt­tle blip­ping as you work down the ra­tios.

It has di­rect steer­ing which al­lows ac­cu­rate place­ment on the track at the limit and the brakes are sen­sa­tional. Lexus used parts of three dif­fer­ent mod­els to cre­ate the RC F chas­sis — GS, IS and IS F.

It works, pro­duc­ing a rigid plat­form for this classy, lux­ury four-seater coupe.

It’s all lim­ited some­what by street tyres and in­ap­pro­pri­ate wheel align­ment but when you start chang­ing those, you di­min­ish a car’s nor­mal road driv­ing feel.

Track­ing the RC F was a hoot and the car was none the worse for the ex­er­cise.

The RC F is not quite as track-ori­ented as its Ger­man com­peti­tors, but it leaves them in its wake when you drive home in lux­ury lis­ten­ing to the 17-speaker Mark Levin­son au­dio, lux­u­ri­at­ing in ven­ti­lated soft leather seats and en­joy­ing high-end cabin am­bi­ence with next to no noise.

VER­DICT

Much bet­ter than ex­pected. Made quite a few de­trac­tors eat their words.

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