BUCKET LIST DRIVE: 1970 Renault R8 Gordini
BLACK is not usually the paint colour that best highlights a car’s aesthetics. It works on the Lexus RC, though. The unflattering neon lighting in Cape Town International Airport’s multi-storey parkade bounces and scatters off the brooding Lexus, emphasising the blend of angled facets and arced curves that is Lexus’ L-finesse design language. Arriving to pick up our press vehicles at the South African launch of the RC 350 F Sport, it was this Starlight Black version that I swiftly annexed.
A quick scan of the launch route indicated we’d be heading along the R44 False Bay coastal road through Pringle Bay before cutting across country and ending in wine country via the Franschhoek Pass. It was a route any performance car would love … if it were up to scratch.
On paper, the RC 350 appears to be a tough sell in our market. Employing the same 3,5-litre quad-cam V6 petrol found in its GS sibling, the RC 350 is good for 233 kw and 378 N.m. Those aren’t bad stats, until you see the price: R730 900. Compare the Lexus with its natural rivals in terms of performance and you’re looking at either a BMW 428i or an Audi A5 3,0T FSI, both of which are significantly cheaper; assess the competitors in terms of price and the more powerful BMW 435i and Audi S5 come into contention. Perhaps the cheaper 2,0-litre turbopetrol-equipped RC 200t – due here before year-end – will make more financial sense.
Indeed, as a performance car, the RC 350 won’t blow your hair back. The power and torque figures aren’t exactly measly, but without turbocharging on the V6 engine, nothing much happens before 4 500 r/min when the ponies kick in and gallop along until they slow
Lexus’ striking coupé doesn’t quite deliver in the performance stakes, but that doesn’t make it a bad car
to a canter at 6 400 r/min. It’s also not helped by an eight-speed torque-converter transmission that feels a tad sluggish.
Then there’s its mass. We had the vehicle on test following the launch and weighed it at 1 726 kg fully topped up with the requisite fluids, making it some 110 kg heavier than the BMW 428i. As a result, the RC 350 pays the price in both standing-start acceleration – the quickest time in which we could reach 100 km/h on our test strip was 7,19 seconds – and handling where that extra mass was clearly noticeable through Franschhoek Pass.
Its steering, too, is underwhelming for a performance car. Turn-in is pretty sharp, especially when the Dynamic Rear Steering system kicks in, but there’s not enough feel through the wheel.
Perhaps the fault lies with the Frankensteinian underpinnings; the front-end is from the GS, the centre from the IS C convertible and the rear courtesy of the IS sedan. With the rest of the premium motoring world adopting single (usually scalable) platforms, this is a head-scratcher.
So, there’s very little reason to choose the RC 350, then?
Not exactly. If you’re looking for an accomplished GT that will effortlessly eat up the miles, the RC starts to make more sense.
Our route also took in some well-cambered B-roads and highways, and there the RC 350 acquitted itself well. As standard, it features Lexus’s Drive Mode Select that works in conjunction with the Adaptive Variable Suspension system and even in sport mode provides an excellent ride despite big 19-inch wheels and low-profile rubber.
A tick in the RC 350’s favour is how well specced it is. For now, there’s just this one derivative and seemingly every feature is standard, from supple leather trim on power-adjustable front seats, an electrically adjustable steering column, eight airbags, 10-speaker audio system and sat-nav displayed on a seven-inch multimedia display, to a reverse camera, parking sensors and lanedeparture warning.
Of course, there’s also the usual card Lexus’ play – the fact that they’re different. The L-finesse design language works particularly well on a two-door shape and this striking car is a welcome alternative to the default Germans. You’re pretty much guaranteed exclusivity on South African roads. It therefore gets an “adequate” rating in the dynamics column, but “very good” in the distinctive cruiser one.
ABOVE: the stop, rear licence, turn-signal, exterior mirrors and puddle lamps all feature LED technology. BELOW: traditional instruments have been replaced with an eight-inch TFT LCD screen. There’s also a seven-inch display screen centrally mounted on the dashboard. OPPOSITE: the RC’S spindle grille is the widest and lowest of all Lexus’ models.