Stick Shift: 2015 Lexus RC

Image via Lexus.

Image via Lexus.

By: Brandon Randall

The new 2015 Lexus RC models are a much needed shot of life in a wilting line up caused by the retirement of the mighty ISF. With the new GSF taking on the role as the high performing four dour track star, and the former ISF now filling it’s days playing shuffle board and skyping with the grandkids from Florida, Lexus had a slot to fill in its roster. Thankfully, our much needed new player brings a lot to the team. With the same silky smooth V6 we learned to love with the IS350 and a high output, fire breathing RCF V8 option; Lexus hasn’t missed a beat.

From the outside it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t just a recycled IS minus a few doors. Lexus took it all the way back to the drawing board and on breaks made the design team binge read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Much like our flat headed friend, The RC is a three-piece puzzle comprised of GS, IS and IS-C parts. However, Instead of being crudely sewn together, it uses sophisticated laser screw welding to create a seriously stiff sports coupe.

The large hourglass grill, flared fenders, LED headlights, intimidating rear vents and oversized 19″ aluminum wheels make a powerful first impression. It’s one of the most striking, beautiful things on the road for under $100,000 right now.

Settle in behind the wheel and you’ll find that the RC350 is only getting started. Genuine wood trim, leather wrapped surfaces and impeccable craftsmanship abound. Seats are supportive first, sumptuous second, which is always the right order when pushing a car hard through the corners. An impressive LFA inspired sliding center gauge reads out rpm’s, flanked on the right by a digital speedometer and on the left with a screen displaying everything from tire pressure to radio stations.

The RC350 has four driving modes, going from gas friendly Eco to Normal, Sport and Snow. My model happily came equipped with the F-Sport package which adds many cosmetic enhancements and provides an additional Sport Plus mode. Thanks to an adaptive variable suspension, this mode really tightens up the otherwise compliant suspension allowing for extremely flat cornering. Another amazing feat of tech engineering in Sport Plus is how the transmission will use information from the g-sensor and AI-shift control to select the best gear during hard cornering and keep revs high for when you want to power out of those twists and turns.

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Nearly everything in the car can be adjusted with the infotainment control pad. While this new control pad is innovative and brimming with potential for improvement in future models, in its current form I found it to be cumbersome and distracting to use. Also present is USB integration and a beautiful sounding 17 speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system. In general, it’s not just the sliding tachometer that’s reminiscent of the Lexus LFA super car. There are lots of design parallels between the two. The analog clock mounted in the center console adds a touch of sophistication while the two-tone color scheme and attractive contrast stitching help create a handsome atmosphere in a cockpit with a distinct Japanese style.

Here’s the surprising news. Where the RC350 seems to fall short is in the performance arena. The RC350 is powered by a 3.8L V6 and making 306 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is smooth but ultimately disappointing for a car whose stormy appearance would suggest that it can keep pace with a fighter jet. The V8 toting RCF will give you nearly 150 more hp over our test model and deliver identical acceleration as the former Lexus ISF.

0-60 can be achieved in a spiritless 5.8 seconds. Even more, your ‘butt dyno’ doesn’t register the acceleration like you’d expect. Cornering is excellent but also feels disconnected. Driving the RC350 is like driving your favorite racing simulator at the local arcade. The right noises are there and the world outside is rushing by… but where are the g-forces? I’m not being pressed back in my seat or thrown up against the door during hard cornering. Where’s the driver engagement? Where’s the drama and the fun? I was sad to discover how detached I felt from the overall driving experience.

The quick shifting 8-speed automatic transmission in the rear wheel drive model was precise and handled gear changes with precision and speed. This is made even better with the use of the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. A 6-speed automatic is available with the AWD drive train. Lexus reports a 22 mpg combined rating, which is a little below market average in its class.

The RC350 has runway looks and an interior that’s top notch. However, where it counts, the V6 doesn’t bring enough fireworks. This is especially true when compared to some of its more athletic class competitors like the Audi S5 or BMW 4 series. Even the Cadillac ATS spitfire from Detroit is a strong contender with an equally reasonable price tag. Really though, 95% of our daily driving doesn’t dip into the RC’s shortcomings; and it does everything else very very well.

Price as tested: $54,220

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