When we last had a chance to sample Lexus's two door stable in our Northern outpost, it was behind the wheel of the brand's most opulent offering, the V8 powered 2018 LC 500. The LC is proof that Lexus can build sporty coupes, but does this magic transfer over to the more mainstream RC lineup? Or does the RC lack the sizzle that has defined Lexus's past coupe efforts?
When you look at the RC 350 from various angles, it's obvious that the RC is an intriguing canvas. The spindle grille for example is a love it or hate it affair, and it still looks somewhat odd, with the nose looking slightly chopped as a result. The side profile of our Nebula Gray Pearl hued tester has a swoopy and stylish appearance with loads of curb appeal, and equally stunning visual candy. The rear fascia is equally aggressive, and while it would benefit from a less protruding design for the taillights, it also has a futuristic vibe that would make it look at home in an episode of Initial D, though that would depend on the anime fan you present it to. F Sport grade cars like our tester channel their inner athleticism through trim exclusive wheels, as well as other minor tweaks. It craves attention, and our tester proved that in stride with various passersby stopping by our office occasionally to marvel at its unique physique.
The interior of the RC F Sport is nicely appointed, and is a comfortable place to spend time in. You have to be as mad as Mark Hamill's version of the Joker to spend time in the extremely cramped back seats (they are just as bad at containing humans as the LC 500's rear quarters,) but the front seats do offer commodious amounts of leg room, and allow the driver and one lucky passenger to stretch out and relax. The thrones that adorn F Sport grade models like our test car feature extra side bolstering, and that extra degree of support makes a huge difference when it came time to push the RC through twisty roads during the first half of its stay with us.
Material quality is also very good with plush leather accents, metal trim, and a healthy balance of electronic goodies to liven up the mood. As expected from many Japanese car offerings, there is a healthy amount of buttons, but thankfully it does not verge on outright overload while those familiar with the IS will see alot of familiar touches through out. Our personal highlight was the 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, which delivered impressive levels of sound and serenity through out the cabin. The sound system is also paired with Lexus's "Active Sound Control" which is a fancy way of saying it pumps fake engine noise into the cabin. We recommend keeping this feature off since the engine does a good job of providing noise as it is, and the supposed difference with the system turned on was negligible at best (even with our resident sound expert Emily listening in.) While we're complaining, we are still not fans of Lexus's touchpad style interface for the infotainment system. Lower grade models come equipped with an I-drive style control wheel, and we wish Lexus will use the dial through out the lineup since it's a much less infuriating setup to use on the move than the touchpad.
Performance for the 2017 RC 350 comes from the same 3.5 liter V6 that also sees duty in other Lexus models including the IS sedan. Good for a healthy 311 horsepower, it allowed our tester to wield impressive degrees of acceleration and poise especially when out on the freeway. Lower tier RC models feature a turbocharged four cylinder engine, but for buyers looking for more muscle in their purchase without paying the hefty price tag for the V8 powered RC F, the RC 350 F Sport is a nicely balanced alternative. Our rear wheel drive tester came equipped with an eight speed automatic transmission wheras all-wheel drive grade models feature a six speed unit. The transmission in our car did a good job delivering smooth shifts, and Sport + mode helps heighten things even further. The transmission does feature a manual mode, but we preferred to let the computer fend for itself when out and about, which was where the unit performed best.
Handling in our tester was an intriguing case. On the one hand, the F Sport's firmer suspension did allow it to tackle corners with reasonable precision, but the trade off is bone jarring ride quality especially on rougher tarmac. The RC is also a portly car, and the driver has to work hard to get the most out of its 3,700 lb curb weight. Part of this is due to the RC's underpinnings, which have a backstory that would make Frankenstein blush with jealousy.
Like the fore-mentioned monster, the platform is a stiff hodgepodge of components that come from three different Lexus models. The front section is derived from the current generation GS, with the current generation IS donating its DNA to the rear section. However, it is the center section that proves to be unique, with much of its stiffening structure and other components lifted from the previous generation IS convertible. The end result of this patchwork design, allows the RC hang with its German rivals, but it adds unnecessary weight as a consequence.
Lastly, our tester also managed to be an inadvertent example of how important tire selection can be towards the end of its stay with us. The combination of a wave of snow showers, as well as an ill fitting set of summer oriented shoes served to hobble, and ultimately cripple our tester, forcing it to stay parked in front of our office for the duration of its visit. Lexus engineers did add a snow mode to the transmission which allows acceleration to take place in second gear instead of first gear which improves traction. We anticipate that this mode can help work wonders, especially when paired with sticky winter tires versus the standard issue summer tires that were mounted on our tester.
Pricing for the 2017 Lexus RC lineup starts at $40,640 for the base RC 300 (RWD) with the base RC 350 starting at a slightly higher $43,570. Our F Sport equipped tester had a base price of $43,010 with the $4,105 F Sport and $1,470 Navigation System packages playing a big role in helping our tester achieve a final MSRP of $50,280 which includes the $975 destination fee, as well as other minor options including its optional $500 Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. This pricing puts it in the cross hairs of the BMW 4 Series M Sport, and while the Bimmer loses in a battle of pricing, it does have sharper handling manners than the RC, and less weight to lug around as well.
Another potential rival is the Audi A5 Coupe when equipped with the S-Line package. While it does not have the same exterior flair as the Lexus, it also offers sharper handling, as well as better interior technology thanks to its optional Digital Drivers Cockpit package, as well as its superior MMI infotainment system. As a bonus, the A5 can be equipped with a manual transmission versus the Lexus and its automatic exclusive offerings.
Overall, the 2017 Lexus RC 350 is a solid all rounder. While it will not be the segment busting entry that the German big three have to worry about anytime soon, it should still appeal to a wide range of buyers cthat crave a distinct interpretation of style and technology. We look forward to having a second crack at this special two door in the future (preferably in better weather) to see how it handles itself in the long run.