Lexus’ new 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder continues to be a surprise to us. Like most premium manufacturers, the boosted four is the gateway drug to European-style performance while using less gas and polluting fewer carbons than traditional larger engines.
In Toyota’s luxury division, we’ve had a mixed bag of results with this engine. We found it friendly and well suited to the NX Crossover, but lacked oomph and charisma in the IS200. Which then surprised us with how well it worked in the larger GS200 sedan, giving plenty of performance and a very luxurious demeanor.
So the count is 2 and 1, with the Lexus RC200t F –Sport up at the plate.
Let’s start with this. Lexus is not going to let you come up to the RC with an unbiased opinion and a clear palate for testing. Because the RC is just plain gorgeous. Especially in F-Sport trim. It’s actually pretty interesting, when the coupe first came out, not everybody was won over right away. Us included.
The proportions were very un Lexus-like. It looked like a special out of Gran Turismo. And in some of the wild colors, like orangey Molten Pearl and backed up with a bodacious 467 hp V8, it felt and looked like Lexus from another planet.
But sometimes, you see a few of the new cars in the real world and away from the auto show circuit, and you start going “hmmm, that is pretty sweet looking.” And that is exactly what happened to us, In the day-to-day, surrounded by the requisite fleets of compact SUV’s, the RC pops, and you get a big grin just walking up to it.
Darn. Impartiality just took one in the shorts.
Not helping matters, our tester wore a color called Infrared. It’s a hot-looking, rich red, but isn’t infrared supposed to be invisible to the naked eye? Which this, definitely is not.
Also, ours was the F-Sport model, and that’s the only way we’d recommend one. The mesh grille and unique front fascia plus the F-Sport’s 19-inch wheels suit the coupe’s aggressive lines, and like the entry-level BMW 4-series and Audi A5, without the larger wheels, they look like bargain-basement close-out rack models.
Coming out of that bargain basement will run you $4,105 for the F-Sport package, but it really feels well spent once you get inside. The bolstered front sport seats with exclusive stitching are works of art, let alone heated-and-cooled cradles that urge you to drive. You also get perforated leather on the steering wheel and shifter, aluminum sport pedals and silver performance trim, and special sport instrumentation.
That alone would be pretty nice value, but the F-Sport also adds an Adaptive Variable Suspension and Sport S+ mode with Active Sound Control, which gives a throatier engine note in the interior when in Sport S+.
Great body, gorgeous interior. Sounds like an instant winner, right? Well hold your horses.
Or in this case 241 turbocharged horses. Here once again the 2.0-liter, turbo four is out to win you over. As soon as we hopped in, like any enthusiast worth their string-backed driving gloves (a nod to our TR-6 driving friends…) we cranked the suspension to Sport+, put the 8-speed auto transmission to sport mode, flipped it over to paddle shifters, and took off.
And the RC200t does take off. The stats say it isn’t as fast as the BMW 428i or A5, but with the lower seating position than those upright models, the throaty engine noises, and rapid-fire shifts, it sure feels as quick.
And with the combination of less weight over the nose compared to the RC 6- and 8-cylinder siblings, plus F-Sport suspension, the RC200t is light, lithe, and tossable.
Helping our tester was an optional rear limited-slip differential that’s highly recco’d. The steering is light enough that you just fingertip it where you want to go, and you can feel the supple chassis underneath making you look better than you probably actually are. It’s great fun -you just want to go hunting down twisty roads and sweeper freeway entrance and exit ramps.
So what’s not to love? Well, the RC is a bit of Jekyll and Hyde. Push it hard, and it feels like a thoroughbred. But when you slack off the pace, the coupe seems to lose interest. Engine response is smooth, but somehow lacks sparkle. The transmission feels pokey to shift in standard mode.
Our tester did its best to entertain, with an optional Navigation System featuring an awesome-sounding Mark Levinson audio system, and we’d also point out that the touchpad control interface worked extremely well, putting the Lexus mouse found in other models to shame.
It’s all very pleasant and luxo-Lexus, there’s just no middle ground to spice up the daily snooze without having to really get on it. Of course, our answer would be just drive the dickens out of it, and you’ll be very happy.
Or, if you want a more measured, mid-stream experience – and want to stay out of the pokey –we’d suggest stepping up to the RC300 awd ($2,200 more) or the RC350 rear wheel drive ($2,700 more) which both have the lovely 3.5-liter V6 which gives a more spirited drive in the day-to-day modes.
Speaking of price, your most affordable RC200t starts at $39,995. (Don’t you love the pricing mavens who come up with those numbers…)? Add in our F-Sport Package, the Navi/Audio, moonroof and a few other goodies, and our tester came in at $49,775. Comparably equipped a 428i M Sport is about $1,500 more, and Audi A5 $800 or so less. A close grouping.
Both Germans will give you a bit more space (the rear seat in the RC200t is for kids or Masochists only), but we think the RC trumps them both when it comes to wow factor.
They’re all great to drive; BMW is coming back to form as a driver’s car with better feel and control, Audi has that Quattro thing that they do best, and the RC200t F-Sport has the sharpest edge of them all. Lexus and that little turbo four – surprising us once again.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.