2015 Lexus RC-F
Since its inception, Lexus has made its money by being Toyota for rich people. Dependable like Hachiko, the famous Japanese dog who went to the train station to await his master every day for his entire life, even for years after said master's death, Toyota is a safe choice for a ride, but it left a little to be desired when it came to the upper crust. Thus the leather-clad, sumptuous Lexus was born, and Buick's customers followed.
Now, however, Lexus is working hard to garner the attention of the next generation of customers by creating cars that younger buyers will be interested in. First came the LFA, which was indeed spectacular, but so far removed from the rest of the company's offerings that it did little for the brand's image. Then came the short-lived, but fun, IS-F. This was the toe in the water of the performance-luxury market, and because the water felt good, the RC 350 and RC-F were born.
The RC-F's rear wheels are driven by a 5.0L V8 routed through an eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic, it only has two doors, and it comes in a variety of loud colors. Basically, it has all the right pieces to be what Lexus wants it to be: a fun car that can be challenging for a veteran driver, but still accessible for a beginner. With a base price of $62,400, it also undercuts the C63, M3, and RS5 in price. The question then, is the execution.
Approaching the car from different angles inspired very different emotions. In profile, the roofline looks suitably aggressive, but the bulge at the front of the hood gives the car the appearance of a swollen forehead. It's not even bad, it's swollen with power, like Prof. X's skull, it's just odd. The headlights, made of a large piece that does most of the work and a smaller and separated row of LEDs can look either sleek and menacing or disjointed depending on where one is standing as well. The rear end is also odd when compared to the rest of this segment. Most sports cars have a big old booty to emphasize the power coursing through the rear wheels, while the RC-F's shape is a bit more aerodynamic and practical. The result is that the RC-F looks softer than an M3 or a C63, even if it makes more sense from the outside.
This might all sounds like complaining, but when all of these parts are combined, they are combined into a stunning car. It's a true beauty, and because of the odd decisions made by the design team, it hasn't ended up looking too similar to its competition. This should serve it well in the marketplace.
The interior, however, isn't greater than the sum of its parts like the exterior; it's brought down by one massive flaw. The seats are attractive and comfortable, the steering wheel feels and looks nice, and the instrument cluster is absolutely beautiful, but the center console is a huge piece of hard plastic. It doesn't belong in a $62,400 car, and I'd complain about it if it were in a $32,000 car. It looks like it was lifted from an econobox, and it's really sad. Worse still is the tiny piece of veneer that teases the driver into imagining what this cockpit would have looked like with a huge piece of matte wood running down the middle, like in the new Mercedes C-Class. The touchpad is particularly sad feeling; it reminds me of the ancient, black and white laptop that I played the first Civilizations game on.
On the winding roads North of New York City, the adaptive suspension does a great job of turning a track-ready car into a comfortable cruiser, and the engine offers enough power and torque. The steering offers good feeling, and said feeling improves as speeds begin to climb, which is certainly a good thing. Just as you start to think you might not quite trust the feedback as much as you'd like, it gets better. It's like a well designed, seven-course meal.
It also never does anything surprising, which on a complicated course like Monticello Motorsport Club, where we were driving, is a very good thing. The chief instructor was telling us about a man who did $120,000 in damage to his McLaren the week prior, so we knew well to be careful, especially because no journalist is wealthy enough to show up half an hour later in a second McLaren like the above-mentioned motorist.
For the vast majority of buyers, it will provide exactly what they want: a respectable car that's comfortable in the real world, yet offers real performance and thrills on track. It's a ton of fun, and one could spend a good long time learning how to extract maximum performance from it. That said, it does leave a little to be desired: The brakes fade fairly quickly, and the engine doesn't provide as much torque as you expect it to, and it takes a little longer than you expect as well.
It's biggest selling point, however, is that in 15 years the RC-F owner will start his car up just like he always has, drive to the track just like he always has, and go for a few fun laps, just like he always has. The M3 owner might very well be making his way around in a 120i with "COURTESY CAR" printed on the rear window. This is a great car, built on a superlative chassis, that could be spectacular with a few tweaks.