2017 Lexus RC Review

The NMA Foundation presents Eric Peter’s Car Review, a weekly Saturday feature on the NMA blog. 

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For Lexus, the RC is a “radical coupe.”

Radical looking, certainly.

And it offers a V8.

Circa now, that’s pretty rad.

You may have noticed these are disappearing elsewhere. Including under the hoods of rival BMW coupes, which are four-and-six-cylinder-only now.

But then, conservatism rears its head.

No manual transmission — even with the RC’s standard four cylinder engine.

Traction control that turns itself back on once you reach 30 MPH.

Then again, Lexus People are more conservative than BMW People and probably won’t miss the first — or object to the second.

They will like the car’s sharpie fighter-jet exterior and equally so interior; its ingot-solid feel and sharp-enough handling…

Even if the back seats are radically cramped.


The RC — radical coupe — is a two-door/four-seater coupe based on the IS series compact luxury-sport sedan.

It is slightly larger on the outside than a BMW 4 coupe, but not quite as roomy on the inside as the smaller overall BMW 2 coupe.

At least in terms of its back seats.

Like the BMW 2 and 4 (and other possible cross-shops like the Cadillac ATS coupe and Mercedes C-Class coupe), the RC is rear-wheel-drive-based, with all-wheel-drive available.

Unusually — radically — it offers a V8 (in the RC F) as well as a turbocharged four (RC200t) and a mid-level V6 (255 hp) and a stronger V6 (306 hp).

That’s four engine options — more than others in this class, which generally offer just two (or, just one, as in the case of the four-cylinder-only 2017 Audi A5, another possible cross-shop).

The RC does not, however, offer a manual transmission option with any of its four available engines.

The BMWs — 2 and 4 — do.

As do the Audi A5 (current model; a major redo is on deck for 2018) and Cadillac ATS coupes.

But then, none of them offer a V8.

The only other car in this class that still does is the AMG 63 version of the Benz C.

Base price for the turbo four-powered RC200t is $40,945. This version of the RC is rear-wheel-drive only.

All-wheel-drive (paired with a mid-level 3.5 liter V6) come standard in the RC300, which stickers for $43,560 to start.

The RC350 comes standard with a more powerful version of the 3.5 liter V6 and in either RWD ($42,780) or AWD ($45,015) configurations.

The V8-powered RC F is rear drive-only; it stickers for $63,755 (a relative bargain vs. the $67,000 to start C63 AMG).

It also makes its horsepower the old fashioned way — via displacement. The Benz V8 is much smaller (4 liters vs. 5.0 in the Lexus) and relies on turbos (two of them) to make up the deficit.


The turbo four (and rear-drive-only) RC200t and all-wheel-drive only RC300 are new additions to the RC lineup.

Both can be amped-up with F-Sport packages that include upgraded brakes, an adaptive suspension system, LFA Supercar-inspired gauge package, staggered-size 19-inch wheel/tire package, an exterior body kit with unique front and rear clips and trim upgrades inside.


Pick your engine.

Potentially burnout-friendly RWD layout.

Full-size car front seat legroom (45.4 inches; almost 5 inches more than BMW 2 Series; 3.2 inches more than inside BMW 4 Series).

Gulfstream IV jet-looking cabin layout.

Ingot solid, LS quiet.


No transmission option; regardless of engine, you get an automatic.

Not as quick as BMW 2 or 4 — even when equipped with its available 306 hp V6.

Because it’s ingot heavy: 500 lbs. more at the curb than the smaller BMW 2 coupe; about 300 pounds heavier than a same-size BMW 4 coupe.

Cripplingly cramped back seat (27.3 inches of legroom and 34.8 inches of headroom; a BMW 2’s got 33 inches of backseat legroom and 36.5 inches of backseat headroom).

Touch-feedback mousepad controller looks slick but is better suited for stationary desktops than moving cars.


Pretty much anything you want, engine-wise, is available.

The lineup starts with a (surprise!) turbo 2.0 liter four.

You may have noticed the seemingly odd (and all-of-a-sudden) commonality of this exact size (and type) of engine, across numerous brands.

BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Cadillac all put two-point-oh turbo fours in their RC-rival coupes (and other models, too).

If you’re wondering how come, here’s why:

That particular size — and layout — is becoming popular because 2.0 liters is exactly the displacement threshold after which — in Europe — a car company gets hit with additional taxes that end up being passed on to buyers; the turbo is a way to enhance the little engine’s power output to six-cylinder levels without cresting the displacement threshold and incurring the taxes.

It is Lexus’ first turbo engine, too.

In the RC (and the IS sedan) it makes 241 hp and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque, coming online at 1,650 RPM and holding through 4,400 RPM. An eight-speed automatic is paired up with this engine and together they get the RC to 60 in 7.3 seconds and deliver an EPA-rated 22 MPG in city driving and 32 on the highway.

During a weeklong test drive, I averaged 26.5 MPG.

This is good (0-60 and mileage) but not outstanding.

The BMW 2 Series also comes standard with a 2.0 liter turbo four — and it makes almost the exactly the same power (248 hp) but it’s much quicker: 0-60 in just over 5 seconds flat.

And it gets better gas mileage, too: 23 city, 35 highway.

The same engine in the slightly larger 4 coupe delivers numbers almost as good: Zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds and the same 23 city, 35 highway.

The reason for the two second gap (despite a very slight horsepower gap) is because of the 500 pounds of additional steel/glass and whatever else the RC is carting around vs. the BMW 230i.

The hefty Lexus weighs 3,737 lbs. vs. 3,260 lbs. for the BMW.

The 4 coupe (3,450 lbs.) is also much lighter than the RC, by some 300 pounds.

Lexus installed extra bracing (and structural adhesive) to make the RC feel solid — and it does. But it’s also heavier than other cars in this class as a result — and so, not as quick and thirstier.

Next up is the mid-range RC300.

It has a much larger 3.5 liter V6, but this engine barely makes more horsepower than the turbo four (255 vs. 241) and less torque (236 ft.-lbs.) and that not until the engine spins to 2,000 RPM.

No surprise, it’s hardly quicker than the RC200t — and not a little bit thirstier: 19 city, 26 highway.

But it does come standard with all-wheel-drive, which is a mitigating factor.

Third up, there’s the RC350 — which gets a pumped-up version of the 3.5 liter V6 (306 hp) and so equipped, it’s almost as quick as the base-engined BMW 2 and 4: Zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds with rear-drive and six flat with the optionally available all-wheel-drive system.

Both the RC300 and the RC350 come with six-speed automatics, incidentally.

The maximum effort RC is the RC F, which is powered by a big (5 liter) V8. It makes 467 hp and 389 ft.-lbs. of torque without resorting to turbos (as in the Benz C63) which is gumption enough to drop the zero to 60 time to 4.8 seconds.

That’s quick, but note that it’s not much down from the number posted by the base-engined BMW 2.

And the M2’s numbers (zero to 60 in four seconds flat … for $52,695) makes it a Mike Tyson (in his prime) vs. Steven Hawking (today) kind of deal.

The RC F’s sticker price ($63,755) is also about $20k higher than the sticker price of a 430i (and nearly twice the price of a 230i).

On the other hand, it’s also $3,245 less than the MSRP of the twin-turbo’d Benz C63 AMG.


The turbo 2.0 engine is not (like the BMW 2.0 liter engine) a high RPM engine. It is a low and mid-range engine. Redline is about 5,800 RPM (the BMW four spins to 7,000-plus).

It seems happiest from about 2,000 RPM to 4,000 or so, which just happens to coincide with the torque peak.

This makes it an easygoing “everyday driver” engine.

This is equally true for the BMW 2.0, though — which in addition to having ample low and mid-range torque (peaking lower, at 1,450 RPM vs. 1,650 for the RC) also has the upper range lungs the Lexus lacks.

There is sometimes a moment’s turbo lag if you demand right now/pedal to the metal acceleration from a dead stop.

In the BMW with the manual transmission, this is never an issue because the engine spins up faster, allowing the turbo to spool up sooner.

The best way to avoid the momentary flat spot is to not drop the pedal to the metal from a dead stop. Give it about half pedal instead. For just a second or two. Then put the pedal to the metal. What this does is give the little four a chance to gather its breath — without the initial breathlessness.

Or, feed it a little gas before you let off the brake. This will build boost, which will give you the launch you want.

Certain engines (small turbocharged ones) paired with certain transmissions (automatics) require technique to get the most out of them — and this is one of those.

Same, incidentally, goes for the automatic-equipped version of the BMW 2 (and 4) equipped with the turbo 2.0 engine. It’s is almost impossible to entirely eliminate “from a standing start” lag from the drivetrain when that drivetrain is small-engined/turbocharged… and automatic transmissioned.

But especially so when the car itself is also heavy.

The V6 RC300 isn’t hugely more powerful than the turbo four, however — just 255 hp — nor does it offer a huge acceleration advantage (zero to 60 takes about 6.3 seconds).

But it is the only way (other than the next-up-after-that V6) to get AWD.

Which makes it winter viable — something neither the rear-drive-only RC 200t nor the RC F can claim.

But, how come?

BMW (and Mercedes) both offer AWD with their 2.0 engines. Audi, too.

Why not Lexus?

See that stuff above about the RC’s curb weight.

The AWD-equipped BMWs weigh less than the RWD RC200t. Adding AWD to the mix would add more weight, probably pushing things to almost 4,000 pounds before the driver even opened the door.

Add a 200 pound driver and a hypothetical AWD-equipped RC200t would be in the neighborhood of 4,200 lbs. Which would probably result in a 0-60 time in the neighborhood of 8 seconds.

Which explains why AWD isn’t available in the RC200t.

The RC300’s version of the 3.5 liter V6 may not make huge power, but it does make more horsepower than the four and that’s why it (and not the four) is teamed with AWD.

It’s no threat to the BMW 2 or 4 as a straight-line rival, but if it snows you stand a much better chance of making it up the driveway (and to work and back).

It also hasn’t got a turbo. Or an intercooler.

Which may be a plus.

No offense to Lexus or anyone else offering these turbo two-point-oh engines. But they’ve got more parts, which at minimum means more things that could potentially break, post-warranty. And turbo’d engines are pressurized engines. More stress on the internals. Which may not last as long as a result.

As for the RC F — vs. the Benz C63: The Lexus is not in the same league, acceleration-wise, but it’s the more pleasant everyday ride. This is true across the RC lineup. The “radical” coupe looks aside, the RC is Camry-like in its demeanor.

This is not an insult.

The Camry is the best-selling car in the United States, in part because it is such an exceptionally pleasant car to drive — whether to the office and back or across the country. But the Camry is not that sexy to look at really.

The RC, on the other hand, is sexy to look at — and not a demanding car or a compromised car…

Well, except for the back seats.


Though they’re related, the RC is not an IS with two fewer doors. In fact — despite being a two-door — it is slightly longer overall than the four-door IS (184.8 inches vs. 183.7) and the two cars have different wheelbases (107.5 inches for the RC; 110.2 for the IS) and the RC is slightly wider (72.4 inches) than the IS (71.3 inches). It also sits noticeably lower; the RC’s roof is 54.9 inches off the pavement while the IS stands 56.3 inches high (a difference of 1.4 inches, if you’re counting).

All the above gives the RC a suitably (for a radical coupe) sexy profile. But it also takes away from the car’s four-seater viability.

The backseats are pretty bunched up: 27.3 inches of legroom and 34.8 inches of headroom.

That is not a lot — of either.

And much less than in the IS sedan, which has a more reasonable 32.2 inches of second row legroom and 36.9 inches of headroom.

The RC’s backseats are a squeeze even compared with what’s available in the much smaller outside BMW 2 coupe, which is 174.7 inches long overall (10.1 inches shorter, bumper-to-bumper, than the RC) but nonetheless has 33 inches of backseat legroom and 36.5 inches of headroom back there, too.

The same-size (outside) Benz C coupe (184.5 inches long) has 35.2 inches of rear seat legroom and 37.1 inches of headroom, 2.3 inches more than the RC.

That is the difference between usable backseats and seats for groceries.

But, there’s no denying the car looks great. It may not actually be quicker than a 2 Series or a Benz C. But if you didn’t know that, which would you put your money on?

The inside is a treat, too.

It’s something I’ve seen before, kinda sorta.

Back in 1982, when GM unveiled the then-new third generation Camaros, a centerpiece of the design was an aircraft-inspired cockpit. Angular and serious, instruments, switches and controls mounted on rectangular panels that made one think of flight decks and afterburners lit.

Similar here — but executed with much nicer materials and offset by real wood inserts and chrome/brushed metal trim plates.

The F Sport package (available with the 200t, the 300 and the 350) adds ultra-plush perforated leather and (AWD models) a heated steering wheel.

Available, too, is a cold weather package that includes a supplementary electric cabin heater, so you don’t have to wait for the engine to warm up before you get warmed up.

The package also comes with windshield wiper de-icers and headlight washers.


Toyota is conservative — and so, not surprisingly, is Lexus.

It’s why the RC is a car of contrasts.

It’s a radical-looking car, no question. But the mechanicals are fairly conservative and the car itself is an easygoing fella, notwithstanding the snorty looks (and some snorty available equipment, most notably the staggered-size 19-inch “summer” wheel/tire package, powder-coated high-performance brake calipers and (RC F) carbon fiber roof panel.

The steering is very light; the ride most unexpectedly nice given the looks.

As in LS sedan nice.

Forget the two doors and useless back seats. Up front, it’s a suite — notwithstanding the fighter-jet visuals.

Lexus knows it’s demographic.

Now, the car has all kinds of potential. Tuners could no doubt get the four to run as hard as the BMW’s four. And the RC F’s V8 makes as much power without turbos as the AMG C63’s V8 makes with two of them. Imagine what a turbo could do for the RC F’s 5 liter V8.

Let alone two.

The handling could be sharpened up, the ride made more radical. But then it wouldn’t be a Lexus, would it?

It’s up for grabs whether the RC’s haptic feedback trackpad controller or BMW’s iDrive mouse (or the similar systems you’ll find in cars like the Benz C and Cadillac ATS) is functionally better — or worse. They are all wowsa when you first encounter them sitting in the car in the dealer’s showroom. None are easier to use than less wowsa knobs and buttons.

So, why?

Cars like these (and new cars generally) come with so many features and functions that there’s no room for all the buttons and knobs that would be necessary to operate them. Hence the menus — and the mice. And trackpads.

The government clucks endlessly about “distracted” driving and crucifies people for using their devices while driving.

But devices built into cars… hey, that’s ok.


Don’t let its radical looks deceive you.

This is a radically nice car.



*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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