2015 Lexus RC Driving Impressions

The word test drivers use to describe the Lexus RC: effortless. Both engines offer plenty of power, responsive steering and a stiff, planted chassis. The combination of refined mechanical engineering and sophisticated electronic systems makes drivers feel capable of nearly anything.

The RC 350 is more than able to handle winding roads, freeway passing and other maneuvers with ease, thanks to its 306-hp V6. While the naturally aspirated engine lacks the torquey response of the turbocharged motors used by rivals, the RC 350 has a smooth, linear acceleration feel.

Three selectable modes on base models adjust throttle control, steering and fuel management to suit your mood: Eco, Normal and Sport. The RC 350 is most comfortable in Normal mode. Eco mode, predictably, feels a little wimpier as its primary goal is fuel economy. Sport is the peppiest of them all, and drivers can engage further by using the paddle shifters and changing gears manually.

On the track, the RC F made us giggle out loud as we put the pedal to the metal down the straightaway, reaching triple-digit speeds just before the braking zone. Toyota's 467-hp V8 is superb, offering tons of power while still feeling refined. Combined with the 8-speed automatic, the RC F is exhilarating and fun, without feeling twitchy like the IS F.

Another defining characteristic of the RC F is its sound. Engineers put much time and effort into developing an exhaust note for the RC F that would be both tantalizing and distinctive. They succeeded. The RC F has a delightful refined purr: It's not trying to copy the throaty growl of a BMW or the rowdy roar of a muscle car. As is common with most sports cars today, sound is piped into the cabin through a sound generator, giving the driver pleasure of hearing the RC F without rolling down the windows.

Rigidity was a top priority for Lexus engineers, who were able to stiffen the chassis using additional bracing, underbody reinforcements and strategic placements of spot welds and body adhesive. The result is a firm, planted car that can handle aggressive driving on the street or track with near-perfect composure and very little cabin noise. Although the RC lacks the near-perfect 50/50 balance of a BMW (it's 54/46 in the RC 350 and 55/45 in the RC F), it still feels tossable and well in control.

The RC 350 uses a suspension setup oft used in performance cars, with double wishbones in front and a multilink in the rear, both with (fixed) coil springs and stabilizer bars. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, and certainly nothing like Toyota's FR-S sportscar, which, while capable, can be teeth-chattering. The RC F gets a beefed-up, adaptive suspension that continuously adjust damping rates for the best handling.

Big, biting brakes are perhaps one of the most impressive features of the RC F, made by Brembo exclusively for Lexus. Massive 15-inch discs with six-piston caliper discs sit up front, with 13.6-inch discs and four caliper pistons in the rear. We played with our braking zone distances on the track and found they kept getting shorter, with plenty of stopping power. Still, we were grateful for the RC F's electronic stability control, even at its reduced capacity in Sport mode, when we came in just a little too hot on one corner and recovered nicely without hitting dirt (or a wall). Combined with the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, we had plenty of grip around corners.

Driving the RC 350 after the RC F on the track, we gained particular appreciation for the V8's power and braking capability. We learned fast in the RC 350 to brake much earlier in comparison. The RC 350 was fine, but can't hold a candle to the RC F when it comes to track performance. That's not a bad thing; it's just a different animal. The RC 350 F Sport splits the difference between the two, adding the RC F's adaptive suspension, rear-wheel steering and performance brake pads, making it a good choice for those who want more than what the base RC 350 has to offer without springing for the full-blown RC-F.

Though Lexus offers automatic transmissions only, most drivers won't mind. The RC 350 rear-wheel-drive model and the RC F gets an 8-speed, while the RC 350 with all-wheel drive is equipped with a 6-speed automatic. With the 8-speed, shifts are lightning-quick, and in Drive, the transmission can predict the right gear faster than most mere mortals, thanks to Lexus's artificial intelligence shift feature (AI-SHIFT control), which will select the right gear at the right time based on G-force data from a built-in sensor. We didn't love the 6-speed as much, and found shifts a little abrupt on kickdown. If performance is your priority and you don't live in a snowy climate, stick to the rear-wheel-drive car.

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