Lexus RC review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
2016 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Striking Lexus RC is one of the most imposing four-seat coupes around, but also has a high-quality cabin and efficient hybrid

For: 
Refinement, cabin quality, striking looks
Against: 
Not much fun to drive, no diesel option, cramped rear seats

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The Lexus RC is the perfect coupe for those bored of the Germanic norm. Its dramatic styling will sit well with those who like a bit of posing, while it’s typically Lexus in terms of its top-quality cabin design and strong refinement.

But the RC doesn’t deliver the polished drive its looks promise, as the BMW 4 Series is more agile and the Mercedes C-Class Coupe is more comfortable. Its weight blunts efficiency and performance, plus the RC is also less practical and pricier than rivals.

Our Choice: 
Lexus RC 300h Luxury

Lexus first revealed its bold RC coupe way back at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. It arrived in the UK over two years later so it was a long time coming, but at least the striking looks haven’t changed much from the concept car.

Built to rival the Audi A5, BMW 4 Series and Mercedes’ C-Class Coupe, the Lexus RC is essentially a more stylish two-door version of the IS saloon. It’s longer, wider and lower than the IS, with a 70mm shorter wheelbase that gives the exterior an even more dramatic profile.

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In the UK the mainstream RC is only available with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (the RC200t) or a 2.5-litre petrol-electric hybrid powertrain (the RC300h). The former is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, while the latter gets the familiar CVT setup.

Those looking for more serious performance can also opt for the storming V8-powered RC F, which gets 467bhp sent through the rear wheels. But you’ll find no diesels in the RC as the Japanese brand sticks rigidly to its petrol or hybrid policy.

You can opt for three trim levels in the Lexus RC. Luxury, despite the name, is the cheapest trim and can only be found on the RC300h hybrid. It’s not exactly sparse, however, with electric leather seats, cruise control, parking sensors and keyless entry. Step up to F-Sport trim to get racier looks, LED headlights, bigger wheels, and adaptive dampers, while flagship Premier gets all the bells and whistles including a Mark Levinson sound system and Premium Navigation.

Lexus’s emphasis on offering maximum equipment levels means the entry price of the RC is considerably more than rivals with similar performance, however. 

Engines, performance and drive

3.2
Hybrid is smooth and efficient, but turbo petrol disappoints. RC’s weight blunts performance and handling, so it’s more of a cruiser

The RC’s two mainstream powertrains are found across the Lexus range, so there are no real surprises. The Japanese brand is well known for doing things a little bit differently to its German rivals, and you can feel that when you get the RC on the road.

It plays the traditional Lexus trump cards of refinement and smoothness pretty well. Wind and road noise are never noticeable, and the engines are whisper quiet most of the time. The only noise that occasionally intrudes is from the suspension, where big bumps around town can send a slight thud through the car, especially on the larger 19-inch wheels.

The RC is more firmly set-up than the IS but apart from some lumpiness around town it’s never uncomfortable. It settles down at speed, too, and is an exceedingly smooth motorway cruiser, especially in models with the adaptive dampers. The Mercedes C-Class Coupe is even more composed, however, and specced correctly it feels less brittle over potholed streets.

Lexus has worked on the RC to give it a sportier, more engaging feel than the IS saloon. It’s not massively successful in this regard, though, especially with the high standard set by rivals. The steering is well-weighted and more direct than you might expect, but quick driving exposes a numbness to the controls. Up the pace and body control suffers too, with the initially sharp turn-in giving way to a heavy, lumpen feel. Given that the RC is around 170kg heftier than the equivalent BMW 4 Series, that’s to be expected.

The hybrid is even heavier due to the battery pack, and body roll is more noticeable than in the turbo petrol. The adaptive dampers go some way to rectifying this in ‘Sport S+’ model, reducing roll, but it’s still some way away from the composure of the best cars in the class. Grip levels are strong, however.

The RC F is firmer and sharper still, but again, if you push hard it feels pretty loose and heavy compared to the best performance coupes at its price point. The torque-vectoring differential helps it enter and exit corners smoothly, but grip levels aren’t much to shout about. It’s comfortable at a cruise, however, and is one of the most refined performance cars out there.

Engines

The Lexus RC 200t gets a 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, which pumps out 241bhp and 350 Nm of torque. That makes for a respectable but hardly sparkling 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 143mph. Lexus prices the 200t to compete with the BMW 428i, but those figures are more on a par with the 420i. It never feels particularly brisk.

Again, it’s the weight that causes the issue here, but it’s also due to the eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a single-clutch unit, and is less slick than Audi’s DSG and BMW’s dual-clutch systems. The shifts themselves are smooth enough in auto mode, but manual mode feels sluggish and when you kick down it can’t decide what gear to be in. As a result, you find yourself easing off and settling at a gentle cruise.

That’s where the RC300h hybrid comes in. On-paper and off-the-line its slower, at 8.6 seconds to 62mph, and the top speed is limited to just 118mph. That should be at odds with the RC’s ‘sporting’ coupe promise. But once you’re up to speed the CVT transmission is quicker to react. It’s smoother around town as well.

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The downside is that the RC300h gets noisy and sluggish if you demand all of its performance at high speed, but as said before, the RC is no sports car. The electric motor gives you instant torque and it can run on electric-only mode for a few miles around town.

The RC F’s naturally-aspirated 471bhp V8 makes a great noise and is a real firebreather when revved. It’s certainly more characterful when you’re in the mood than the turbocharged BMW M4. The trade off is a sluggish feeling at low revs, which combines with the weight to make the RC F a car you need to work surprisingly hard to get going.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

3.1
RC’s hybrid option is rare in this sector but the 200t turbo should be more efficient. The lack of diesel is a hindrance

The RC’s engine options range from the fairly frugal (for a petrol) to the extremely thirsty.

The most efficient on-paper is the RC300h hybrid. It’s capable of 57.6mpg combined cycle economy and CO2 emissions of 113g/km. For a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre petrol engine it’s an impressive figure, but you have to remember that hybrids have a tendency to skew the official numbers. More realistically, you can expect around 40mpg in mixed driving, rising as you cruise around town using electric power and falling at higher speeds when relying on the petrol engine.

That compares well with conventional turbo petrol engines in rivals but then, the RC 300h is less exciting to drive. It’s better measured against diesel alternatives and there things don’t look quite as favourable. For example, the BMW 420d is faster yet more efficient on paper (and in the real world) managing 60.1mpg. The Lexus wins on CO2, however, as the BMW emits 124g/km.

The RC200t shows why it isn’t expected to be the biggest seller in the RC coupe range. It manages just 38.7mpg combined, which looks a bit lacklustre compared to the 53.3mpg of the Mercedes C 200 Coupe and the 42.8mph of the much quicker BMW 428i. In the real-world, you’ll find around 30mpg the norm in sensible mixed driving, which is closer to rivals but still far from impressive. It also emits a fairly substantial 168g/km.

The hot RC F is in a different league when it comes to performance, and also in terms of economy. With a thumping great V8 it achieves 26.2mpg on the combined cycle and emits 252g/km. A BMW M4 gets 32.1mpg and 199g/km, while the naturally aspirated Audi RS5 is similar to the Lexus, at 26.9mpg. In reality you’ll struggle to get the RC F to stay in the low twenties, even if you’re careful. 

Insurance

Given the RC’s show-stopping styling, performance and premium image, it makes sense that it’s not that cheap to insure. It starts at group 34 for the RC300h hybrid and that’s similar to an Audi A5 2.0 TFSI. The RC200t is a chunky group 40 in F-Sport trim, however, which is well above any of the established petrol Germans.

The RC F, as you’d expect, won’t be cheap to cover. At group 48, its comparable with the 503bhp Mercedes C 63 AMG S Coupe.

Depreciation

Lexus’s dependable and solid reputation, combined with its excellent dealer service, means its cars generally fare well for depreciation. Surprisingly, forecasts for the RC aren’t good, however.

All standard RC variants are predicted to retain between 36 and 38 per cent of their value over three years, which is quite a way off the 46-48 per cent of the BMW 4 Series. At least the RC F fares surprisingly well, at around 43 per cent. 

Interior, design and technology

3.9
Striking styling on the outside, familiar Lexus quality on the inside and lots of equipment to play with

The Lexus RC’s main appeal for most will be in its arresting looks. We’re becoming used to the Japanese firm’s range of cars getting increasingly bold styling, but the RC is perhaps the prettiest of the lot.

The dramatic Lexus spindle grille is combined with sharp LED lights and a jutting spoiler to give the front-end real presence. The coupe’s side view is typically muscular and the angular at the rear is certainly distinctive. It’s not to all tastes, but park the Lexus RC next to a BMW 4 Series and there’s no question which one will draw the most looks. You can also opt for some seriously vivid colours, most notably the optional ‘Solar Flare’ orange paintwork.

Inside, the dashboard design has been lifted almost unchanged from the IS. That means mostly excellent fit and finish and premium materials, but not a great deal of flair. Look harder and there is some lovely details, including strips of white ambient lighting on the doors and interior lights that you swipe your finger across to turn on. Another neat touch is the swipe ventilation controls, which are classier than regular knobs but not quite as easy to use.

The driving position is low-slung and hugely adjustable, while the wheel and seats are both leather and electric in all models. Equipment in general is top-notch, with all trims getting satnav, dual-zone climate control, heated seats (cooled on some models) and cruise control. One thing that is missing, however, is equipment like autonomous emergency braking, which is available on several other rivals.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

All Lexus RCs get a seven-inch (non-touchscreen) display controlled by either a multi-directional joystick, or a touchpad. Neither is easy to use, but the touchpad is preferable to the horribly fiddly joystick, which never seems to move the cursor where you want it to go.

It’s a pain to use on the move, so we’d advise upgrading to the ‘Premium’ navigation system, which brings extra features like a DAB radio, voice control and that (slightly) better touchpad, albeit at a £1,995 premium.

What’s more, while there’s plenty of features, even the highest-spec navigation has dated graphics and lots of complex menus to navigate. At least you can split the screen to show different functions, while the central display in the instrument cluster also shows directional instructions.

The standard stereo will be more than adequate for most, but Lexus also offers a 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system with a thumping 835w output for more committed audiophiles.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

2.8
The RC is certainly comfortable for two, but you’ll struggle with anyone bigger than children in the back and the boot is small

The RC’s ride is firm but comfortable, yet it’s the typically plush and widely adjustable Lexus front seats that really make long journeys a pleasure. F-Sport versions get slightly firmer chairs so if you’re of a larger build or have a bad back it may be worth avoiding those.

In the back is where the main issues lie from a practicality standpoint. Access isn’t too bad for a coupe – the front chairs slide forward electrically on most models even if the mechanism is a little slow. It’s the actual space on offer that’s the problem. It’s fine for children, and the seats split-fold to aid versatility, but adults will have a lot to complain about.

Visibility isn’t much to shout about, even by coupe standards. The view past the A-pillars isn’t a problem, but the car’s long front-end and jutting spoiler can make it difficult to place on the road. 

Leg room, head room and passenger space

The Lexus IS isn’t one of the most spacious cars in the compact executive class, and the RC is even worse. Despite the coupe being longer and wider than the saloon, leg space is limited for anyone of average height, while the sloping roofline means anyone over six-foot will have their heads jammed sideways against the roof.

It’s OK for children, or very short journeys but that’s it. The BMW 4 Series, despite being 60mm shorter and slightly lower, does better in terms of rear seat space, partly thanks to its 80mm longer wheelbase.

Boot

Boot capacity is not always a priority for a sleek two-door, but many in the class are offering larger load spaces than the RC. The Lexus RC200t gets a 374-litre boot, with the RC300h losing out slightly at 366-litres, but the difference is minimal.

These figures might sound reasonable, especially given it’s more space than in some family hatchbacks, but the C-Class Coupe offers 400 litres, the 4 Series 445 litres, and the Audi A5 a healthy 455 litres.

One mitigating factor is that the RC gets a space-saver spare wheel as standard, whereas on some rivals it’s optional and cuts space. Another is that Lexus has helped you make use of what little space there is, with a 60/40 split-fold rear bench and a ski-hatch.

Reliability and Safety

4.3
Reliability should be good but more active safety kit would have been nice to see in the RC

Even with the new styling direction, Lexus won’t want to tarnish it’s traditional reputation of making some of the most reliable cars on the road. The latest IS beat everything else to finish in 1st place in our 2015 Driver Power survey. That’s an astounding achievement, but we expected nothing less as the firm consistently finishes highly in customer satisfaction surveys.

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We expect the RC to prove pretty faultless, too, given that it’s essentially the same as the IS underneath. Don’t be worried by the fancy hybrid technology either – it’s been around in cars like the Prius for years and has proven bulletproof. The powertrain also gets its own eight-year warranty.

Indeed, reliability and ownership experience is an area where the RC starts to claw back some ground on rivals. The BMW 4 Series finished in a strong 19th place, but neither Audi nor Mercedes have the most solid reputation for long-term reliability.

Warranty

Lexus doesn’t get the same five-year warranty as Toyota’s cars, with buyers having to settle instead for the standard three-year, 60,000-mile cover. The powertrain is covered for much longer, however, while buyers also get a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty and a three-year paint warranty. 

Servicing

Servicing costs are reasonable for a premium model, but Lexus standards of dealer service more than justify any extra outlay. The firm always finishes very highly in dealer satisfaction ratings.

Service intervals aren’t finalised for the RC, but we can assume they will be the same as the mechanically identical IS. Servicing on the saloon is due every 12 months or 15,000 miles, whichever comes first. This is comparable to most of its rivals.

Last updated: 2 Feb, 2016