Bold on the outside, mellow on the inside.
As a counterpart to the recently evolved segment of shapelier but less practical SUV “coupes,” another contrarian group of vehicles has cropped up at the opposite end of the spectrum: luxury two-doors with only moderately powerful engines. While they may look like sporty grand tourers, they’re missing a key ingredient—power—to really call them that. The Lexus RC Turbo coupe, badged as the RC200t, is one of the latest examples, having joined the lineup for the 2016 model year. Following in the turbo path of the Lexus IS sedan, it’s the cheapest model in the RC lineup, and it shares its small forced-induction four-cylinder with the NX, IS, and GS.
Priced to Move
One of the RC Turbo’s chief selling points is its price. A starting figure of $41,150 makes this striking-looking luxury coupe fairly accessible. It’s also cheaper than several of its major competitors, including the $43,575 Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe, the $43,145 BMW 430i, and the Audi A5 ($43,150 with automatic, $42,150 with manual transmission). Two others undercut the RC’s price, however: the Cadillac ATS coupe, at $38,590, and the $39,855 Infiniti Q60.
Our test car was equipped with the Premium package, a $1240 option bundle that adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and heated and ventilated front seats, as well as the $1470 Navigation package (navigation, plus an in-dash CD and DVD player, Lexus’s touchpad infotainment control, voice command, and the Lexus Enform suite of apps). A few other extras, such as adaptive cruise control and illuminated doorsills, brought the total to a still reasonable $45,254.
Appearance is subjective, but for the most part, the other cars at the low end of the premium-coupe segment lack the extroverted flair of the RC with its gaping spindle grille, checkmark lighting graphics, and aggressively textured and layered bumpers. In this group, it’s the “look at me” choice, and even more so in F Sport trim, a $4105 option that also brings suspension and brake upgrades.
The engine is a 2.0-liter inline-four with a twin-scroll turbocharger helping to pump out 241 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 1650 rpm. The engine is paired with a fluid eight-speed automatic transmission that routes its output to the rear wheels and can be operated via paddles. Unlike some of the RC Turbo’s competitors, there is no option for all-wheel drive or a manual transmission on the RC200t. Lexus does offer all-wheel drive in the V-6–powered RC300 ($43,745) and the more powerful RC350 ($46,150).
The burden of 3796 pounds—heavier than the ATS, A5, or 430i—dulls the RC Turbo’s responses, and as a result the car doesn’t quite live up to the image its looks project. We recorded a zero-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds and a 15.1-second quarter-mile pass at 96 mph. By comparison, the Mercedes-Benz C300 got to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds, while the last four-cylinder BMW coupe we tested (a 428i) did the deed in 5.5 seconds.
Braking wasn’t much better, with a 171-foot stop from 70 mph and grabby pedal feel. The competition, which we note all had summer performance tires, did significantly better, with the C300 needing only 157 feet and the 428i requiring 164 feet. With the F Sport package, which brings summer tires along with upgraded brakes, the RC mostly closes that gap, with a 165-foot result.
We averaged only 19 mpg with the RC Turbo, versus the EPA’s combined rating of 26 mpg. We didn’t take any long trips, so most of the driving was around town, and our collective heavy right foot probably dragged down that number. When fuel efficiency is supposed to be a perk of choosing the small turbocharged engine, less than 20 mpg (and less than 30 mpg on the highway) is a letdown.
The rest of the RC Turbo’s driving manners are competent and agreeable. The steering is nicely weighted, not too heavy or too light, and the car turns in eagerly. The RC pulled 0.88 g on the skidpad, which is strong considering its all-season tires, although subpar against the performance-tire set. But the car is composed in corners, holding an intended line and communicating grip loss progressively. Lexus’s reputation for a comfortable and quiet ride rings true here, as the RC rolls over bumps and broken pavement all but undisturbed.
Inside, the RC is soft and cozy. The thickly bolstered seats, the high beltline, and the raised center tunnel create a tucked-in feeling and combine with the coupe profile to make the RC hard to see out of. Some might find the layered, multilevel dash design overly busy, but there’s elegance to its ergonomics, fit, and finish.
The wood trim looks high quality, the substantial metal dials lend a sense of occasion in use, and there are plentiful soft touchpoints. However, the capacitive-touch temperature slider and the infotainment system’s touchpad are annoying in regular use and require too much of a driver’s attention, which is less than safe while on the move. Space also is not the RC’s forte; the rear seats are cramped, and, at 10 cubic feet, so is the trunk.
The Lexus RC Turbo is for budget-conscious luxury buyers seeking visual rather than driving excitement. It looks fast and has an upscale badge, but it lacks overtly sporting tendencies. It has the style of a sports coupe, but it’s built more for comfort.