Not the full-blown F, but that’s all right.
Think of the 2017 Lexus RC350 F Sport as James Bond without his trademark marksmanship or Frank Sinatra sans his famous low notes. It’s handsome, but handsome only takes you so far.
Key to the Lexus RC350’s character is its Frankenstein’s Monster chassis that’s made up of pieces from three different Lexus models: The front subframe is sourced from the mid-size Lexus GS sedan, the rear end is procured from the compact Lexus IS sedan, and the center section is based on the structure of the now defunct IS C convertible. Despite this strange amalgamation of parts, the RC’s unibody structure is as stiff as a martini made with four parts of gin for each part of vermouth. Road imperfections are crossed with nary a shudder, and the car’s two oversize front doors close with a solid thunk.
Such rigidity doesn’t come without compromise, though, and the RC is a relative heavyweight against the Lexus IS that can be considered its sedan analogue. Our 3816-pound Nebula Gray Pearl RC350 F Sport carried an extra 111 pounds more than the last IS350 F Sport we tested. Compared with the luxury coupes that the RC350 F Sport competes with, though, the two-door Lexus’s heft is generally par for the course, with the 3560-pound Cadillac ATS V-6 coupe being the lone lightweight left in a field that has been effectively taken over by welterweights.
Affable if Not Effable
This six-cylinder F Sport is not to be confused with the V-8–powered RC F (which is regarded as its own model), although its 306 horsepower place it well clear of the 241-hp turbocharged four-cylinder RC200t and the 255-hp AWD-only V-6 RC300. Even so, this F Sport is not quite as hard-edged as the Mercedes-AMG C43 that occupies a similar ’tweener slot in its model line. The RC350 competes with more relaxed six-cylinder coupes such as the 320-hp BMW 440i, the 335-hp Cadillac ATS V-6, and the 300-hp Infiniti Q60 3.0T.
Although the Lexus V-6’s ponies may be able challengers on paper, its thoroughbreds struggle in practice. A zero-to-60-mph time of 5.7 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 14.2 seconds at 101 mph are both 1.3 seconds slower than the figures we extracted from a 440i. Even the 252-hp, all-wheel-drive Audi A5 is quicker than this Lexus, needing just 5.0 seconds to hit 60 mph and 13.6 seconds to cover the quarter-mile.
The RC350 is plenty quick for most users, however, and what it lacks in accelerative ability, it compensates for by the sweet sounds of the V-6 and the smooth shifts of the eight-speed automatic transmission. While the automatic can be hesitant to downshift in its Normal mode, switching to Sport alleviates the issue; using the standard steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters or tapping the gearshift lever will summon Manual mode for full control. Using the lethargic Eco setting is best avoided, always.
RC350s equipped with the $4105 F Sport package like that on our test car add a Sport S+ driving mode that firms up the F Sport–specific adaptive dampers. It’s not a particularly rough rider, but we generally preferred the more comfortable default setting given the rough tarmac we regularly encounter. While bombing back roads, the RC350 has a penchant for understeer; we found the car is happier cruising at 75 mph than it is being pushed to its limits, even if the F Sport package’s 19-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050 summer tires helped the RC350 cling to our 300-foot skidpad at 0.88 g—0.02 g better than we recorded in the BMW 440i. The front brakes on F Sport cars measure 14.0 inches (0.9 inch bigger than the standard car) and helped bring our RC350 F Sport to a halt from 70 mph after 168 feet, roughly par for the segment.
Also included in the F Sport package are a host of superficial features such as a digital gauge cluster, aluminum pedals, a model-specific steering wheel and shift knob, F Sport–exclusive 10-spoke wheels, and more aggressive bodywork that accentuates the RC’s slinky proportions and big hourglass grille. Even after three model years, the RC remains a looker, albeit a polarizing one. Finally, the F Sport package also adds to the RC350 a handful of comfort and convenience features including heated and cooled front seats, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and a blind-spot-monitoring system.
Our test car also came equipped with the $220 All-Weather package (windshield de-icer, headlight washers), the $500 adaptive cruise control system with automated emergency braking, and the $1470 navigation system. As to the last item, the 7.0-inch multimedia screen’s functions are accessed via the brand’s mouselike Remote Touchpad interface that’s difficult to use on the fly. Low-quality graphics and crowded icons are further demerits on the system, and we greatly prefer the infotainment setups in Audis and BMWs.
In terms of assembly and materials, the RC350’s cabin lives up to Lexus’s reputation for quality. Soft leather lines the seats and the sides of the center console, while every button and knob moves and clicks with the solidity expected of something priced in the neighborhood of $50K, as our test car was. The RC350’s two rear seats are cramped and the window openings there are small, but no one buys a coupe if they’re going to put adults in the back often.
Not the F, Sport
As Bond and Sinatra can attest, looks and good manners only go so far. Earning a place at the top requires something extra. For Bond, it’s his skilled marksmanship; Sinatra, his baritone; and for compact luxury coupes, it’s finding the perfect blend of comfort and driving engagement. While the 2017 Lexus RC350 F Sport is handsome and well mannered, it’s devoid of a dynamic je ne sais quoi that would elevate it above its peers. It would feel livelier in its responses and more enticing to drive if it shed some of its excess mass and had its chassis tuned as sharply as that of the IS350 F Sport that so impressed us a few years ago.