Gareth Butterfield spends a wild week in the Lexus RC-F
A BRAND new Lexus has just been delivered. It has 477bhp, a carbon-fibre bonnet and a full tank of petrol. I’ve had worse days.
This is the new RC F. It’s the bonkers version of the stunning RC coupe which Lexus has pitted against the likes of BMW’s M4 and Audi’s RS5.
For starters, it looks fabulous. It serves up Lexus’s signature riot of curves, swooshes and slashes but in a svelte coupe body.
My window cleaner is here today and he’s the first to remark on it as it gleams in the sun on my driveway.
“How much do these cost then?” He asks. Before I could fumble for the information sheet on the deep base of the passenger seat to find out, he’s started stroking the carbon fibre roof. My test car is the RC F Carbon, which has a smattering of tasty additions and a generous pasting of carbon fibre across its surfaces.
I was just about to tell him that my test car cost just shy of £75,000 when he crouched down to peer down one of the four exhaust pipes, as if he’d lost a tennis ball in it, and he remarked: “I bet it makes a nice noise.”
Despite the fact I was actually quite busy, and I’d much rather he’d have set about wiping the starling faeces off my kitchen window, I jumped in and obliged. Funnily enough, he was right. The RC F has a five-litre V8 engine and it does make a very, very nice noise.
IT’S the weekend and we’re off to see family in the south so we load the RC F up with our luggage, which comfortably fits in the decent boot. There are rear seats too, which aren’t a bad size for a coupe.
It’s a hideous day and I’ve not driven the RC F at all yet, so we take the roads to the M1 steady and we’re in Watford Gap before the tropical southern climate allows for drier roads.
There are four driving settings, all controlled by a rotary nob on the centre console, and they include Sport S and Sport S+. As well as changing the way the instruments look and making the displays look a bit more angry, they also sharpen everything up and make the throttle come alive. I decide to keep it in Eco for now, as it’s still a bit soggy in Milton Keynes.
It doesn’t come as any surprise that the RC F is an effortless cruiser. It’s comfortable, quiet and laden with driver-aids. So we emerge from our 120-mile journey as relaxed as we’d have been if we were popping to the next village.
I HADN’T realised it yesterday, but my pussy-footed drive down to The Chilterns in Eco-mode saw the RC F return a rather impressive 29.2MPG. That’s almost better than my wife gets from her Vauxhall Astra a lot of the time.
It helps that the big engine is quite lazy before 4,000rpm, and it has no turbo kicking in. The engine, incidentally, is an absolutely incredible thing. When you rev it, it sounds frantic and raucous in a way that only naturally-aspirated engines do, but it still has a fair bit of low-down grunt. At full chat the RC F feels like a high-tech sports car. Which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.
Having said that, there’s something missing. The roads are dry today and I’ve got the measure of the Sport S mode now, and I’ve gone off in search of some corners while my wife and her mother go through their collections of old coats.
To be honest, it’s not the most exciting car I’ve ever piloted through the twists and turns of Buckinghamshire’s best B-roads.
I grant you, having the best part of 500bhp under your right foot does awaken the senses, but it doesn’t corner anything like as sharply as a BMW M4. And, while I’m picking fault, even with everything turned up to the max, the brakes and steering aren’t as responsive as I’d hoped they would be.
I’ve also got through nearly half a tank of petrol charging around the countryside for a morning. Despite all the carbon on this car it’s still pretty heavy, and the tank is too small for such a hefty car.
IT’S time to head home, so another jaunt up the M1 beckons. I’ve now got a full tank of fuel again and I’ve got so much more confidence in the car. Motorway blasts are a joy in the RC F. Because of the monstrous amount of power the engine is barely at tick over while you’re sat at “motorway speed” and there’s adaptive cruise control, lane-keep-assist and a fantastic Mark Levinson stereo on the carbon version.
The track-pad control between the seats is a clumsy way to navigate the very good infotainment system, but it’s intuitive to use and the dash looks messy, with all its buttons, but it’s actually pretty easy to get used to.
During the long M1 jaunt I try to stop myself feeling disappointed with the RC F. I really hoped the carbon version would feel lighter and sharper than the heavy standard version and, truth be told, it does. But I’ve also driven the M4 and the Audi RS5 and they’re so much more exciting.
Importantly, with all that carbon fibre added, and the clever torque-vectoring differential and posh stereo that comes with the £8,000 carbon pack, it costs a similar amount to a Jaguar F-Type. And that’s a tricky rival.
But then, somewhere just south of Donnington, it dawned on me. I was comparing a thoroughbred sports coupe with a muscle car. It’s actually better to think of the Lexus RC F as a brutal straight-line weapon. And then it makes so much more sense.
I HAVE a renewed outlook on the RC F now, and I don’t mind that it’s not as pin-sharp as an M4 because I can focus on what it does best. It goes from A to B in a dramatic, raw and brutal way.
To reaffirm this new-found love of the Lexus I take an opportunity to scare some friends of mine. It’s pub night, but I’m the designated driver. We lob the small ones in the back seats, and they fit – just, and my taller mate goes in the front.
On the twisty back lanes back from the first pub I’m able to show them how effectively a fully unleashed five-litre Lexus engine catapults you out of the corner. It is, frankly quite ballistic. The M4 might be quick and exciting, but the RC F, with its eight cylinders and rev-happy nature, really does turn things up a notch.
Shortly before we reach pub number two one of my mates in the back announces he’s feeling a bit sick, so I have to go steady. But I’ve proven a point, if only to myself. On a dark, deserted country road, even with four people in the car, the RCF’s bulk only spoils it if you let it. Otherwise its engine is so good there’s still plenty of fun to be had.
THE RC F goes back tomorrow. In the space of a week it’s gone from being one of the most disappointing cars I’ve tested, to being one of the best cars I’ve tested.
The thing is, if you want a dynamic masterpiece, buy a BMW M4. If you want something that’s still genuinely exciting and you don’t need to hurl yourself out of every other corner with plumes of smoke puthering from the tyres, then you’ll struggle to find fault with the Lexus.
Let’s put it another way. If you drive a BMW M4, it’s a bit of a given that lots of people will think you’re a bit of a plonker Whereas, if you drive a Lexus, even the Fast and Furious-style Carbon version, it does benefit from a much classier image. It’s also better at lots of things than the M4. And it’s more comfortable. And it sounds better. And it’s probably more economical. And I think it might look better.
Hang on, do I prefer it to an M4? Crikey. I think I do.