Test Drive: 2015 Lexus RC 350 AWD

Review and Photos by Jeff Wilson

Generally speaking, the thought of spending a handsome sum of money on a new car and then being expected to pay for the paint additionally annoys the heck out of me.  It takes the art of nickel-and-diming someone to a whole new level and the German car companies do it better than anyone.   They’ll offer one, or maybe two standard colours, but if you want your ride to look like anything other than Government Issue, you’ll need to spend several hundred dollars more.

So when the Lexus representative emailed me the pricing and specifications package for my press car, it raised my ire to see Lexus playing this same money grabbing game.

Then I arrived at Lexus Canada’s headquarters and saw the RC 350 I was scheduled to drive for the first time and I suddenly forgot all about being angry.

Parked out front was a racy looking machine, squat and fearsome, and finished in the most sensational paint I’ve ever seen.  Lexus calls it Ultrasonic Blue Mica 2.0, Infrared and it costs $650 extra.  And if you’re considering picking up a new RC 350 for yourself and wonder if it’s worth spending the extra bucks on paint, let me tell you that it unequivocally is.  This hue is part of a new “contrast layering” painting system – a process unique to the RC line, previously found only on show vehicles.

Parked in the sunlight, it is simply radiant, sexy even.

Sexy is exactly what Lexus was going for with the RC 350.  Director of Lexus Canada, Cyril Dimitris says, “The RC 350 was developed around a single concept:  A coupe must be ‘sexy’.”  With its compact dimensions and proportioned with classic long-hood, short trunk lid stature, the low and wide Lexus is absolutely eye-catching.   Like the paint process, Lexus apparently faced assembly challenges to work with the overly styled body panels too, requiring a re-think on their production technologies to bring the RC to light.

And while the Lexus “spindle grille” is off-putting to some, its distinctively aggressive look makes the 4 Series BMW appear demure and bland, and the Infiniti Q60, past its expiration date.  Unlike the somewhat controversial front end, from the profile and rear-three-quarter view, the RC 350 is undeniably sexy.

By now you’re surely thinking, “Okay, I get it, this guy thinks the RC looks good, but do you even drive, bro?”  Yes I do, and I’m getting to that.  But if you’re under the assumption the RC 350 is a sports car, you’re mistaken, and it seems even Lexus is freely admitting that.

In the propaganda package from Lexus, there are several lines of copy discussing the styling, reliability, build quality and refinement of the RC – a car they describe as a luxury coupe – before any mention of the “engaging driving experience.”  Not scintillating.  Not exhilarating.  Engaging.

There’s nothing wrong with engaging, in fact, for a personal luxury machine that’s as much about fashion as it is for getting places, “engaging” is great.  And it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with an RC 350.  The 307 hp 3.5 L V6 is no slouch, but is well down on torque (277 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm) compared to a comparably priced BMW 435i or Audi S5 with their forced-induction engines.  This, combined with greater mass than either of the Germans means the Lexus always feels heavy.

With the AWD’s six-speed automatic in “Sport” mode, the RC 350’s V6 can be goaded into some shenanigans, with gears held into the upper regions of the tachometer and downshifts snapped off sooner, but the gearing feels tall and the shifts a bit sluggish compared to the stellar eight-speed available in the rear-wheel-drive version of the RC.  Toss in the stiff throttle and long-travel pedal and the driver is left with the sense that the RC 350 would be happier serenely crossing the countryside at high speed rather than ripping up a road course.

Thanks to the all-wheel-drive system, the Lexus never puts a tire wrong when one does grab the RC 350 by the scruff and makes it move with vigor.  It’s controlled and planted but never feels light or playful the way Japanese cars normally feel compared to their German counterparts.  The electrically assisted steering is precise but not overly quick, nor particularly alive with feel.  However in this age of electric steering, that’s a quality that is increasingly hard to find.

If this is all starting to sound like the RC 350 is a wet blanket to drive I apologize – it really isn’t.  It’s just that with that angry, gaping maw and such aggressive styling (not to mention “F Sport” badging all over the car), shouldn’t it be reasonable to expect more driving aggression?

In reality, as an attention-grabbing grand touring machine, the RC 350 is a rampant success.  Even though the ride is taut, feeling like the suspension is coiled up tightly, it is never harsh.  In typical Lexus fashion, the sharp edges of particularly nasty bumps are rounded off and the balance between ride comfort and capable handling is remarkable.  Even the cringe-worthy CRACK that resonates through most stiffly suspended cars following a pothole strike is damped and muffled away.

The rest of the noises inside the RC 350 are nicely muffled too, with the exception of some amplified intake noise from the V6 that sounds like what a computer has determined to be the absolute perfect balance between snarl, growl and roar.  It’s a little clinical compared to the feral howl of some other performance cars, but it still contributes to the enjoyment of the driving experience.

Like the IS F Sport, the RC 350 F Sport features integrated foaming construction in the seats.  Here, wrapped in NuLuxe (that completely fooled me into believing it was leather), they’re brilliantly comfortable, yet supportive enough to keep a driver in place during spirited cornering.  Rear seat passenger space is woefully lacking, though, particularly in legroom.  This was surprising given the RC’s dimensions mirroring (and in some cases eclipsing) all of its primary competitors, each of which offer considerably more rear seat space and is the price of all that sexiness I guess.

The dashboard design and layout is sensational, just as it is in its IS 350 sibling.  The steering wheel is small in diameter and feels great in hand.  The gauges are reminiscent of the LF-A super car and in their standard mode, are the most simple and legible you’ll find anywhere, but if you need more information, the tach ring and speedometer slide to the right, revealing a host of information on a separate screen.

The central dash and tall console tunnel are trimmed in luxurious materials and all controls are easily reached and operated.  The climate control temperature is adjusted via a pair of electronic slider strips that are smooth and sensitive enough that they’re easily operated with gloves on.  Cadillac should take note of how it’s done here.  At the top of the dash is the seven-inch display portion of the infotainment system.  For 2015 Lexus has done away with its mouse-like controller in favour of a square touch pad.  I found it no easier to use than the mouse device, just different.  The system is easy enough to navigate and there are enough redundancy controls for primary audio functions to keep the driver from needing to redirect his or her attention to function-searching while on the road.

The door handle levers, plastic paddle shifters and a curious metallic-hued, carbon-fibre pattern plastic are the only elements of the RC’s interior that cheapen the otherwise luxurious experience.

The new Lexus RC 350 is a well-built, high fashion personal luxury car.  It’s aggressively priced to compete directly with the best of the class – a group that now appears dated or dowdy next to the sexy Lexus.  For buyers that put a car’s fashion above outright performance, the smooth and comfortable RC 350 is a fantastic car, even if you should pay extra for the paint.

Competitors:
Audi A5
BMW 4 Series
Cadillac ATS Coupe
Infiniti Q60

2015 Lexus RC 350 AWD F-Sport Series 2
2015 Lexus RC 350 AWD F-Sport Series 2
Base Price $60,500
Optional Equipment Ultrasonic blue mica paint, $650
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,995
Price as Tested $63,245
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.6
9 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
10 Interior
9 Comfort
7 Fuel Economy