Test Drive: 2016 Lexus RC 350 AWD

The Lexus RC 350 is a car that seems to be a bit confused about what it wants to be. The looks suggest full-on sports coupe. There is an aggressive grille, massive vents in the bumper, sharp side sills that jut from the body, and at the rear are faux diffusers for fake bumper vents. The colour is a retina-searing creamsicle orange that has garnered more attention, looks and thumbs up than anything else I've driven all year. All of that suggests BMW M4 fighter.

What this car is isn't an M4 or C-Class AMG fighter. It's a personal luxury coupe.

Get inside and that aggressiveness continues. The ventilated leather seats are heavily bolstered, the wheel is small and close to you, with big paddle shifters on the back. To the right is a big "Sport" mode knob. Front and centre in the instrument panel is a great big tachometer, with the speed playing second fiddle in a smaller digital arrangement. Toggle the push-button ignition and the car starts with a roar. Especially if you turn that Sport mode dial. This car even has the F Sport package, with a tastefully sized badge on the trunk telling you so.

But when you start to drive the car, it starts to give you a different message. The steering is extremely light, with little feel at speed. The six-speed automatic transmission is slow to react, even in Sport mode. It frequently takes two or three attempts before settling on a gear. I found myself using the wheel-mounted paddles far more than I normally do, but because I had to, not because I wanted to. The acceleration is good, but not what you'd expect from 3.5L and 308 hp. This is a heavy car, and that’s reflected in the acceleration, the ride, and the 12.4 L/100 km I managed in mostly rural driving.

The suspension is floaty, especially over sharp bumps. Eco mode gives the most compliance, but the floatiness is always there. The car takes a couple of cycles of the suspension before settling again. There are adaptive variable shocks, and you can feel a difference when toggling Sport mode. The car stiffens noticeably, but then it seems to have too little rebound damping in the suspension. It feels like it's launching you off of big bumps, and it makes it difficult to be confident when driving the car quickly. The $3,300 F Sport package doesn't even include sports options, it adds an (admittedly amazing-sounding) 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, collision detection, and radar cruise control. And that great sounding engine? There's a volume control knob on the dash for it. It's Lexus's active sound control, and it's largely coming through the stereo.

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What this car is isn't an M4 or C-Class AMG fighter. It's a personal luxury coupe. It’s like the Thunderbirds of the 1980s and 1990s or even the later Chevrolet Monte Carlos, but instead of just being a brash car with some style, the RC 350 is for someone who has grown up from that. Someone who now has not just more money, but higher expectations. It's not a car for you to get in and drive fast. It's a car for you to get in and look fast, sound fast, but be pampered while you drive it. It has power everything, even the tilt and telescoping wheel. There is navigation, heated and cooled seats, leather on the dash and a headliner that is so soft I want to have shirts made from it. In normal mode, the car rides smoothly, even if it is floaty. It doesn't crash over bumps, and with the exception of some wind noise around the back of the door, it is impressively quiet inside. When you turn the big dial to Sport, the sound is amazing. I don't care if it's artificial, it sounds supremely mechanical, and if I hadn't looked up what the dial on the dash did I would never have guessed it was enhanced.

Then the Lexus surprises you with a bit of a hidden trick. Turn that big dial on the console to Sport a second time, and it engages Sport+. The plus, in this case, means even firmer damping. The springiness goes away. The transmission starts to hold gears for you through turns. It responds faster to the throttle as well. The RC finally starts to come alive. It’s still more 440i than M4, and you can definitely feel that it weighs the best of 2,000 kg, but it finally shows some character in Sport+.

One look at the sloping roofline, and it’s apparent that this isn’t a car with much space in the back, and sliding the front seat shows pretty quickly that if your rear passengers have feet, and the driver is tall, the seats are useless. But who really uses the back seat of a coupe for passengers? Maybe for a child seat, probably for a laptop bag and some occasional groceries, but not for passengers. Similarly, though, the low roofline and the wide sills combine for a small door opening. It can be difficult to climb in and out of the opening, and you will probably net a decent amount of dirt on your pants from the sill. Once you get in and seated it feels comfortably snug, with decent visibility to the front. Seeing out the back is a different story but the RC does have a backup camera with cross-traffic alert and large rear-view mirrors to help out.

The tactile interface for the navigation system and the stereo is a touchpad that wobbles and clicks to tell you where you’re moving the cursor. It feels cumbersome and takes some serious getting used to. The movement of the pad requires you to keep your hand very stable, and the cursor doesn’t always go where you’re expecting it to. With more use, it may become more natural, but in my week with the car I could never get the hang of it. The sliding tachometer, which moves left and right to allow for a larger info screen in the dashboard was a delight and a great combination of looks (with it centred) and practicality (with it shifted to the side).

If you’re looking for a compact coupe with good power, lots of noise, a cushioned ride, all the luxury features and big, brash looks, this is your car. If you’re looking for a corner carver that will leave you with a smile on your face at the end of every drive, you’ll probably want to check elsewhere.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance
2016 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport
2016 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport
Base Price $58,250
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,045
Price as Tested $63,695
Optional Equipment $3,300
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
10 Exterior Styling
6 Performance
10 Interior
4 Fuel Economy
8 Comfort