Test Drive: 2019 Lexus RC 350

It has often been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Nowhere is that statement truer than the revised-for-2019 Lexus RC 350 F Sport. Reading through the hyperbolic marketing material online, I was prepared for “athletic and responsive” capabilities that promised an “emotional driving experience”. Particularly eye-catching in Flare (aka Please Pull Me Over) Yellow, the updated styling and checked option boxes of my tester had me nearly salivating at a chance to get behind the wheel. Once out on the open road, I was left wondering if I’d in fact picked up the correct vehicle.

Is it a sporty coupe? Sure. Is it a sports coupe? Despite claims to the contrary – no, it is not.

The experience reminded me of an evening several years ago when was dining at a fancy restaurant. Amidst opulent surroundings, I had to ask the waiter if I had received someone else’s entree. It wasn’t bad, not by any stretch, it just wasn’t what I was expecting based on the description provided. Undeterred, I simply enjoyed the meal I was given and went on about my evening, but it did leave a taste of disappointment in my mouth.

Promised “razor-sharp handling” and “exhilarating” performance, I was prepared for a lively, responsive, almost brutish, sports car, but nothing could be further from reality. This in no way means the vehicle is without merit or undeserving of accolade and praise. Quite the contrary, in fact. It is simply a valuable lesson in semantics and why they matter. Is it a sporty coupe? Sure. Is it a sports coupe? Despite claims to the contrary – no, it is not.

Attending auto show media conferences, one can quickly become jaded, believing that there are no distinctive designs left. While many vehicles share the same drab styling, the newly redesigned Lexus RC unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last October makes a refreshing statement rather than being dull and staid. Drawing inspiration from the LC flagship coupe inside and out, a new front bumper, grille mesh pattern, and LED headlamps change the design expression up front; while rear styling updates consist of more-pronounced L-shaped lenses that will serve as a new signature for Lexus coupes. Air ducts have been added to either side of the rear bumper to improve air flow and handling stability while reducing drag.

The cabin is well appointed and strikes a keen balance between luxury and utility in its layout of high-quality materials that are pleasing to the eye and soft to the touch. The push-button start is found quickly and is easily within reach while an analogue clock resides atop the instrument panel. The cabin was comfortable and quiet, even at highway speeds, on winter tires and imperfect asphalt. The interior features amenities that are particularly enjoyable in colder weather such as a heated steering wheel and front seats, which can also be cooled come summer but couldn’t be further from my mind at –20C.

All RC models in Canada (aside from the RCF) feature a 3.5L V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and confidence-inspiring all-wheel drive. Offering a selection of models and trim levels – from the RC 300 AWD good for 260 hp, to the range-topping RC F Track Edition boasting a more dynamic driving experience and 472 hp – my tester was the middle-of-the-pack RC 350 AWD equipped with the F Sport package good for 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Although it didn’t feel like it. Unfortunately, the transmission doesn’t make the most of the posted performance numbers.

Priced $1,250 lower than its 2018 predecessor, the 2019 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport is equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive variable suspension, drive mode select featuring a custom mode, sport-tuned steering, active noise control, intuitive parking assist, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a power moonroof, and Mark Levinson Premium Audio system. Lexus Enform enhancements include navigation with embedded traffic and weather, destination assist, and more. The F Sport package also adds the familiar mesh grille that graces the face of all F Sport vehicles.

Logging several hundred kilometres in poor winter weather conditions, the RC 350 inspired confidence. Windows were swift to defrost and the cabin quick to heat up. Smooth and predictable in its road manners, LED headlights with automatic high-beams lit up the dark country roads frequented by whiteouts and wildlife. When the brakes had to be applied with vigour, the car remained balanced and in control, stopping more swiftly and smoothly than expected. The Lexus Safety System+ was intuitive and well-integrated, unlike some of its competitors, which made driving for long periods a pleasure rather than a chore.

Controls for the optional 10.3-inch infotainment screen are unnecessarily complicated thanks to the Lexus Remote Touch trackpad which is both infuriating and distracting. Usurping the throne from BMW’s original iDrive system as the most maddening infotainment application, it is overly sensitive and unpredictable. Rather than a simple touch screen, buttons, an intuitive knob, or a perhaps a joystick; Lexus has opted for a sensitive pad that requires a gentle touch and unwavering concentration – consistently resulting in incorrect selections and backtracking. Whenever possible I bypassed the system using Waze or Spotify via my iPhone or utilized the vehicle’s Bluetooth capability for verbal selection. The optional Mark Levinson audio system was a redeeming feature, blasting 835-watts of premium sound through 17 speakers. As expected in a vehicle of its ilk and price tag, the RC comes capable with Sirius XM Satellite Radio, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, and features USB audio inputs.

Acceleration either from a standstill or while in motion feels unexciting – regardless of what gear or drive mode you’re in. Drivers have the option of manually changing gears through the gear lever or steering wheel-mounted paddles. The aforementioned Lexus Drive Mode Select system lets you make use of Eco, Sport, or Sport+ mode to match preferences. The latter provided the closest thing to resembling a spirited driving experience, but still never set my hair on fire. The transmission felt slow to catch up to throttle inputs and was generally two gears higher than you’d want it to be to have any semblance of get up and go. I ended up manually selecting gears in Sport+ mode for the duration of my time with the car because any other scenario felt above the powerband, leaving throttle response slow and sluggish. Likely geared and programmed for efficiency rather than performance, fuel economy throughout the week wasn’t overly impressive either due to my driving mode choice.

The cabin is quiet, and the driving manners reserved, but thankfully, there is an adequate level of road feel and predictable feedback through the variable electronic power steering and adaptive sport-tuned suspension. Lexus says new shock absorbers offer more damping force and stiffer suspension bushings for flatter, sharper handling and suppler ride quality which is an apt description. Not too firm nor too soft for the application, the suspension absorbs road abnormalities without upsetting the chassis even in the corners at higher (but legal) highway speeds.

While the full-on king-of-the-hill RC F may be a bit aggressive for some and the entry-level RC 300 a bit too docile, the RC 350 makes for a compelling Goldilocks-like middle ground “just right” choice within the lineup. Those looking for a true sports coupe should look elsewhere, but if you have your sights set on a dependable and eye-catching luxury coupe, the 2019 Lexus RC 350 F Sport offers a fresh, stylish take on the grand tourer.

2019 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport
Engine Displacement: 3.5L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 311 hp
Peak Torque: 280 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 13.1/9.8/11.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 295 L
articles_PricingType 2019 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport
Base Price $62,000
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,075
Price as Tested $64,825
Optional Equipment $650 – Flare Yellow paint $650
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.0
8 Styling
6 Powertrain
9 Quality
9 Comfort
8 Practicality
9 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
9 Features
8 Value