Lexus’ new RC F beefed-up track weapon
"How good is that?" It's a rhetorical question from Lexus Australia boss Scott Thompson as he levers himself out of the new RC F coupe after a hot lap with Indycar legend Scott Pruett.
He could be referring to car or driver. Both are pretty sharp tools when it comes to circulating around the Willow Springs circuit in California - Pruett because he's driven just about everything in a 50-year career that only just ended and the RC F because it's now up to 65kg lighter, stiffer and a lot more fun to drive.
It needs to be, given the obvious opposition includes the V8-powered rear-drive BMW M4 and Mercedes-Benz C63 coupe.
The RC F is on sale now in two guises: the "regular" performance coupe with a sticker price of $134,129, or about $149,000 on the road, climbing to $165,690 plus on-roads for the stripped-down Track Edition that shaves off 65kg.
The new vehicle is about $3600 cheaper than the outgoing model, no small feat given the gear packed into this updated version, headlined by a hard-to-miss 10.3-inch infotainment screen.
As the outgoing RC F was too much a nose-heavy luxury grand tourer to be a genuine track car, the focus of the update was to improve its driving enjoyment.
The brief this time was to create a car in which the accelerator can be used to adjust corner angle by provoking the big Michelin rear rubber to step out incrementally.
Lexus added details such as kneepads on the centre console to ensure owners don't bruise a patella when bracing themselves in the cabin.
Contributing to the enhanced performance are a mechanical limited-slip diff - in place of the torque-vectoring job used previously - and sundry wings and "air breathers", the vents in the bodywork behind the wheels.
The Track Edition loses the heated and ventilated front seats in the interest of trimming mass and among other cabin revisions there is only one cupholder rather than two. It has a fixed rear wing rather than the pop-up version on the regular RC F.
It also loses the ski port between the rear seats in favour of a carbon-fibre reinforced brace to improve body rigidity. The boot has been rejigged to liberate four more litres, taking capacity up to 366L.
Lexus's naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 feeds 351kW/530Nm via an eight-speed automatic to the rear tyres in both vehicles
Each has the latest safety kit, from autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection to adaptive cruise control, active lane departure assist, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
There are three enhancement packs for the RC F: EP1 and EP2 add a moonroof plus forged alloy wheels with a light or dark finish for $5000. Opt for the $29,161 EP3 and you get lightweight BBS wheels, carbon-fibre cabin trim, the moonroof and Brembo carbon-ceramic disk brakes plus the titanium exhaust from the Track Edition.
Thompson is investigating whether the carbon-ceramic brakes can be added as a stand-alone option, in which case they'll probably be a $12,000-$15,000 addition.
On the track
The RC F is the first Lexus since the LFA supercar to fit launch control. The standard car is good for 4.5 seconds from rest to 100km/h, the Track Edition improves on that by 0.2sec.
That's just off the pace of similarly priced German rivals that hit triple figures in about 4.1 sec.
At this level of potency, physics dictates there isn't a lot in it - sending more than 500Nm to the rear wheels means initial traction is key to clocking such times.
And the RC F doesn't disgrace itself off the line or as it fires up and down the challenging Willow Springs course.
The brand says it has trimmed 25kg from the unsprung mass of the Track Edition and has also set it up to have the back end wiggle more than is typical of a Lexus.
The howl from the V8 as it winds towards its 7500rpm threshold will be sweet for old-school enthusiasts, especially as the soundtrack pumps out of a titanium exhaust.
Spent time on a track and the pipes will quickly develop a heat-treated blue tinge.
Stepping out of a Track Edition into a regular RC F also highlights the efficacy of the carbon-ceramic brakes. In the former, drivers can carry more speed into the corner, brake later and still have the front end turn in with sports car alacrity.
The steering is direct and has decent feedback - late in the day, it was easy to feel when the Michelin rubber was starting to wear.
The RC F is a better-balanced package, combining a polished interior with a powerhouse engine and transmission. If I was chasing an outright lap time, there'd be others ahead of the Lexus. If I was chasing a good time, the RC F's engaging character would be hard to resist.
Lexus RC F
Price: $134,129-$165,690 plus on-roads
Warranty/servicing: 4 years/100,000km, 12 months/ 15,000km, no capped pricing
Safety: Not tested, 8 airbags, AEB, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitor, lane departure assist
Engine: 5.0-litre V8, 351kW/530Nm
Thirst: 11.1L/100km (98 RON)
SPARE None; repair kit
The UX factor
The popularity of the UX small SUV could push Lexus Australia to 10,000 sales this year. CEO Scott Thompson says the UX has been a gateway vehicle - 75 per cent of buyers are new to the brand.
"It's been a surprise, as has the fact 60 per cent of orders for the UX is for hybrid," he says. "If we can hit it (10,000 sales) that will represent 40 per cent growth in the past five years. It's always been a case of growing the business naturally. We've been around since 1989."
Thompson also notes that the marque is defying - at least for now - the shift away from sedans. "If you look at combined passenger car sales, we're on par with last year. It shows the strengths of our sedan line-up and we'll be announcing news about an expanded ES line-up later this year."