Lexus Unleashes a Muscle Car With the RC-F Sport Coupe

We took a blood-pumping ride in this rumbling, 467-horsepower Japanese pony car.

There are Lexus fans! It sounds implausible, I know, for a brand built on selling stolidly beige (or is it gold?) RX crossovers and dressed up Camrys seemingly bent not on keeping up with the Joneses, but with being indistinguishable from them.

But it is true. I saw it with my own eyes. It was brought on by this stunning Japanese pony car, a worthy Ford Mustang competitor. Yes, the RC-F’s $78,000 as-tested price and its faultless fit and finish both exceed the Mustang’s ceiling. But the important bits are all there: a rumbling 467-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 engine housed beneath a long hood that seems to stretch to the horizon from the driver’s seat.

Out back, there’s the tight butt encompassing a weekend-for-two luggage compartment. The back seat says we can double date, but don’t expect to use the back seat for any trips longer than to the restaurant or theater. Feels just like a Mustang, but with nicer cabin appointments.

With the car’s orange paint blazing and its V8 growling, I was prowling the left lane of the highway when I noticed a black Dodge Charger some distance back in my mirror. Easing to the right, I slowed to determine its intent.

Just then, a white sedan passed. Good. If the Charger is highway patrol, maybe the sedan will distract from my eye-catching ride. I look left at the sedan to notice it is a Lexus IS-F, the RC’s four-door stablemate. And the car’s occupants are smiling, pointing at the RC and giving thumbs up! Lexus enthusiasts! Who knew?

These are the people Toyota sought when it created Lexus as a luxury alternative to the company’s sensible transportation modules. Cars that evoke emotional attachment. That is the source of customer loyalty and manufacturer profits. Ask Harley-Davidson and Ferrari. Ever seen a Lexus tattoo? Or a poseur at a pickup bar ostentatiously displaying a Lexus jacket?

Pursuit of an emotional connection drove Lexus to the very expressive styling shown by the RC-F. Yes, the basic long hood-short deck pony car proportions are there, as the market expects for sporty coupes. That silhouette is adorned with a gaping maw of a grille and more jutting lines and scoops and flairs than are strictly necessary.

Lexus calls the RC-F’s grille a “spindle” design, apparently oblivious to the fact that 1) nobody knows what a spindle is anymore and 2) if they did, they would observe that the car’s grille looks  nothing like a spindle. Regardless, its purpose is to be unique and expressive, and it achieves those goals.

Maybe the right analogy isn’t a Mustang, but a Pontiac Trans-Am, with all its attendant scoops, spoilers and stickers, but without its attendant cultural baggage. As with the Trans-Am, the RC-F’s fundamentals are sound, but I’d like it even better without the mandatory visit to the Pep Boys’ accessory aisle.

Certainly, the visceral feeling of potence is there when driving the RC-F. The steering is taut and responsive and the eight-speed automatic transmission makes all the right choices during ambitious driving. An 835-watt, 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system puts the oomph into the 1812 Overture if you are a Lexus customer, or it can announce your arrival to the 7-11 parking lot by blasting Skynard if the RC-F is your Trans-Am replacement. Imagine if Kevin Spacey’s American Beauty character couldn’t locate a suitable vintage Trans-Am for his mid-life crisis and instead he just swung by the Lexus dealer and signed a lease on an RC-F.

As much fun as all this preening, posturing and posing is, there are a few details the engineering team could put more work into. At low speeds, the RC-F’s high-performance suspension and drivetrain tuning feels ill at ease. The simple act of backing out of a driveway into the street invokes obnoxious scrub from the front tires, as their differing angles when the steering wheel is cranked all the way over cause them to fight each other.

Similarly, accelerating while making a sharp right turn from an intersection reveals that the limited slip differential is, well, too limited. The result is wheel hop, as the right tire on the inside tries to keep up with the left tire, despite tracing a much shorter path. These were the sort of poorly executed details we saw on the previous-generation Cadillac CTS-V, as that company learned how to build performance cars.

Cadillac has banished these issues from its current-generation cars, and surely Lexus will do the same with its next generation. Meanwhile, consider embracing the car’s propensity for drama. I’m measuring the RC-F’s hood for a Trans-Am’s flaming bird sticker.

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Photos by Toyota Motor Sales