2023 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport review: A poser's sports car
Looks that signify intent, this is a source of discontent and nears embarrassment.
2023 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
I don't like this car. There, I said it - you can click back and move on with your life. But, that would nearly be unfair to this pretend sports car from Lexus. What you're looking at is the longstanding RC coupe, now in its tenth year (!), that's been subject to The Fast and the Furious treatment with a glaringly out of place black hood. People will see this car and think it's fast, or that you want to race them - it happened to me - yet the truth is this is not a fast car. Nor is it a sports car - it's not even close to one. What this car is then is a poser's dream, lacking in ways that become frustrating as much as unbecoming of Lexus as a brand.
Lexus knows how to build a great performance car. Just look at the mythical and legendary status that the LFA supercar has achieved since release. They also have the fabulous LC 500 grand tourer, and the GS F, one of the best sports sedans ever made (many, including myself, found it to be more charismatic and enjoyable than the BMW M5 of the same time). The RC model range has never been on the cutting edge, tracing lineage back to the IS sedans that first came out in 2006. Heck, this tester even has the same engine as a 2006 IS 350 still, with basically zero changes; Over 15 years on, and the advancements amount to nil. Lexus (and parent company Toyota) are known as maybe the laziest carmaker on the planet, and the RC is living proof.
Despite the racy looks, the RC 350 is massively off the pace from six-cylinder competitors, as if its rivals have multiple bottles of NOS. What you do get is a 3.5-liter V6 making 311 horsepower and 280 pounds of torque at a high 4,800 RPM. Paired to a derelict and disappointing six-speed automatic, 0-60 MPH takes a leisurely 5.7 seconds. You might think that doesn't sound so slow, but when you realize a BMW M440i can do 0-60 MPH in four seconds flat, this might as well be a pre-war Beetle. When the V6 does have revs, from 4,500 RPM up, it does make solid enough progress, but it's below that where there is absolutely nothing. Even at 3,000 RPM, putting your foot down greets you with very little in return. What makes it more sad is this V6-powered coupe is slower than rivals when equipped with their base four-cylinder engines.
It might sound fun that this is an engine that needs to be worked hard, but the aging and lazy transmission does no favors, and because there's only six gears instead of the now industry-standard eight, it's even harder to keep it in the power band, as each upshift lowers the RPMs too much out of touch. Like I said, you see the F Sport's aggressive bodywork, the black hood, the yellow highlights on the interior and you'll be caught dead wrong in thinking this must be a fast car, but really, you'll be trailing four-banger base Mustangs from the stoplights and beyond. What's worst is that the RC 350 AWD is thirsty, averaging just 20 MPG, actually less than what I achieved in the IS 500 with its big and burbling V8.
7/10ths is where the RC 350 is happy at, with anything higher resulting in scrubbing and unplayful understeer. It's hard to imagine an AWD car like this as being a happy oversteering monster, but you're left with a cruiser that has its hands tied behind its back, embracing the lifestyle of an easy grand tourer. Do quick left and right inputs on the wheel and you'll be met with noticeable body roll that quickly gets unsorted and out of hand. On one of my favorite back roads, roll becomes prevalent through transitions as the outside corners load up at even a moderate pace. Weighing over 4,000 pounds doesn't help, and the modest tires here are not meant to cope either. The steering is just okay, with a tiny bit of feel and I do like the thin leather-wrapped wheel, but at speed it needs more weight and the rest of the car sometimes seems out of tune from your inputs during spirited driving. Again, despite those racy looks outside and in , plus an F Sport badge, the RC 350 is relatively slow on the straights, and wishes to avoid hard cornering.
At least the interior features an abundance of supple leather with extremely comfortable seats. The yellow highlights on this example are reminiscent of a common McLaren interior color coordination, but they do reinforce a sporting performance character that the car completely lacks in actuality. At least it looks cool. As well as the cabin is put together, with almost zero rattles nor squeaks on even the worst roads around me, there are some curiously cheap choices sprinkled about. There's the cruise control lever that must be twenty years old now, and a volume knob that's a weird color and has a tacky rubbery feel to it that's out of place and strange to the touch. The sunroof has a manual panel to open, but it's two pieces making it clunky and requires more effort than it should to open because the first half opens easy, and then gets heavier once you're moving both parts. That's not luxury.
Back seat space is poor, but it's not the leg room that's as bad as the headroom. My 6' 1" friend volunteered to ride back there and, I kid you not, he had to have his head tilted at a nearly 45-degree angle to keep his head from hitting the ceiling. I also didn't like how the A/C kept resorting randomly to recirculated air when I previously would leave the car in manual control with outside air only. Sometimes restarting the car would reset it to recirc, and other times not. Weird.
The trunk sometimes exhibited a horrible creaking noise upon opening, something I would take to the dealer for a fix that belies the usual Lexus build quality. And then there's the center display, a continued abomination with its horrid trackpad controller. Thankfully, it's a touchscreen now which helps things, but only marginally. I say this because at times, you realize the touchscreen can't do everything. When adjusting treble and bass, there's no immediate back button for example; You have to press the physical back button located by the shifter to go one page back. I ran into this obstacle several times and so it seems that they converted it to a touchscreen without actually optimizing it as a touchscreen. There's also the fact that Lexus didn't update the infotainment with the latest version found in most new Lexus and Toyotas, further proof they just don't seem to care.
What the Lexus RC does do very well is play the role of a comfortable touring car, with its hushed road and wind noise, comfortable seats, and soft ride quality that allows it to glide over bumps. However, that's also the very problem with this car: It gives the looks of a serious performer, made all the more by details like the black hood and yellow trim nuances inside, but in today's world, this is a $60,000 sports coupe that lacks performance in a myriad of ways. At this point, it becomes a poser's dream: Someone that wants the looks of a fast and serious car, but has no intention or desire to ever drive spiritedly. This is a car to look cool in, but you don't give an ounce about actually driving nor learning how to drive. And I'm sorry, but that just doesn't work for me and leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.
This was made all the more apparent when, at a stoplight, a blue RC F, the real RC Lexus sports coupe (that I also was not particularly fond of when tested) rolled up next to me with a carbon fiber hood and wing. While the owner was nice enough to spot me and give a chuckle and nod of approval, I felt like a complete imposter in this wannabe edition. If you want a comfortable cruiser, there are better options still. Shoot, it may be a sedan, but a Genesis G70 is better in literally every way as a car and is highly enjoyable as a performance car. And if you want a real sports car, a BMW M240xi wipes the floor with the RC 350, so does the M440i/xi with its ugly snout, and I'm almost forgetting Mercedes, as you're breaching on the price of the C43 AMG and CLA 45 AMG Benzes at this price. Oh, and there's the Audi S3 and the forthcoming Integra Type S. There's also the GR Supra and, dare I say it, a Camaro SS 1LE. Now, those last two are not luxury cars, but they are similarly priced two door sports coupes that are miles more fun to drive and leagues faster, concluding how many superior choices you have. I honestly don't know why anyone would want this car. And if you do, it'll only mean you solely care about looking cool and nothing else; that you don't care about the journey and just about how you arrive. Basically Instagram verse reality.
2023 Lexus RC 350 AWD F Sport review
As-tested price: $61,430
Pros: Racy looks, comfortable cruising
Cons: Way slower and less engaging than competitors; $60K