Review: 2021 Lexus RC F is past its expiration date
I expected to love the RC F, but I was wrong.
I disliked this car. How could I possibly mean that, though, when the machine in question is a gorgeous shade of exotic yellow, has carbon fiber strewn all about, and has a naturally-aspirated V8 with nearly 500 horsepower? The spec list is arousing to say the least, but when boiled down to the brass tacks, time and lacking performance have taxed the RC F into an artifact best left untouched.
I wanted to like this car and I truly believed that I would; It has all the correct ingredients to make for a riot of a driver's car after all. For further proof, all you have to look at are recent other fast Lexuses, too, all of which I was rather enamored by. The old-school super saloon GS F, that was sadly axed this past of year from production, and the LC 500, the newer super GT, is one of my favorite all-time cars for too many reasons to list. Because of the history of my love for fast Lexuses that all share the same romping five-oh V8, you could then imagine my expectations for the 'sports car' of the range. So where does it lack so severely?
For starters, this example with the carbon package cost a towering $90,705. I'm sorry, what? You've got to be joking. The base starting price is under 70 grand, which is much more reasonable, but it is downright laughable here at almost 100 large as nothing this car does is worth even remotely close to that suicidal number. At least the LC 500 has a special interior that's easily worth double its price tag and stunning runway looks. Oh, and it's brilliant to drive as well. The GS F was a large sedan that wowed me with its athleticism and bargain value compared to German rivals. Those two models were each steals at the price when put up next to the cars they compete with, but not the RC F. This yellow creation has little going for it, especially with the price being right in the mix of BMW's M4, Audi's RS5, and the Merc C63. And, of course, these rivals absolutely trounce the RC F in every performance metric possible, and that includes driving excitement. You can't possibly say, "oh well it's cheaper at least," because you really can only say, "it's just not as good as that lot."
I know some will like the look of the RC F - my friend did even - more for the shock and awe of its aggressive shapes and bulges, but I reckon it's not a good looking car. Most elements look like ugly aftermarket pieces tacked on for a role in a Fast and the Furious film, and the whole thing appears dowdy and fat while not completely unlike a vulgar set of running shoes/trainers. It does have presence, I'll give it that, but it's far from pretty. Cars like a new Mustang, a far cheaper sports car and a very nice looking one at that, suddenly becomes a vintage Ferrari Daytona when viewed in contrast. Dare I say it, but I don't think the highly controversial new M4 is any worse looking with its beaver buck teeth. Some will like the unabashed brute aesthetic of the RC F, but it's not for me. The shade of yellow is fabulous in its own right at least.
A huge plus is an interior that has the usual Lexus build quality, which is to say it's solid and made to last. The leather seats are comfortable and have fantastic support in all the right places; excellent, excellent seats. The perforated steering wheel is a little fat, but still comfortable to hold. Not everyone might enjoy the leather's perforation texture, but I was indifferent to it. Along with bounds of leather in every direction your eyes catch, there are also a few placements of alcantara and carbon fiber to highlight and remind of its sporting purpose. While all this impresses, the cabin does look a little dated and lacks the theatre of other more modern cabins, for example Lexus' own LC 500. I also prefer the exuberant majesty of Mercedes' C63 interior as well. I'm sure when this car came out in 2014 that this was all rather impressive, but not so much 7 years later with some odd shapes here and there on the dash. Like how to the left of the wheel is a bulging air vent that then retreats inward only to crease back out for some lights and other switches - honestly kind of resembles a butt. Plus, the carbon on the door innards looks out of place by being the only use of it in the cabin and therefore clashing with other materials and textures. Almost as if Lexus thought, "oh no! We forgot to put carbon in the interior. Let's just throw some around the window switches then and in front of the passenger's knees."
Between the chairs, you'll find the usual tumor-like Lexus infotainment radio and navigation display is still present, so please, please Lexus, update that nightmare acid-trip of an electronic system. Also, where's the head-up display? Corvettes have had head-up displays for two decades now, and you're telling me this RC F doesn't have one and at this ludicrous price? You're crazy. Despite the obvious age, the interior remains a thoroughly comfortable and quiet place to be and the back seats are even somewhat usable. It's definitely easy and pleasant enough for a grand touring aspect, too, so I wouldn't sweat about long-distance drives in the RC F. However, if you want real grand touring, get the LC 500 instead; it does it and everything else better.
But where the RC F really let me down was in its driving experience. How could I possibly dislike a raucous V8-powered RWD sports car? The steering, first of all, is disconnected and vague. There are several drive modes and no matter which I chose I still never felt completely comfortable with the steering. I even figured the steering was too light at low speeds and lacked accuracy, but became disproportionately heavy in the sport modes at those same low speeds. Also, feel is basically nonexistent. Now, both the GS F and LC 500 also lacked feel, but they were accurate and inspired confidence where the RC F seems to be communicating with the front axle by means of a pager. Things do improve at higher speeds (above 60MPH) that help turn it into a relaxing and controlled highway cruiser.
Handling is also meh. What if I told you the RC F fully gassed and ready to roll weighed a granite-like 4,000 pounds? Absurdity. It's very much okay to body shame cars still because where in the heck is all that weight coming from? Why? With so much mass to burden, it dilutes whatever handling chops this car could have, and leaves it feeling clumsy once you up the pace for spirited driving. There's lots of grip from the Michelin tires, but it's still discouraging to really explore its limits with that evident weight. A sports car this is not then, despite the carbon fiber all over and retractable wing (also made of carbon), the driving experience is not that of a sports car. A BMW M4, the F82 generation even that came out in the same year as the RC F, was a far better sports car that delivered comparatively razor sharp handling and responses when pushed. Oh, and it weighed 400 pounds less, too, and was the same size dimensionally. The new M4 has gained weight, but still undercuts the dense Lexus by a couple hundred pounds. The RC F is then best left at a 7/10s pace and cruising more like a traditional muscle car, but again, for the money that this example costs, get the LC 500 instead; it costs similar and does the cruising part better AND it's more enjoyable and balanced when really pushing to be a better sports car, too.
In a small oversteer test on a tight, favorite, and safe corner of mine, I found the front to exhibit mild understeer on turn-in with a rear that needed moderate throttle to swing it around for a true Initial D impression. However, while I appreciated the slower responses to make it easier to manage as it oversteered, it was all rather sloppy and for sure has to do with so much weight coming around and needing to control it. The understeer surprised as well, but in the same test an LC 500 was more manageable and better balanced still. I feel on a track you'll just run into bounds of understeer, and that won't make for a fun time in the slightest. Brakes, throughout all my testing, were terrific I must say.
While I love naturally aspirated engines, especially those that rev over 7,000 RPM and have at least 8 cylinders (oh, just like this one!), I think we've hit a point where the glorious 5.0L V8 in this Lexus is no longer sufficient. Numbers-wise and from behind the wheel, it's just far too slow against competitors. There's no hiding it, because Mercedes C63s and BMW M4s literally obliterate the Lexus in straight line speed. One of the best sports cars on sale right now, a Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0 will also dust the porky Lexus. It does make a good noise, mostly courtesy of a rambunctious induction roar up front from the intake swallowing oxygen, but the exhaust is largely and strangely absent. That's a shame since the exhaust in the LC 500 makes NASCAR-esque sounds from its tailpipes, but the pipes behind the RC F are oddly muted, even in the sport modes I didn't notice any change in sound.
Either way, acceleration testing revealed a 0-60MPH time of 4.2 seconds, a time that would have been quick ten years ago, but is far less impressive today. And except when you have the tach swinging above 5,000 RPM, it just never feels that fast, exacerbated further by a lack of engine and exhaust noise below 4,000 RPM until the intake awakes. Seriously, until 4,000 RPM, it's a very quiet machine. So the solution then is to keep the revs up when you want some attitude. Okay, that's enjoyable at least, but I would have hoped for far more flexibility from a big V8. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with steering wheel mounted paddles that I suggest you use as it can regularly hunt for gears left to its own accord. With the motor romping though, I found the transmission to deliver decently quick upshifts, but downshifts were on the slower side and not as smooth as other eight-speed autos I've tried, let alone some dual-clutch transmissions. The LC, with its ten-speed automatic, brought crisper and quicker shifts (both up and down) that made for a more satisfying experience.
Another odd item was the throttle response from slow speeds. I'm not kidding when I say that, when pulling away from a stop, the RC F feels like it's towing a trailer full of bricks; it feels so slow. And it's only from a stop. Sport+ slightly helps, but in normal mode you go to press the throttle to start moving and almost nothing happens. Such a strange calibration by the engineers and it doesn't help that the car tries to upshift into second gear as early as possible, too. I understand about creating a throttle that's smooth and easy to modulate, but not a throttle that mimics a full-loaded dump truck.
You might expect the RC F to be a thirsty car and you'd be right, but not as terrible as you'd think. In a day of moderately hard driving I saw 16 MPG, but when driven completely normal to work and back each day that number grew to 19.5 at least. Highway mileage surprised me when I saw a recorded 27 MPG. So it's thirsty, but only when you want it to be.
I was so excited to have a week with another bright yellow Lexus and proper F badging. I adored the GS F and LC 500, and so it was mystifying to come to find that the RC F shared so few traits with its excellent brethren. Lexus can do better than this, and that's what might be the most disappointing aspect. And it's not just that it isn't fast enough; there is no singular standout feature here. An LC 500 isn't any faster, but it has a mesmerizing interior and it looks and feels oh so special. At the base price of under 70, the RC F would be a more convincing choice, but inflated with Porsche-esque options and it becomes utter nonsense. But even at that base price, don't expect this to be a riot of a sports car; you have to treat as more of a luxury cruising muscle car. But if you want a muscle car, there's the new Mustang Mach 1 with similar power and offers worlds more track performance for about $60,000. Strange days, these, a time where a 472 horsepower naturally aspirated RWD sports car fails to satisfy.
2021 Lexus RC F
As-tested price: $90,705
Base price: $66,900
Pros: The V8 when on song; comfortable interior
Cons: cheap looks; insane sticker price; handling and performance not up to 2021 standards
Verdict: A miss from a team that knows how to make a great driver's car; in need of an urgent, complete overhaul.