Sure, it sports bulging fender flares, Porsche 959–esque slatted vents in its rear quarters, and a menacing spindle-shaped maw that looks like it inhales pavement by the slab, but don’t let the plumage fool you. The F Sport iteration of the new Lexus RC350 is really a smooth operator and more of a spiritual successor to Lexus’s first luxury coupe, the SC300, albeit imbued with the visual excitement of 2012’s hot LF-LC concept.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH:
You’ll be excused, then, if you confuse the new RC350 F Sport with the equally new Lexus RC F. Both get Gran Turismo video-game looks on the outside and gorgeous trimmings inside; our test car’s cabin, for example, was lined with sumptuous Playa upholstery that could have been ripped from a Maserati, a fitting complement to the head-turning Ultrasonic Blue Mica exterior paint. It’s a two-plus-two, but you’ll want to be in one of the RC350’s enveloping and form-fitting front buckets, all the better to take in the LFA supercar–inspired instrumentation, the aluminum pedals, and the classic analog clock juxtaposed by a touch-pad-operated infotainment system. Just about everything the driver touches or interacts with is soft to the touch, padded, and/or user-friendly. And, being a Lexus, it is of course whisper-quiet inside.
Compared with the related IS sedan, both the F Sport and the RC F have a body structure beefed up with extra welds, bracing, and structural adhesives that make the cars feel billet solid. Where the two differ the most is under the hood. Whereas the RC F sports a salty, 467-hp 5.0-liter V-8, the F Sport, as with other garden-variety RC350s, is powered by Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6. It’s an engine you can bring home to meet your mother—and is in fact pretty similar to the velveteen six-banger in Mom’s Camry. In rear-wheel-drive RC350 tune, the direct- and port-injected six cranks out a respectable 306 horsepower and is matched to a slick-shifting, wide-ratio eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
But those seeking a thrill behind the F Sport’s wheel will be underwhelmed. The downside of all that added beef is mass, and the 3894-pound F Sport tips our scales 273 pounds heavier than the BMW 435i and a whopping 329 pounds more than the Cadillac ATS 3.6 coupe. At 5.7 seconds to 60, it trails the ATS by 0.3 second and the 435i by half a second. Further, the RC350 F Sport was only a tenth of a second quicker to 60 than the last two Camry V-6s we tested (including this 2012 model). Don’t tell the guys at Cars and Coffee.
MORE ZEN THAN MUSCLE BEACH:
What is worth talking about is how streetwise the F Sport is on back roads. This isn’t a numbers thing. You’d expect, for instance, with the F Sport’s 235/40-19 front and 265/35-19 rear summer tires, high-friction brake pads, and larger rotors, that the car would top its competitors in lateral grip and stopping power. But at 0.88 g on the skidpad and 174 feet braking to a halt from 70 mph, the F Sport registered 0.03 g short and ran 11 feet deeper into the red zone from 70 than the ATS coupe. Ditto for the 435i, which bested the F Sport by 0.02 g; braking was a minimal four feet shorter for the Bimmer.
The F Sport is eminently cool under pressure. The stiff platform allows Lexus to use more aggressive suspension tuning and still maintain a highway ride quality worthy of the somnambulant ES350. With Adaptive Variable Suspension (included with the $3985 F Sport package), the system reduces damping at low speeds over bumpy roads to maintain comfort, while stiffening the shocks at higher speeds and cornering loads to enhance control. Variable Gear Ratio Steering ($1900) was also fitted to our test car, and it delivered that most precious of commodities—tactile feedback—that is so often absent from other carmakers’ electrically boosted power-steering systems. The result is a fixed-roof coupe that doesn’t rattle your kidneys; boasts good body control; and is smooth, balanced, and predictable in transitions, even—no, make that especially—when driven hard.
So, the RC350 F Sport offers smooth moves but remains a luxury coupe at its core. Now, if Lexus were to bolt a turbocharged V-6 into the thing, it might have the muscle to back up its aesthetics