FIRST DRIVE | Lexus brings its A-game with rapid 2019 RC F
Bruce Fraser hits the road and racetrack in Japan's latest V8 muscle car
To interrupt a holiday for the launch of a new vehicle, well, it has to be for something pretty special. Because in all honesty, if Tata is showcasing its revamped Indica range, there is about as much chance of me attending that as there is of a certain former president coming clean at the Zondo commission.
But when the invitation is to experience vehicles like the new Lexus RC F and RC F Track Edition, well, that is simply next level. Comfortably slotting into the performance vehicle category, one can look at the likes of the BMW M4 and Mercedes-Benz C43 as direct competitors. But to take on the German big guns at their own game and not get your fingers burnt, you need to bring your A-game to the table, and that is exactly what Lexus has done.
Firstly, the RC F looks superb, with that low-slung silhouette giving instant insight into not only the capabilities of the vehicle, but what lies inside.
The man in charge of the development for both models, Yuichi Tsurumoto, has spoken about how much has been learnt over the past five years when it comes to vehicle aerodynamics, and perhaps best sums up his thinking when explaining that “every shape has been given function, embodying race-bred design”.
Of course the front is dominated by Lexus’s traditionally large spindle grille, but Tsurumoto was probably alluding to features such as a remodelled lower surface of the front spoiler, newly designed side “air breathers”, carbon ceramic disc brakes plus an active rear wing that deploys above 80km/h. All critical elements that aid in the ultimate look and performance of a sports vehicle.
“Even at ultra-high speeds around 250 km/h, the front feels firmly planted on the road surface,” adds Tsurumoto. If one looks at the Track Edition model, extensive use is made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic — and in this case we are talking the real deal. Added to the front spoiler, bonnet, rear-fixed wing, diffuser and roof, it not only delivers a distinctly more aggressive appearance but helps with weight reduction and lowering the centre of gravity.
The Track Edition also boasts unique features such as exclusive 19-inch aluminium wheels and a combination of semi-aniline and Alcántara seats in a wicked colour labelled Flare Red, along with the quad exhaust pipes produced in titanium. An aspect the team agrees on when it comes to the Lexus brand, is the excellent quality of the interiors. The materials used, workmanship and overall ambience is top notch, and the RC F feels like a culmination of many years of development.
From the high-back sports seats with integrated headrest (heated and ventilated) to the expansive 10.3-inch centre display featuring navigation, Bluetooth and audio streaming, including voice recognition, through to the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, it’s no wonder the Lexus is a favourite among international celebrities such as Halle Berry and will.i.am.
Safety-wise all the bases are covered with a comprehensive list of features — all of which come as standard. But at the end of the day there is no point in having the looks if you can’t produce the goods, and the RC F delivers... big time. Under the bonnet is a 5.0-litre V8 power-plant and kudos to Lexus for avoiding the twin-turbo route and opting for a naturally aspirated engine. The result is belly-wrenching, butt-clenching fun that quickly reminds one of the undiluted rawness of a V8.
At times it seductively burbles, at others it barks in anger, but it always sounds on point. Yet not only does the RC F sound superb, but the numbers back up the inviting soundtrack — 351kW and a peak torque of 530Nm.
Figures supplied by the manufacturer indicate a brisk 0-100km/h time of 4.5 seconds (4.3 seconds for the Track Edition thanks to some additional engine tuning and enhanced torque).
Those are seriously quick times and I got to experience them during a couple laps around the Dezzi Raceway near Port Shepstone with none other than SA motorsport legend Giniel de Villiers.
All too quickly I could feel my internal organs being repositioned at improbable angles as we hunted down the bitumen. Drifting through the corners before unleashing the might of the vehicle down a rather short straight, De Villiers showcased just how capable this vehicle is in the track environment.
While the customary drive modes of Eco, Normal and Sport S are on offer, we were obviously dialled in to Sport S+ enabling all the vehicle’s potential to be exploited. Playing with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle-shifters with the finesse of a pianist, De Villiers sliced through the eight-speed automatic transmission with each gear delivering maximum acceleration.
Interestingly, this is the first Lexus since the LFA supercar where a launch control system is included. These days the Lexus brand is primarily known for its SUVs, rather large floating saloons (with enough room in the back for a game of tennis) and advanced hybrid technology.
The RC F is a reminder of the past but also a look into the future. Don’t expect the sales figures of these two superb vehicles to come close to the German competitors mentioned earlier, because Lexus itself certainly doesn’t.
In fact it is expecting only one or two sales a month for the RC F while the Track Edition is on order only. And for me, it is this exclusivity that makes these cars even more desirable.
2019 Lexus RC F pricing:
Lexus RC F: R1,318,300
RC F Track Edition: R2,098,200