Test driving two Molten Pearl Lexus RC sport coupes within a year is like deciding that one orange creamsicle is not enough, going back for seconds, and finding out that a low-fat version has replaced the full-flavored model. Both offer the same alluring orange wrapper, but is the leaner, less meaner alternative to the higher horsepower RC F really worth it?
If you shave the V8 version’s price tag down about twenty grand, ditch the deployable wing and carbon touches, and plop a 2.0-liter turbo from the IS200t in as a replacement for said displacement, you have a more practical and procurable vehicle on your hands. It may still be a two-ton coupe on paper, but with its adaptive dampers, various driving modes, surprisingly solid efficiency ratings, and a plethora of Lexus grade luxury, the way in which the RC200t triumphs makes it a lot more than just a Dreamsicle.
Put aside all of the remarks about how this platform is underpowered, and how Lexus needs to rethink its entire design language if it wants to keep its head above water. Want oodles of horsepower? That’s why the RC F was conceived. Hate the styling cues and want something less intrusive? Buy a Toyota.
The RC200t does a damn fine job of holding its own thanks to a modest $40,000 starting price, some solid driving characteristics, considerable boost, and a whole ton of attitude. It may not be a large-scale crowd pleaser like some of its European competition, but it certainly isn’t boring either — especially when you throw a $4,000 F Sport package at it.
With its pinched hourglass spindle grille and bumper, Nike swoosh-style LED running lights, instantly recognizable sunken headlamps, flowing profile lines and wheel arches, and rake-like contrasting plastic trim pieces, seeing is believing when it comes to Lexus’ latest design language. The slatted and hooked rear LED lamps, polished dual port exhaust tips, and 19-inch F Sport wheels are all touches that would have been labeled as heresy by the brand just a few years ago, but today it earns applause as it causes the RC to look downright combative.
Exterior pros and cons
+ The F Sport 19-inch wheels and high performance tires, an imposing sport bumper and grille, sharp black trim accents and moderate amounts of chrome, and a dual port integrated exhaust all work well together.
+ “Check-mark” style LED running lights look cool in the day, but at night is when the RC really comes alive, with hooked rear taillights and glowing door handles making a nocturnal showing.
+ People either dislike the nose of this car and its sunken, fish-like headlamps, or praise Lexus for making something wild. Aesthetically, this car grows on you, especially since its flowing profile lines are so capturing.
– Styling turns some shoppers off, and even in a different color without all of the F Sport additions, the RC still stands out.
– Blind spots are an issue due to small rear quarter glass and massive C-pillars, and both doors are humongous and heavy.
While many feel that the RC is too heavy for a 2.0-liter turbo motor, we find it to be just fun enough to keep our interest from wandering elsewhere. Lexus has done a brilliant job of taking the clever but uneventful engine out of the NX200t CUV, and re-tuning it for some added grins.
Rolling with 17 pounds of boost, the twin-scroll turbo setup is both port and direct injected, is practically lag-free, and gets a respectable 22/32 city/highway rating from the EPA, which isn’t bad considering how heavy the RC is (it weighs 3,737 pounds — putting it in compact SUV territory). On the gearbox and drivetrain end, all RC coupes come with an eight-speed automatic and paddle shifters, which are super responsive, and throw power to the rear wheels without issue thanks to an optional limited-slip differential upgrade. Hell, they’ve even got a “Snow” traction button in case things get extra slippery all of the sudden.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Surprisingly punchy throttle comes courtesy of a twin-scroll turbocharger, both port and direct injection, and a clever intake setup (which features specialized F Sport ducting and resonance chambers).
+ With an Eco setting that gets you up to 32 highway mile per gallon gains, and a Sport S+ setting that returns 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the choice to go with a small turbo setup isn’t as sacrilegious as you’d think.
+ We strongly suggest spending the extra $460 and getting the limited-slip differential upgrade because it makes the already-direct drivetrain all that much more engaging.
– Power numbers are still slight compared to the returns Subaru and Volkswagen are getting from their 2.0-liter turbo engines — something the RC could use to help combat its weight problem.
Going with an F Sport model doesn’t just get you power gains. The RC unfurls a lengthy array of interior upgrades to go with the aforementioned performance and styling tweaks. This coupe’s cabin was already tastefully accented by things like real wood trim, sharp paddle shifters, and a frameless rearview mirror, so when you toss a package option or two at this machine, expect some really nice touches: Custom stitched heated and vented seats, a perforated leather steering wheel and shift knob, a blacked-out headliner, aluminum sport pedals, a TFT digital gauge cluster, and all kinds of silver trim touches and badging make a tasteful statement.
Interior pros and cons
+ F Sport additions are all solidly built and add some nice flare to the already-luxurious interior.
+ Seats are heated, vented, and very comfortable, while the majority of the buttons, switches, stalks, headliner, dash, and leather materials are Lexus grade.
+ Although the backseat only seats two and doesn’t have a single cupholder, it is easy to access and quite spacious, even for adults.
– Lexus continues to stick with the same dated center console in the RC, which looks and feels years behind what we found in the RX and even the Prius Prime.
– Seats are slow to move out of the way and the paddle shifters are not column fixed.
Tech and safety
Tech and safety is a crucial component of auto manufacturing that Lexus has taken on full force since day one, with the latter of these two being the more promising feature in the RC200t. Lexus’ Enform Safety Connect system is always on, with collision notifications, stolen car finders, SOS buttons, roadside assistance, and more all included free of charge for the first year. It’s also got eight airbags, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and oodles of sensors for parking assistance.
While F Sport models get the perks of a 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system with 835 watts of attitude, along with voice command and an app suite, there are some dated and dysfunctional drawbacks to this upgrade that could prove frustrating to some buyers. Although the digital gauge cluster and all of it menus are pretty damn cool looking and can be quite informative, the center stack’s touchless and older-looking display screen, counter-intuitive touchpad, and odd menu layouts left us wanting a refresh all the more. We would love to see Lexus take the infotainment screens and command cues it has in the Prius Prime and all-new RX and re-pollinate them into the RC line, as this remains our largest qualm with the car.
Tech pros and cons
+ All of the modern tech works well, including rear cross traffic alerts, blind spot monitoring, and variable cruise control.
+ The 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system sounds amazing all from 835 watts and 5.1 surround audio.
+ Real time traffic and weather, Bluetooth connectivity, and one hell of a cool digital driver display win our vote.
– The touchpad is finicky, navigating from menu to menu is a chore when compared to new Audi and Jaguar layouts, graphics look dated on the infotainment screen, and real time tracking via the navi is choppy.
– No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capabilities, and camera views are limited to the back end of the car.
Without the Molten Pearl paint job and $300 matching brake calipers, the RC200t F Sport is a stealth fighter disguised as a sports coupe — especially since its exhaust and engine don’t make the same hullabaloo as the V8 powering its big brother. But powertrain aside, the same adaptive variable suspension also feels tighter due to there being 221 fewer pounds over the front subframe. Driving modes still turn the throttle rock hard or into a bowl of porridge, the addition of a cold air intake and cooler weather offer a sharper throttle, the eight-speed gearbox feels snappy and loves fourth gear when in S+ mode, and the brakes are large enough to feed a family of four off of.
Although rear visibility is an issue, and the camera system does not account for the front bumper, the RC does land a lot of cool points for its ability to be driven by almost anyone, and its ability to sip either 87 octane or premium. It’s a very clever vehicle, and sets to task without complaint or hesitation. This is Lexus grade engineering after all, so from a daily driver’s perspective, nothing feels overly out of place and would make an outstanding commuter car thanks to its efficient four-cylinder engine, crystal clean cabin, adaptive ride feel, and snow-ready traction button.
Wrap up and review
The core complaints we have with the RC200t F Sport are not just focused on the center stack and the small engine buried beneath it, but in the fact that it weighs nearly two tons. A faster, more agile animal would emerge if Lexus were able to lower the scales a couple hairs, and in return we would likely see a bump in fuel efficiency, as well as sharper cornering and braking. Who knows, maybe someday lady luck will also give RC enthusiasts a gearbox similar to what we found in the revised Toyota 86.
Over the years, Lexus has taken great strides to alter its public image from the soft, slow, safe sedan choice for the masses, without any sign of performance pedigree. This car shakes all of these old notions and delivers a fresh and fun F Sport entry into the luxury sport coupe segment at just under $50,000. It may not be the best option out there for some performance buyers, but it certainly remains a good one, especially considering this is Lexus’ first attempt at the turbo coupe game. We say wait a generation and see what emerges, because we can feel that the RC is only going to improve over time.