In 2014, Lexus slipped an audacious new coupe into its lineup.
The RC represents Lexus’s debut in the luxury coupe segment, which was then experiencing a growth spurt.
It’s a small but richly populated cohort, with players from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Infiniti.
Stylish, luxurious and largely impractical
It’s a curious segment. The cars are stylish, luxuriously outfitted and, to varying degrees, sporty. Their rear-drive platforms deliver superior driving dynamics. Most are available with all-wheel-drive.
But they are also small and largely impractical. Most comfortable for two, their rear seating range from negligible to barely adequate. Their cargo capacities top out at so-so.
Family cars they are not.
Like its competitors, the RC’s price of entry hovers right around $40,000 and escalates through a series of models and trim levels to $65,000.
Not a bashful car
Lexus says RC stands for “radical coupe,” an apt descriptor. With its dramatic spindle grille, deeply carved intake ports and aggressive character lines, this is not a bashful car.
It’s a different story inside. Riders snug into a pair of low-slung and well-bolstered seats facing a dashboard that’s as understated as the exterior is exuberant. Its soft-touch surfaces, high-quality materials and precise fit-and-finish deliver an appropriately high-toned experience.
Casual storage is in short supply, though, and the shallow cupholders too easily lose their grip on tall beverage containers.
Second-row seating is essentially non-existent; legroom is minuscule and you wouldn’t want to wrestle with a child safety seat back there. The small trunk can be quickly expanded by dropping the 60/40-split seatbacks.
Infotainment and safety system upgrades
This year, the RC’s Enform infotainment suite receives several upgrades, including a Wi-Fi hotspot, improved voice recognition and, on models equipped with navigation, a 10.3-inch display screen.
The system lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but I’ve finally come to terms with the Remote Touchpad Interface. After complaining for years about the system, which uses smartphone-like touch controls, it has come to feel less like an impediment and more like a tool.
Lexus’s suite of driver-assist features — automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlamps and adaptive cruise control — are standard on all RCs.
An optional blind-spot monitor alerts the driver to surrounding vehicles, and also signals the presence of vehicles in adjacent lanes coming up from the rear.
Extra pounds curb performance
The RC is heavier than the competition and performance lags as a result.
Even so, our rear-wheel drive RC 300 ($40,640) tester was lively enough to be entertaining and comfortable enough to make allowances for its dynamic deficits. Despite riding on low-profile 19-inch wheels, the little coupe rode easily over a variety of road surfaces, its suspension absorbing all but the worst potholes.
Steering feel is nicely weighted and has a good on-center groove. The system communicates enough information from the road surface to let the driver know what the front tires are up to. Oversteer is the default response to hard cornering and the tires give early warning when they are on the threshold of breaking loose.
Numerous drivetrain choices
The RWD RC 300 is powered by a 241-hp turbocharged four mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It runs the 0-60 sprint in a casual 7.3 seconds.
The AWD variant ($43,330) gets a 260-hp V-6 and a six-speed automatic and is quicker by a second to 60.
Though Lexus markets it as a separate model, the RC 350 ($43,570) shares all but its 311-hp V-6 with the RC 300. From 0-60, it clocks in at 5.9 seconds.
All the RCs can be ordered with the $4,105 F Sport package. Its active dampers and SPORT+ driving mode sharpen responses. Configurable gauges, sport seats and high-friction brake pads are included, as are 19-inch wheels and a slew of cosmetic upgrades, inside and out.
These coupes campaign under the umbrella of the high-performance RC F ($64,650), with its 467-hp V-8, upgraded Brembo brakes and optional torque-vectoring rear axle.
Other brands will better serve shoppers in search of cutting-edge performance. For those who prefer the quieter pleasures of the Lexus experience, the audacious RC may be the most engaging option.
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2018 Lexus RC 300 RWD
Vehicle base price: $40,640
Trim level base price: $40,640
As tested: $50,973
Options included: triple-beam LED headlights; LED foglamps; 19-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels; rain-sensing wipers; leather-trimmed interior; heated and ventilated front seats; power tilt and telescoping steering column; blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert; navigation with color display, Remote Touchpad interface and Enform Destination Assist and app suite; intuitive parking assist; moonroof; rear spoiler; cargo net; wheel locks; and rear-bumper applique.
EPA rating: 26 combined/22 city/32 highway
Premium unleaded gas specified