Lexus went out of its way to bring to life the marketing slogan “experience amazing” at the launch of its latest RC models, including giving us a couple of laps in the RC F and its meaner, more track-focused, Track Edition around the privately-owned Dezzi Raceway in Port Shepstone.
First though, there was a bit of sporting luxury in the form of the new Lexus LS F-Sport, an ultra-premium limousine that wouldn’t have been out of place at the posh Beverly Hills hotel, in Umhlanga, where we spent the night. Its creamy white leather and brushed aluminium made me feel as though I was in a private jet en route to the French Riviera.
It is powered by a 3.5 litre V6 turbo engine that delivers a healthy 310kW and 600Nm of torque. Don’t expect any ear-splitting sound, though - it is a premium executive saloon, after all. When pushed a bit hard I could hear the grunt from the V6, albeit a bit muted in the well-insulated cabin. The vehicle is kitted out with almost every conceivable luxury although, disappointingly, there was some rather skew stitching on the driver’s seat. I would have expected perfection from the Japanese shokunin masters. I guess even the best have their off days.
On to the RC F … it is aimed squarely at BMW’s M4 and the Mercedes-Benz C43 - and it has what it takes to challenge them. Sadly, brand perception is a problem for Lexus, although I don’t understand why this is the case, as it has produced some very good models, including the new RC F. It has all the right looks, with its stacked quad pipes, bulging bonnet, gaping air vents, pronounced front splitter, 19-inch wheels - and there’s the guttural sound from the naturally-aspirated V8.
That 5.0 litre V8 produces 351kW and 530Nm of torque, providing a claimed sprint to 100km/h time of 4.3 seconds. Impressive to drive, the figure-hugging sports seats are firm but comfortable, as is the suspension. An active rear wing pops up once the speed exceeds 80km/h, for added stability.
I must admit, I haven’t done a lot of track time but the more I drove the Lexus on the circuit, the more I enjoyed the experience. Armchair critics of racing drivers have no idea of how intense the sport can be. The level of concentration I had to harness just for three laps was exhausting. Now, imagine having to out-race, out-think and out-manoeuvre other drivers, while doing all the calculations racing drivers have to, all while hurtling along at insanely high speeds. Trust me, it is not as easy as it looks on screen.
The three laps I did were exciting but the level of enjoyment rose exponentially on the open road. The guttural roar of the engine woke up villages we drove through on a 170km route that meandered through rural KZN.
My co-driver started gripping the “oh, God” handle with whitened knuckles as I flew past cows and dogs on the side of the road, as well as some slow traffic. He probably thought my driving was going to hasten his departure for the Pearly Gates. There was no need to worry. Whenever I dropped a gear, the V8 bark made pedestrians either run for cover or scream in utter jubilation. Plus, the brake callipers did an excellent job of keeping the 2.2 ton vehicle under control.
Luckily for me, I did this in a very comfortable coupe, with all the luxury accoutrements. At R1,318,300, the RC F is not cheap but what I have always liked about Lexus is that a lot of what would be optional extras in cars this segment come as standard.
For around an extra R800K you can get your hands on the even more track-focused, carbon-fibre clad Track Edition. I expected it to blitz its tamer sibling but the sprint to 0-100km/h is identical, as is the power output. I can’t see why it costs so much more. With that kind of money, I could buy an RC F and a well-specced Toyota Hilux 4.0 V6 double cab 4x4 Legend 50. Maybe it is all about the 80kg shaved off by the extensive use of carbon fibre on the front splitter, hood, roof etc. Titanium mufflers, carbon ceramic brakes and aluminium wheels also contribute to the weight loss. Having done two hot laps, I couldn’t help but wonder where the 80kg saving went. Even after three laps with the Dakar rally legend Giniel de Villiers at scary speeds, I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that the price difference between the cars was too steep.
Lexus has, however, done a great job with both cars. I found the Track Edition, with all the electronic gizmos off, to be a real handful, throwing the rear end out effortlessly and certainly more scary when pushed hard. With great power comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker. In the case of these Lexus models, that responsibility lies in the stopping power of the superb ceramic brakes.
Not so great is the cockpit, which is starting to show its age, partially due to the presence of too many physical buttons. That said, Lexus has two incredible cars here and both should be able to chase down their German rivals and allow the driver and passengers to “experience amazing” while doing so.