Lexus is not a brand synonymous with racing heritage.
The brand is known for producing comfortable and reliable luxury cruisers. However there have been some highlights which have caught the hearts of driving enthusiasts as of late. These anomalies, like the 2021 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport, are fueled by their attempts to draw in younger buyers to the brand. Lexus has continued to try and show the world they can make genuinely fun machines.
The IS sports sedan was one of their first attempts at a more enthusiast focused design and was successful in drawing a younger following which appreciated the rear wheel drive platform paired with a silky smooth straight six-cylinder. Then there was the LFA, a supercar which was a statement to show the world what Lexus can do. But the LFA can’t be considered a mass market vehicle, and that’s where the Lexus RC 350 comes in.
From the outside, the RC looks exotic with intricate details and a classic sports coupé design. The front end is dominated by the signature spindle grille. The Black Line Edition tested here finishes the spindle with Jet Black chrome plating. The profile is slung back with a long hood and an upward sweeping trunk spoiler for a fast back design. The wide shoulders and bulging fenders give the RC350 a wide stance and a planted look.
The interior of the RC 350 is textbook Lexus. The interior has a high transmission tunnel giving off a cockpit experience similar to an exotic sports car, but the downside is a compromise in usable space. The Modular gauge is a design feature taken from the LFA. The seats are an excellent balance between support and true comfort, however rear legroom is abysmal. Front passengers will have to sacrifice a lot of their own space to keep rear passengers comfortable.
There are plenty of little details such as buttons and HVAC display which look a bit dated, as the RC has been around for over half a decade. The Infotainment retains the much criticized Remote Touch Interface which can be infuriating, though a new bonus is the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This gives a much simpler interface option for those who cannot stand the native system. The crisp display and excellent Mark Levinson sound system compensate for the other shortcomings and makes the experience more enjoyable.
The RC 350 is no lightweight despite what its exterior footprint suggests. The suspension tuning is definitely focused on comfort. Even in Sport Plus mode, the ride is still very supple and compliant. It is excellent for long distance cruising, gliding over bumps and rough pavement as expected in a traditional Lexus. The RC is capable of taking corners and highway ramps with confidence and poise, the weight of the car can really be felt when it’s pushed.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine with VVT-I and direct injection, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with full torque converter lockup that allows shifts in 0.2 seconds. The engine produces 311 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The results are a buttery smooth and powerful drivetrain, with a linear power surge allowing power to build aggressively as revs build up. Unfortunately the transmission feels slow and lacks the response found in today’s competition.
The highlight of the powertrain is definitely the engine and the way the V6 sings the RPMs climb. This natural aspirated response and sound is something turbocharged power can never replicate. The magic of naturally aspirated engines will become a relic of the past in the near future. I am genuinely glad the RC is one of the last crusaders.
A naturally aspirated six-cylinder and six-speed automatic in a world dominated by eight or more gears also contributes negatively to efficiency, unfortunately. The RC 350, available only with all-wheel-drive, is rated at 12.2L/100km in the city and 9.0L/100km on the highway. During our weeklong test, we averaged 13.1L/100km with mostly city driving. Factoring in cold weather and winter tires, this was a predictable result.
The RC lineup starts at $49,650 with the RC 300 powered with a detuned version of the same engine, with 260 horsepower. Our tester was the RC 350 priced at $62,800, with the optional Black Line package at $950, for a total sticker of $63,750. The package only adds aesthetic touches such as a black grille, black exterior mirrors and silver stitching for the interior. Unique ash wood trim is also included in the price. The standard 19-inch wheels get a nice dark finish and the tail pipes also receive a dark chrome treatment.
At a similar price, buyers can find themselves in the Mercedes-AMG C 43 Coupe with a much more advanced powertrain, however the C-Class also feels just as dated. The Infiniti Q60 is also on the market, topping out at $68,495 and offering 400 horsepower. The BMW 4-series is redesigned for this year, and the M440i xDrive is one of the best driving experiences at this price point, if you can get behind the way the heinous fascia looks.
The RC 350 fits itself into the competition as the tame and comfortable option while still giving the looks of a performance car. It strikes a balance where the older and more mature crowd can still get themselves into a beautifully designed two-door without a bone shattering ride. The 2021 Lexus RC 350 F-Sport fills the niche perfectly, and for enthusiasts, the RC F is available with a screaming V8.