You may be thinking that the Lexus RC has been around for a little while already now, and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, up until just recently the only model available was the 5.0 litre V8 powered RC F which is likely to remain the enthusiast’s choice thanks to its high CO2 emissions and thirst for super unleaded. With that in mind, Lexus has recently made available “normal” versions of the RC coupe – the RC 300h and RC 200t for Lexus fans looking for a taste of the RC’s looks without the high running costs.
The model I’m testing is the RC 300h F Sport which I think looks fantastic in “F Sport white” with contrasting “Dark Rose” leather seats – a lovely colour combination. Incidentally the new “Sonic Red” is also a lovely colour –Lexus Hedge Endhad one in their showroom if you wanted to check it out. The car hasn’t lost any of the wow factor you get with its RC F big brother – the main notable omissions being the bonnet scoop and unique stacked exhausts. Yes, it doesn’t look quite as muscular as its V8 powered sibling, but if you like the look of the RC F then you’re still going to like the look of this. Only enthusiasts will likely spot the difference at a glance – aside from replacing the V8 burble with hybrid silence that is. Speaking of the exhaust, if I’m not mistaken this is the first Lexus hybrid I’ve seen that actually features visible exhaust tips and it looks all the better for it in my opinion, particularly when the RC is much more of a sports car/GT than other models in the range. Lexus previously had a habit of hiding exhaust tips on hybrid models to show off their green credentials, but I’m guessing customer feedback could be responsible for the change.
Let’s get one thing straight though – this car turns heads. While its styling and large grill may not be to everyone’s tastes (I’m a big fan by the way), it certainly draws looks pretty much all the time. Everywhere I went in the car people would stop and stare or ask me questions about the car, with one pedestrian even going so far as to stop in the road and nearly get run over whilst trying to get a look at the RC. The detailing on this car is exceptional with the LED lights really looking the part and RC 300h even has unique looking fins either side of the rear bumper that remind me of 90’s era Ferraris. Pretty cool stuff then.
The interior of the Lexus RC 300h is a familiar affair if you’ve ever been in a 3rd generation IS300h, or indeed an RC F. The dash and general layout is pretty much lifted straight out of the IS which is no bad thing. The RC is essentially an IS coupe after all – think what the BMW 4 series is to the 3 series.
With that in mind, you get the usual touch sensitive climate controls as found in the IS, and our F Sport model features the wonderful LFA inspired instrument cluster à la IS F Sport (shown above). The interior generally feels great with high quality materials featured everywhere except in the usual lower down parts of the cabin. If I were nitpicking a little the buttons below the CD slot on the stereo seem like a bit of a cheap afterthought, but it’s easily forgiven as you end up using the steering wheel controls most of the time anyway. There’s also a really classy frameless auto dimming rear view mirror which looks great.
One thing definitely worth mentioning in this car is the seats – they’re absolutely fantastic. Lexus seems to have managed the impossible and struck the perfect balance between comfort support – something many manufacturers still seem to struggle with. All too often you get into a sports car or even a hot hatch that has great looking seats offering plenty of lateral support only to find the seats rock hard or uncomfortable on a long journey. I would go as far as to saying these are some of the best all round seats I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in from any vehicle, period. That’s a bold claim, yes, but I urge you to try them for yourselves and I’m sure you’d agree.
The only other obvious changes from the IS are the larger and redesigned door cards which I think feel of higher quality than the IS thanks to their sculpted design and use of aluminium. The rear is of course a little different due to the car’s coupe form also. It’s worth noting that although the car does have four proper seats, space in the back is fairly tight. You can definitely get adults in the back but 6 foot does seem to be pretty much the limit both for rear passenger and driver. I’m 6 foot and my head was just about touching the roof lining in the back of the RC, and with the driving position set for a 6 foot driver I could (just about) get my legs in – any further back and my legs would have been crushed. A shorter driver would obviously generate a moderate amount of rear legroom though and all being said I’d probably find a short journey perfectly acceptable in the back of the RC, but wouldn’t fancy a long run in the back. The electric seat mechanism was also quite nice in the way that it allowed rear passengers to get in and out, although of course this could seem quite slow in the rain!
Boot space is fairly decent for a coupe and gives plenty of room for your weekly shop or everything you’d need for a weekend away. The rear seats also fold just like the 3rd generation IS giving a nice bit of extra flexibility too. I’m led to believe the RC2 00t gives a little more boot space thanks to its lack of battery pack also.
The RC 300h starts at £34,995 in luxury trim, with F Sport and Premier versions also available. All versions are well equipped in general – sat nav is only standard on the premier version but is available as an option on all grades.
Our F Sport test model came in at £40,565 as tested with the £1,995 premium navigation option and £450 protection pack – still pretty good value in my opinion for what you get. The premium navigation option is (although expensive) definitely an option box you should tick. As well as making the car easier to move on come resale time, it adds the better of the two navigation systems, an upgraded 10 speaker audio system, reverse camera with guidelines and DAB/DVD playback. The 10 speaker audio system sounds great and is a worthy upgrade from standard, if not quite as good as the optional 17 speaker Mark Levinson system. You’d have to listen to them to determine if it’s worth you spending out the extra £1000 for the Mark Levinson system, or failing that just go for the Premier version which includes it as standard anyway.
That being said, I still think the F Sport is the pick of the range when it comes to the RC 300h, as the extra sporty touches really suit the car’s looks. If it were my money I’d definitely go for an F Sport with the option boxes ticked which is unusual as if you asked me about any other model in the Lexus range I’d usually go premier every time.
Premier and F Sport models both feature electric heated and ventilated leather seats with drivers side memory as standard, while the Luxury model makes do with only heated seats and no memory. The memory function also covers the electrically adjustable steering wheel and outside mirrors too which is really nice, particularly if your partner also drives the car regularly.
Dual zone climate control, keyless entry and start, LED headlights and cruise control all feature as standard across the range, with even the entry Luxury model being reasonably well appointed as tends to be the Lexus way. I’d still recommend going for the F Sport model over the luxury all day long though, and the £2,500 difference seems well worth it for the extra kit and enhanced looks that come with the F Sport styling package.
Ride and Handling
The RC 300h is a very refined car to drive, thanks in part to its hybrid power train. If you’ve driven other Lexus hybrids, the system will be vary familiar – allowing you to propel the car up to around 30mph in electric only mode, albeit if you don’t require even moderately fast acceleration. The system will also allow you to cruise steadily at higher speeds using electric only mode if you’re gentle with the throttle. Thanks to the hybrid system, cruising around town is often beautifully quiet, and even when the 2.5 litre petrol motor cuts in, it’s a seamless transition.
Personally, I felt the car’s ride was a little more comfortable than the equivalent IS. The platform for the car is actually a bit of a “Frankenstein” of other Lexus models, with the front end from the current generation GS, the mid section from the 2nd gen IS convertible and rear section from the current gen IS. It sounds strange but it works well with the GS derived front end soaking up imperfections in the road nicely – especially when you consider this is the F Sport model on 19 inch wheels. I never once felt that the car was crashing over bumps or potholes and the car’s ride together with the ever so comfy seats I mentioned earlier make for a great long distance companion.
In terms of handling, I’d start by saying that you should think of this car more as a comfy GT cruiser rather than an out and out sports car and then you’d be thinking along the right lines, especially in hybrid guise. The car does handle well – the electrically assisted power steering has a nice weight to it, although it is lacking a little in feedback. There’s little body roll which is impressive because the RC is quite a heavy lump and the traction/stability control does a good job of keeping everything in check. The Sport + mode on the F sport model does rein in the traction control a little as well as sharpening up throttle response and tweaking the adaptive variable dampers too, which definitely allows for a little more fun.
Ultimately it’s not a car that feels as if you need to push it hard to get the most out of it. It feels like it’s at its best cruising along at a relaxed pace, whilst still giving you the confidence to have a little fun with it on the occasion that you feel like popping it into sport + mode.
The hybrid set-up in the RC 300h is the same as the one in the IS 300h so if you’ve ever driven one of those you should pretty much know what to expect. Just like its IS counterpart the RC 300h produces 220 hp from a combination of the 2.5 litre 4 cylinder petrol engine and its electric motor.
Straight line performance can be a little deceptive as the official figures quote a 0-62mph time of 8.6 seconds, 3 tenths down on the IS300h (presumably due to the RC 300h weighing almost 1800kg) but Lexus are well known underestimate performance figures. Indeed, the RC 300h feels quicker than the figures would suggest, with the surge of initial acceleration feeling quite strong thanks to the extra torque from the electric motor.
At higher speeds, you may notice that the motor has to be worked quite hard to make swift progress, and the CVT gearbox that is featured across the Lexus hybrid range doesn’t necessarily lend itself to performance driving. You do of course have the option of using the steering wheel mounted paddles but these only create artificial gear changes by restricting the revs due to the fact it is a CVT gear box. Still, for an occasional bit of driving fun they do the job and when combined with the ASC (active sound control) and the LFA inspired instrument panel, the car can make you feel as if you are driving in a video game – in a good way.
The active sound control is worth mentioning and also features on the IS 300h range. This time it’s only on the F Sport RC 300h I believe. Basically, it generates artificial sound and plays it through the speakers to make the car sound more muscular. It sound a little cheesy yes, but many manufacturers are doing the same these days due to downsizing engines for emissions reasons, and in this case it works quite well. The sound the car makes in sport/sport + mode is fantastic and really gives the impressions that you’ve got something potent under the bonnet. It even occasionally seems to “pop” on lift off and manual gear changes which is cool. Sure, you know deep down it isn’t real (there is a switch to turn it off if it really offends you) and the sound outside the car is completely different, but if you pick up an unsuspecting passenger, there’s no denying it at least sounds impressive and they’d probably never know!
Overall, I’d say the performance of this car is good, given the hybrid system and economy that you’re likely to be able to achieve with it. For the type of car that the RC is, it does feel like it could do with a little more power in certain higher speed situations, so it would be interesting to try the slightly quicker RC 200t back to back with it to find out if the extra performance is worth sacrificing a little of the hybrid’s refinement and running costs for. That’s ultimately the choice you’ll have to make if you buy one and it’s really going to be down to personal preference. I don’t think you’d be disappointed with the performance of the RC 300h, as you’re buying into the hybrid system too and the benefits that brings. It would definitely be interesting if Lexus decided to make an RC 450h with the larger petrol engine, but I sense that’s unlikely to happen. Incidentally Lexus do offer an RC 350 for the US and certain other markets which is still a quick car in its own right and could be a genuine “sensible” alternative to the RC F – if only Lexus would bring it to the UK.
Being a hybrid you should expect running costs to be pretty reasonable and the RC 300h delivers on this. CO2 emissions of 116 g/km mean VED of just £20 per year in the current system, though it’s worth bearing in mind that when the new tax system comes into play in April 2017, this will not be the case.
Lexus also quotes a combined MPG of of 56.5 for the RC 300h F Sport. In my hands I found this to be a little way off as is usually the case. My test route consisted of some motorway, some town and some spirited driving and I saw the Average MPG vary from high 30’s to low 40’s. From past experience with Lexus hybrids and with a bit more effort put into maintaining electric mode for the most time possible (and a few more miles on the engine), I have no doubt that at least high 40’s would be possible. From my point of view I find the fuel consumption is very reasonable considering the nice balance of performance and running costs on offer from this car. Yes, there are some equivalent diesels out there will deliver slightly better MPG, but I’m not generally a diesel fan anyway and would take a hybrid over a diesel any day for the increased refinement and lack of potential DPF problems, but ultimately that’s a choice buyers have to make. As is obvious from the recent VW emissions scandal and episodes of bad smog in cities like Paris, it appears public opinion could slowly be turning against diesels anyway, and hybrids like this provide a real credible alternative.
The RC 300h is likely to be the biggest seller in Lexus RC range, and with good reason – it probably makes the most overall sense for most buyers. The car’s hybrid drivetrain provides an excellent all round balance of performance, refinement and running costs, and the build quality and interior are excellent. Combine that with the Lexus reputation for reliability and customer service and you’ve got a pretty compelling package, especially if you’re looking for a well equipped luxury coupe that’s a real head turner.
A special thanks to the lovely people at Snows Lexus Hedge End for the loan of our RC 300h F Sport featured in this review.