Earlier this week I took delivery of a new 2019 RC300h F-Sport and traded in my 2016 model with 71000km on the clock. The only colour I could get for quick delivery was the same Sonic Titanium as I had before, with the Dark Rose leather now replaced by Flare Red. Since the titanium/red combination still heads my list of preferences, the lack of choice was not an issue. In fact, a change of colour would have deprived me of the option of not telling people I’ve got a new car.
While my car was being groomed for delivery, I took the dealer’s demo RC for a short drive, and found it distinctly quieter than the 2016 F-Sport, an impression confirmed when I drove my own 2019 car for the first time. I confess, at the risk of trivialising the work of the RC’s engineers, that I have not yet figured out if - or to what extent - this apparent advance in the car’s already high level of refinement is due to an unannounced tweak to the hybrid system, perhaps accompanied by better soundproofing, or simply reflects the low amount of noise made by factory-fresh tyres compared to old ones. An assessment of the claimed improvements in handling and grip deriving from the re-tuned steering and new shock absorbers had to wait until my long drive home from the dealer, and was immediately positive. The upper limits at which I comfortably take corners and bends are now significantly higher, and I am finding this almost as enjoyable in routine driving as it is on winding roads taken at a brisk pace. I have not yet driven the car on the motorway, but since it feels even more firmly planted than its predecessor when cruising at >90-110kmh on normal roads, I would be surprised if the straight-line and long-curve stability at higher speeds is not similarly improved. Benign signals from my neck and back on familiar stretches of bad road are proof of an improvement in ride quality, but considering that Lexus found it necessary to redesign the original shock absorbers, I was expecting the effect on general comfort to be more pronounced. My overall impression, reflecting a level of contentment that becomes more addictive with every drive, is that the RC now transmits an eagerness to perform it may previously have lacked.
As a repeat customer, I was clearly biased in favor of the RC from the outset: I have not tired of the car’s looks, its level of performance meets my needs and suits my temperament, and its reliability, underscored by dealer competence and efficiency, is comforting. My niggles are few and mainly concerned with keeping the car as spotless as pride of ownership dictates, which can be a bit of a chore though in itself often satisfying. Opinions may differ as to whether the facelift should have leaned more towards content than looks, but, in my view, the margins for improvement within the car’s original terms of reference were slim - not that mid-life restylings of Lexus models are typically other than low-key given the marque’s prioritisation of dependability over change for change’s sake.
Having now spent quite a few hours gazing at the car with as much objectivity as love permits, I find the principal elements of the restyling less inconsequential than I originally thought. By confining changes largely to non-metal components such as the bumpers and out-sourced ones such as the lights, Lexus has re-emphasised the characteristic muscularity of the design without incurring heavy new investments in plant and equipment at this stage of the car’s life, thus potentially attracting a few new customers without upsetting its own accountants. Certainly, I was never fond of the strakes in the rear flanks. While not dismissing their role in accentuating the car’s dynamic lines and adding interest to the otherwise empty overhang, I found them aesthetically redundant - as well as irritating to clean. And, not being convinced that they create additional downforce at high speeds, or of any strict need for it if they do, I also thought them aerodynamically superfluous. So, for these reasons, to which I would add the contagious cheapening influence of kindred rubber or plastic excrescences recently blighting more and more cars, I was happy to see the strakes replaced by less obtrusive air ducts which, by replicating the front intakes, also improve the symmetry of the car’s profile. The clustering into single units of the vertically stacked triple headlights and solid-surface DRLs, the latter replacing the previous separate rows of small LEDs, is stylistically unusual and unmistakably identifies the RC as a premium car - as do the LC-inspired tail-lights. I won’t swear that the headlights are now more effective, but my one experience so far of an ill-lit country road on a murky night suggests the beam is brighter and whiter and maybe longer. The mesh of the grille is a handsome piece of design, but its gradations are perhaps too subtle for the eye to readily appreciate. I suspect the grille itself has been widened at the base, but this could well be an illusion created by the horizontal splitter added below it. The wing-mirrors, also LC-inspired, give every impression of being aerodynamically efficient - not, despite their chunky appearance, that I had any serious complaint about the earlier ones in this regard. The two-tone wheels on my 2016 RC - now made in a plain-alloy version solely for the top non-F-Sport grade - were, to my eye, more attractive, especially on a metallic grey car. Given their unblemished condition - of which I was rather proud - I considered transferring them to the new car, but thought better of it in the interests of generational authenticity. No doubt I’ll grow to like the replacement design, which fills the arches pleasingly enough and also promises to be easier to clean by virtue of its more open geometry. In addition to its undeniable elegance, the “Darkened Alloy” tonality has the intrinsic ability to camouflage light deposits of brake-dust, thus prospectively lengthening the intervals between their removal. The car came with the orange-coloured calipers and larger front discs fitted as standard on the F-Sport in some countries and offered as an optional in others. Although I have seen no official performance data, I like to think the extra confidence they inspire is not misplaced. Lexus’ choice of orange - thankfully a not-too-garish shade thereof - is less suited to some body colours than others and may not be to everyone’s taste but, in the absence of alternative offerings, discussion is pointless.
That the changes to the cabin are few and in some cases too subtle to be immediately noticed is a tribute to the freshness and continuing serviceability of the design. I admit I was baffled by the presence of a connecting channel between the cupholders until it dawned on me that my willingness to forgo the pleasures of in-car hydration or on-the-go shots of caffeine has finally been rewarded by the availability of a handy slot for my phone. For Lexus to describe, let alone promote, the brushed faux-metal finish of the climate/audio control panel etc., as an upgrade is a bit of a stretch, but I suppose inoffensiveness can itself be deemed a virtue. The same could be said for the enlarged leather pads flanking the centre console, even though they do provide a slightly more cosseted feel while theoretically lessening the chance of rattles. Unless I’m mistaken, the door of the glove-box is now angled millimetrically further inwards so as to provide more knee-room without reducing storage capacity. If so, I’m not sure if I wouldn’t have preferred the exact opposite. Another minor novelty is represented by the START button, which is now concave and thus no longer Toyota-like. Strange to tell, I immediately liked it without knowing if the attraction is ergonomic or tactile or merely subjective. Anyone opting for red leather will probably agree that Flare Red provides a good contrast to the black cloth of the roof lining, which is presumably why it has replaced the more sedate Dark Rose in new F-Sport models across the range. After living for so many years with a 7 inch display framed by inert sidebar-like panels inside a mismatched 10.3 inch housing, first in a 2013 IS300h and then in the 2016 RC, I was naturally glad to finally have the reformatted infotainment system already present in both cars since last year. The improvement in visibility and readability is good, but considering that a chiefly dimensional upgrade was no great feat of technology, I still find myself wondering what prevented Lexus from resolving an embarrassing visual anomaly much earlier. Similarly, I won’t hide my annoyance at seeing that a neighbour’s 2018 Alfa Giulia has Apple CarPlay when my 2019 RC does not. That the main improvements to the infotainment system, welcome as they are, appear to be in the speed and possible reliability of the nav calculations and not in its functionality will disappoint its many critics more than it does me. Because the system has remained practically unchanged, warts and all, for upwards of a decade, its workings have become so familiar as to inspire my affection if not my esteem, and although I admit that a comparison between an item of third-millennium technology and a comfortable pair of old shoes may not be entirely apt, it does go some way towards explaining my relationship with the system. Having said this, I delighted to find the once highly capricious Vocal Command function now steadily delivering far more first-time hits than misses, thus considerably raising my irritation threshold and inviting more frequent use. No doubt other surprises lie hidden within the system’s folds and creases. After being advertised as standard equipment for the F-Sport in some pre-launch brochures in 2016 - along with a phantom wireless phone charger - the G-Force monitor has finally materialised. Once I overcame a childish urge to accelerate and brake abnormally hard in order to make the graph wobble around spiritedly but to no intelligible purpose, I sadly concluded that such power as the device might have to inform and/or entertain and thus enhance the driving experience is not sufficient to qualify it as other than surplus to requirements. It would be interesting to hear from fellow owners who think otherwise. Like its predecessor, my car came without ML audio, the absence of which irked me less than before, not because I don’t still miss it from past cars, but because I believe the cost may finally have come to outweigh the benefits. Few, if any, spoken-word podcasts or radio shows demand premium audio, and even though my iPod/iPhone music content would unquestionably benefit from the ML’s superior clarity and power, I now judge the standard 10-speaker system to be nearly as good for my enjoyment of much or most of it. Even so, I can’t quite rid myself of the notion that making do with second-best has adversely affected my listening standards. Having decided long ago that my life would be no poorer for the want of a sunroof - my last was in a 2008 IS250 - I was almost startled to find myself thoroughly enjoying sun and unconditioned air again, to the point where I could barely suppress a twinge of nostalgia on seeing that the roof’s design - and hopefully the reliability of the mechanism - has not changed down the years.