Finding Clouds in Silver Linings
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
As an aspiring car journalist, I have realized that when I drive any modern car with a performance focus, I must demand excellence in every aspect. Any weakness on any front should have been tuned out of the software (which I should never notice working) or the body design (which should be light and simple, while complying with the most strict NHTSA standards of all time) or the engine (which should be mechanically straightforward, but also more powerful than ever before) or the suspension (which should be “firm, yet pliable”, whatever the hell that means). There is simply no tolerance for a car to not succeed in every aspect.
I must also excoriate non-enthusiasts for turning out in droves to buy the dreaded crossover, the vehicle that performs well enough at most things to justify owning. It is unconscionable to purchase a jack of all trades when much better vehicles for their use cases exist. A minivan hauls a family better, a sedan makes more sense for commuting, a hatchback is easier to park, a pickup can actually carry yard supplies and tools.
Back to the vehicle that cannot afford to be anything but a jack of all trades, master of all: A luxury grand tourer is likely the most nail-biting vehicle for any company to produce in the modern era. They need to feel ruthlessly raw, as though they weigh half as much as the 26 airbags, 400 lbs of sound deadening and 18 speakers necessitate, and hit sub-4 0-60s. They also need to be a cocoon of leather and alcantara; a place you can easily eat hundreds of highway miles in a day without feeling exhaustion or soreness.
One thing I will never need to consider as a car journalist is if the car will actually continue to reliably run after this week. The company rep is picking it up next Thursday.
The Lexus RC F is clearly a weak contender. It makes 470 HP from an aluminum block, aluminum head DOHC 5.0L V8, but is a solid .3 seconds slower to 60 than an M4. There is a solid half a cubic foot less storage than the AMG C43, and the rear seats are built into the car to form a structural strut brace bar, so they don’t fold to allow for more trunk space. It is lacking in Android Auto connectivity, and the screen that I will decry the presence of in literally any other vehicle is only a paltry 7.0” in the RC F. The heated and cooled leather seats are incredibly supple and the bolstering feels like a luxurious Bride seat, coddling you through each corner, but what good will that do when the nearly 4,000 lb curb weight gives it .05 fewer G’s of lateral grip than the M4?
I haven’t even touched on the styling. Lexus is frequently lambasted as being the luxury car of choice for geriatric drivers seeking quiet, unobtrusive comfort, but certainly no one meant for them to shed that image this aggressively. The vents on the car are all completely functional and serve to keep the transmission fluid, oil, engine bay, and brake/tires cool, and the underbody was designed in a wind tunnel for minimal drag, but it’s still hard to look at a car so loudly styled and not just wish that they had simply followed the direction of the rest of the automotive industry and toned it down a bit.
How will the correct image of better-than-thou luxury car success be projected properly with a vehicle so obnoxiously bold? It’s lacking in the raised lettering, pale nimbus subtlety than I’d expect from a corporate ladder climbing accessory.
All this said… what if we considered the possibility that the car did not exist in a vacuum? That the car needs to be maintained for at least the length of the loan and it’s quite nice to not have the head of your local OEM service department on speed dial? You have to look at it sitting in your driveway and pick it out from a parking lot full of a sea of gray and white commuting boxes for years to come. You will be sitting in traffic for hours on end in any major metropolitan area in the US. Having to live with your decisions clarifies what your goals should really be when shopping for a performance car that needs to also be a mode of transport.
The service interval for valves is 120,000 miles, and the timing chain is set for the same period. Lexus was ranked as the most reliable automobile manufacturer by J.D. Power for every single year this car has been on sale. These stats are not glamorous, but they are necessary, and arguably more important than any 0-60 or quarter mile time for a car that will live most of its life in traffic.
Something else I would like to briefly add - this car is goddamn fast. We all know that the auto industry has long passed the point of usable performance for street driving. Yes, the RC F is slower on paper than its rivals. If you are capable of noticing this slight decrease in straight-line performance in daily use, I hope that you invest in a very good radar detector and have a highly regarded lawyer on retainer. Additionally, thanks to the electronic torque-vectoring diff and 10” wide rear wheels, it has vastly more grip than you should ever fully entertain taking advantage of on the street.
In the span of twenty or so years, the car community has gone from holding up the (3500 lbs, 330 HP, somewhat luxurious) MKIV Supra as one of the ultimate sports cars ever produced to roundly criticizing the car that I see as the true Supra successor for being… too heavy and plush, despite delivering objectively eye-watering performance. It makes sense to demand a lot from a car in this price range, but when a car actually makes the necessary compromises required to be truly the jack of all trades, to decry it for slight concessions to reality is ridiculous. I honestly believe the romantic ideal of the grand touring car is alive and well in this car, and I can’t recommend checking out the RC F enough for your cross-country-travelling, grocery-getting, and stoplight-drag-winning needs.