With its muscular appearance and big performance numbers, Toyota’s new sports coupé could well give its rival, the BMW M4, a surprisingly serious run for its money, writes Tiff Needell
Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus has been knocking on the door of the executive market since launching in 1989. But while it’s been a great success in the US (where most of its production is sold), it’s never quite fulfilled its potential here – despite sales growing from about 1,500 in the mid-1990s to nearer 15,000 today.
This might partly be due to its concentration on the petrol engine hybrid market – which accounts for 95 per cent of sales, from the compact front-wheel-drive CT 200h, right up to the large luxury LS 600h (plus a couple of SUVs for Chelsea Tractor fans). But that doesn’t mean Toyota has ignored the high-performance world.
Across the range there are F Sport versions, with the F notation reflecting Toyota’s ownership of Japan’s Fuji Speedway. In 2011 it made a limited run of 500 carbon fibre LFA mid-engined supercars with a V10 powerplant producing 560hp at a screaming 8,700rpm – a petrolhead’s dream.
Now we have the RC F. A sports coupé to rival the likes of BMW’s new M4, its muscular appearance creates a big impression – if only for the size of its front grill. The styling isn’t for the shy and retiring, but if you don’t want to stand out in the crowd, you don’t buy a Lexus.
Behind that grill lies an engine that not only belies Lexus’s hybrid heritage, but also the trend for turbochargers or superchargers to eke out a fraction more mileage from each precious gallon. Five litres of normally aspirated V8 engine produce 471bhp and 391lb-ft of torque – numbers promising a performance to match its looks.
The interior is a scattering of styles – high-backed seats, chunky steering wheel with no stylistic cut-off and a dash display that alters appearance as you scroll through drive modes from Eco to Normal to Sport to Sport+ and even Expert.
It’s not, sadly, as exciting a drive as you might hope. A traditional eight-speed automatic has neither the sharpness nor response of the genuine sporting machines’ twin-clutch systems, and its handling is dulled by nearly 200kg more weight than the BMW.
But producing 470 brake horsepower to the BMW’s 425 gives it virtually the same power-to-weight ratio, and it can reach 62mph only a fifth of a second slower – so it’s no slouch. You’ll need to use the gears to keep the big V8 around the 5,000rpm mark as it doesn’t have the extra torque the turbos supply in the lower rev range. On the plus side, that means you’re less likely to get a sudden loss of traction in slippery conditions.
With no launch control, no adaptive damping and not even the option of carbon brakes, the only way to improve the standard RC F is by opting for the £3,500 torque vectoring differential, which promises to do all sorts of clever things to improve traction, depending on drive setting.
It makes a fine everyday cruiser. But with its excess baggage, the RC F was never going to be as epic a drive as the M4. Nevertheless, it runs it closer than I expected.