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Lexus RC 200t F Sport (2016) review

Swoopier than a peckish hawk, the RC is what the Lexus ISturns into after it’s popped into a phone box, spun round a bit and donned external underpants. This particular model, the RC200t, is not Superman himself but his able assistant, Alan. Superman himself is the V8-powered, carbon-sprinkled, M4-humbling RCF.

Lexus RC 200t F Sport (2016) review Lexus RC 200t F Sport (2016) review Lexus RC 200t F Sport (2016) review Lexus RC 200t F Sport (2016) review Lexus RC 200t F Sport (2016) review

Enough Superman chat – what’s the deal?

The RC is a two-door coupe in the tradition of Audi A5Coupe, BMW 4-series and Merc C-class coupe. The RC200t, with its turbocharged 241bhp four-cylinder petrol engine, is the sandwich in a characteristically raffish range, between the aforementioned RCF and the sensible-but-whiny 300h hybrid. There is no diesel – Lexus doesn’t go much on diesels.

Being a Lexus the RC majors on style, luxury and sumptuous materials – making equivalent German cabins feel like station waiting rooms but adding a couple of hundred kilos of extra bulk in the process. Performance is bound to suffer, even if wellbeing doesn’t.

So, does the performance suffer?

On paper, yes. Tectonic plates have been known to hit 62mph quicker than 7.5sec, and 143mph will get you flashed out of the way on the autobahn. Yet, oddly, the 200t doesn’t feel sluggish. Maybe it’s the effect of having tasted the reluctant 300h before it, but the mid-range pull is thick and smooth, squeezing 258lb ft of torque down onto the road seamlessly from 1650rpm.

That’s proper slip-road take-off urge, getting you into the motorway traffic long before the needle has got near the exit point of the peak window at 4400rpm. Even past that point, deep into the 6000rpm red zone, the four-pot remains excited, although it expresses that excitement in a voice as sonorous as that of Beaker off the Muppet Show.

How does it handle?

With great assurance. Our car is in F Sport trim, which means we get to keep the RCF’s limited-slip differential and adaptive dampers. This set-up is the RC’s dynamic sweet-spot, offering ridge-flattening refinement with fluent cornering composure, a tendency towards understeer being a relatively small price.

Fruitier drivers tell me this rear-drive chassis can be easily coaxed into power oversteer, suggesting a nicely balanced package. Stick it in Sport+ (an extra driving mode in this trim) and everything meats up nicely – throttle, steering, gearshifts – which adds to the provocation of those limit-seekers.

The gearbox is an eight-speed auto (not the hybrid’s CVT, thankfully) and greatly benefits from the extra confidence it draws from Sport+. In other modes it wants to change up about 500rpm before I do. The steering likes Sport+ too, but even without it the electric system is as good as these things get for feedback and predictable weighting. Despite what the road-test crowd are saying, BMW’s helm is no better.

Has Lexus worked its magic on the interior?

Do bears ablute in the woods? The cabin entirely delivers on the exterior’s sporty promise, with lovely perforated leather sports seats (here finished in dubious red), nicely turned switchgear made of techy modern materials (the drive mode selector is like a solid-state audio knob), smart dials and a smashing tactile gear-shifter.

Of course you’re stuck with Lexus’s willfully maddening touchpad controller, which is so sensitive it can measure gravitational waves, and there’s the small matter – okay, the extremely small matter – of the rear seats. Give up on these, fold them down and make the boot less useless.

Verdict

If you rely on measurables then the RC200t isn’t as good as, say, a BMW 420i, which is lighter, more frugal, cleaner, faster and slightly cheaper. But not all of us rely on measurables, and the RC is an interesting, thoughtful, alternative choice with much to commend it, and will probably pay you back in spades come resale time.

If you are an architect and favour a black rollneck with extremely technical-looking spectacles and a massive watch, well, I may have just found your next car for you. Vorsprung durch not being an Audi, as they say at RIBA.

Specs

Feb 23rd, 2016