Sporty coupe looks without the performance? Lexus has you covered

Lexus RC 200t F Sport
Road Test

Lexus is fitting its new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder under the bonnet of anything that’ll take it, including this – the stylish RC 200t. As the fifth Lexus to score the new mill, the RC we find a mishmash of style and substance. The RC’s performance is no match for those stunning looks, but it certainly makes it affordable (at $73,000 plus on-road costs for the F Sport model on test). And it’s pretty good value too. With a longer warranty and more standard equipment than its immediate rivals, the RC has a lot to offer. Just don’t expect to get there quite as quickly…

The RC is to the IS what BMW’s 4 Series is to the 3 Series (or the A5 is to the Audi A4, the C-Class Coupe to the sedan… and so on). Sure, it’s a little longer, lower and wider, and the wheelbase is a little shorter; but it’s a good way to think of where the slinky Lexus coupe it fits into the line-up.

In that way, it’s probably unfair to think of it as an out-and-out sports car – even if the looks beg to differ. This is an entry-level model with the performance and price to match. At $73,000 (plus on-road costs) the newest RC model – the 2.0-litre turbocharged 200t – is a competitor aimed squarely at the likes of the 428i M Sport or A5 2.0 TFSI S Line. Sport coupe looks without the performance.

And that might suit a lot of buyers. Dramatic styling and a refined cabin are great reasons to buy a sexy coupe like the RC 200t. So is the shed load of equipment that comes standard and that many rivals charge a small fortune for.

Items such as sat nav, premium audio, heated and ventilated leather seats with electronic adjustment and memory, an electrically adjustable steering wheel, LED headlights, Adaptive Variable Suspension and stunning 19-inch alloy wheels are all included as standard. Sensibly bundled option packages (of which there are only two) add lane-departure warning, a sunroof, keyless entry and auto high-beam functionality for just $3500 more.

Metallic paint is a hefty $1500 premium.

photo2Still, that’s $78,000 for a stylish coupe loaded with useful tech. Most of which is a cinch to use. Lexus can, however, jam the RTI (Remote Touch Interface) Touchpad used to control the infotainment system. It’s poorly positioned and difficult to use on the go. There are far better ways of operating infotainment systems in this segment. Personally I’d prefer a rotary dial or touchscreen, not a track pad that’s impossible to operate over the slightest bump in the road.

That said, the menu format is logical and easy to use. The sat nav is detailed and simple to follow, while the Mark Levinson premium sound system is brilliant, especially when playing music from Tidal or similar high-definition music apps.

It’s a quiet and refined cabin from which to enjoy it, too. The seats are tremendously comfortable and equally supportive. The driving position is excellent and considering the RC’s rakish silhouette, vision is actually pretty good, as is the 423-litre boot.

photo3Of course, the RC really is a 2+2. The back seat is roomy enough for adults on short trips, but I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to it regularly. Simply, it’s difficult to extract yourself from once you’re in and headroom is limited, not surprisingly. Front-seat headroom isn’t much better, and frankly the foot-operated park brake is cumbersome, and ill-fitting of a car in this segment.

Hit the starter and the RC 200t whirs to life with little of the charm its looks suggest. It’s clicky and dry, the injectors masking any sign of exhaust bark or intake rush as the force-fed mill comes lazily to life. In a word, it’s uninspiring. And on the road, it doesn’t really improve.

The engine is lazy in its lower reaches, the 350Nm on offer from 1650-4400rpm barely adequate in motivating the 1725kg body with any haste. Lexus says the 180kW four will propel the RC to 100km/h in 7.5sec, but with slow step off and an indecisive transmission (yes, changing modes helps slightly), we couldn’t manage much better than 8.1.

photo4The engine is happier in its higher reaches, but never seems happy with the load it’s forced to carry. The RC 200t is around 170kg heavier than a comparable 4 Series, and it feels every damn kilo of it. Using the paddle shifts and keeping the engine in its sweet spot (around 5500-5800rpm) seems to help, but only a bit. It’s certainly a car that’s happier to cruise the highway than it is to rush a winding country back road.

Which is a shame given the capability of the RC’s athletic brakes and chassis. The adaptive dampers, limited-slip diff and sticky Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres combine to provide agile handling and composed cornering. The body is well controlled and sits quite flat, even when executing sharp directional changes. Front-end grip is keen and it responds quickly to the Lexus’ sharp instructions to turn in. A shame then that wheel feedback is unforthcoming, masking any real sense of the grip on offer, and leading us to quite a few mid-corner adjustments.

It was also a shame our test car had an annoying ‘clunk’ from the front right-hand strut that progressively worsened as the week went on. Lexus promises to get back to us with an explanation…

photo5Still, we’re not sure RC 200t buyers will be out to test its dynamic limits, and we’re sure a brand newie will be free of the woes of our press car. The Lexus’ four-year/100,000km warranty and annual service intervals are also sure to give the Japanese model an advantage over its German rivals (all of which offer a three-year warranty), as well as piece of mind for prospective first-time customers.

Lexus quotes a 7.3L/100km combined cycle figure for the RC 200t. We managed 8.6L, the quick-acting idle-stop system no doubt playing its part on those dreadful morning commutes.

As a performance coupe, the RC 200t makes a pretty nice cruiser. It’s stylish, refined, well equipped and (excusing that front strut) very well put together. It’s also certain to appeal to buyers expecting more from their coin, and on that front at least, should sway a few buyers away from the German cabal.