Car ReviewsQuick Drive

2017 Lexus RC F Carbon Review… Quick Spin

Robert Pepper’s 2017 Lexus RC F Carbon Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.

In a nutshell: The Lexus RC F Carbon is a high-performance Japanese grand tourer coupe, offering distinctive looks, high performance and an array of luxury features.

2017 Lexus RC F Carbon

PRICE $138,240 (plus ORC) WARRANTY four-year, unlimited kilometres SAFETY not rated ENGINE 5.0-litre V8 petrol POWER 351kW at 7100rpm TORQUE 530Nm at 4800-5600rpm TRANSMISSION eight-speed automatic; DRIVE rear-wheel-drive, torque vectoring differential BODY 4705mm (L); 1845mm (W); 1390mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE 10.8m  SEATS 4 TARE WEIGHT 1860kg (unladen); TOWING not rated FUEL TANK 66 litres SPARE repair kit THIRST 10.9L/100km (combined) FUEL petrol (98 RON)

Comprehensive Car Insurance

WHAT EXACTLY IS AN RC F? It’s not (yet) one of those well-known names like GT-R, M3 or AMG63, and Lexus isn’t noted for building high-performance cars. But with the RC F we have a two-door, rear-drive coupe powered by a normally aspirated five-litre V8, an increasingly rare engine choice these days in an age of forced-induction V6s and hybrid drive.

What is it?

There are two RC Fs, the garden-variety for $138,240 (+ORC) and our test car which is the RC F Carbon for $158,837 (+ORC). What you get for your additional $20k outlay is: a carbon-fibre bonnet, active rear wing and better interior trim but you lose the cooling option for the front seats. In my opinion that’s not exactly value. On the other hand, there’s also the cheaper version, the V6-powered RC350 from $68,390 plus on-road costs for which we have a comprehensive review here.

Back in 2015, we reviewed the RC F in detail, so this review won’t cover the same ground because the 2017 model isn’t a complete redesign, just a refresh, really. This refresh has the same interior, same drive modes, same torque vectoring differential (a real one, not a marketing term) and more. The one big change is AVS, or Adaptive Variable Suspension…

What is AVS and how does it work?

Any car’s suspension has a spring and a damper. The spring is there to set the ride height and absorb the bumps. The damper is there to damp out what would otherwise be pogo-stick style bouncing. The AVS system electronically controls how stiff each damper is in response to what the car is doing, or about to do.

The AVS concept is simple. In any car, a damper is basically something like a coffee plunger – there’s a disc with holes in it attached to a shaft which is moved through fluid. The size and nature of the holes in the discs determine how quickly the shaft moves up and down, and thus the strength of the damping. Big holes, little damping and soft suspension, small holes, lots of damping and a stiffer suspension. In the case of the RVS system there’s a system which varies how easily the fluid can move through the disc, and there’s 30 settings to choose from.

There are three situations adaptive suspension systems react to; weight shift, terrain and load. Weight shift first; in the case of AVS there’s several modes such as anti-dive. In that case, when a car is braked heavily there’s a weight shift to the front which compresses the front suspension. To counter this, the AVS system stiffens the front dampers and softens the rears. Similarly, when the car is accelerated quickly there’s a weight shift to the back, so AVS does the reverse. When cornering, there’s a weight shift to the outside so the two outside dampers are stiffened and the two inside softened. Without AVS when cornering the inside suspension would be too soft for its weight, and the outside too stiff. Normal suspension is like a stopped clock, only ever perfect for a very short time. Adaptive suspension can be closer to perfect for much more of the time.

AVS can also detect rough roads – presumably by measuring vertical wheel speed – and soften the suspension to suit.

So how does AVS know what the car is doing and about to do? Same way most electronic car systems work; using the huge array of sensors found all over the modern car. There’s what the driver is doing, such as throttle position, brake force and steering angle. There’s the speed of each wheel, the gear selected, the G-force (sideways cornering force) and the yaw (rotation around a vertical axis).

The computers put all that together and make calls based on what the car will do, and can do so quickly enough that the suspension settings are in place even before the car makes the maneuver. For example, as the car enters a turn the first thing that will happen is that the driver turns the steering wheel, then the car will being to turn, then it will weight-shift onto the outside wheels. This all happens far quicker than you can read about it, but it’s still three distinct phases.

As AVS is monitoring the angle of the steering wheel and the car speed, as soon as the steering wheel is turned it knows to start stiffening the outside wheels even before the weight shift really happens. Same deal for harsh acceleration – there’s a tiny lag between the driver pressing the throttle, the engine responding, and the car responding to the engine. That lag is enough time for AVS to react.

Overall, the effect of AVS is that the suspension can more or less ideally configure itself instantly for any given situation so there’s less roll and pitch of the car when it’s manouvering, which means it’s more controllable and has better traction. It’s also more comfortable over different types of terrain.

The AVS system is linked to the car’s drive modes, which are Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+. In all but Sport+ the focus is on comfort. In Sport+ it’s on handling, which means a stiffer ride. There’s no way to manually select an AVS mode, and really the point is you don’t need to, the car works it out and you’re giving it all the direction it needs by the mode you select and the way you drive.

The RC F set to Sport+ mode with its Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD) set to Slamon mode. The display on the left shows fuel consumption but can also show lots of other information such as navigation, entertainment and engine data.

What’s it like on the road?

So that’s AVS explained, and now onto the test. Back in 2015, the RC F didn’t overly thrill me – it was fun, but for $133k plus on-road costs and 351kW through the rear wheels I was expecting more joy. The problems noted were a laggy response to throttle, inability to deliver power to the ground and a lack of low-rev waftability you’d expect from a big V8. The car is also very heavy at 1860kg, and it felt it – the nose needed to be lugged around despite the torque-vectoring differential and that weight inevitably dulled the might of the engine. As we’ve said before, torque and power mean nothing if you don’t consider gearing and weight.

In the 2017 RC F things are a little different. I didn’t have a 2015 model to drive back-to-back although I did use the same roads and can say the car’s handling is improved overall, despite the fact that “only” the suspension has changed. While most of the 2015-era criticisms above remain valid, they’re not as acute as before.

For example, the handling is improved as the RC F now seems sharper to turn-in. The low-speed, high-power acceleration is definitely better, even in the wet there’s nowhere near as much wheelspin as before. And even throttle response is better – instead of using energy to pitch the car up and then go, the energy can now go directly into forwards propulsion.

The suspension was good before, but now ride and handling has been improved across the board. It kind of goes to show that the effect of good suspension is very much under-rated, with engines usually getting all the glory. The saying “power without control” is a cliche, but nevertheless true.

However, the changes haven’t elevated the RC F into the realms of highly-desirable sports cars considering its pricetag. There power delivery isn’t quite linear enough considering there’s no forced induction, and lacks a bit of low-end push. The car is quick and capable, but still lacks a bit of feedback through the controls, it’s not a particularly involving drive. The engine note is good, but the car lacks the intoxicating aural theatre of say an AMG.

Nevertheless, I spent a day with my sportscar-owning friends…

…and genuinely enjoyed the RC F, mostly in Sports+ mode. It’s quick, you can play with the gears and there’s more than enough engine note for a grin. Yet while Lexus push their F brand as akin to BMW’s M or Mercedes AMG, I see the RC F, even in the Carbon edition, as a more of a grand tourer than a track weapon. It’s fairly big, has decent boot space, quite good footroom in the second row considering its design even if headroom is limited, and there’s a reasonable array of luxury features such as heated/cooled seats and lots of safety aids.

What helps the handling is the torque-vectoring differential, which really is a torque-vectoring differential – it will increase torque to a given wheel through use of computer-controlled clutch packs. It’s not one of the pretend diffs that really are nothing more than electronic traction control by another name.

Unfortunately, design bugbears from 2015 haven’t been addressed; headroom in the front is still limited, there’s odd placement of controls such as the boot release being down low and almost hidden. The interior design is still not as beautiful or modern as it should be for the money, the infotainment system touchpad is simply too fiddly to use, and the infotainment features are just par for the course. The front seatbelts are hard to reach even if you use the strap on the seat side, and there’s still Toyota switchgear all over the place. If Lexus want to play in this market they need to first do nothing wrong.

So where does all this leave the RC F? Whenever I review a car I like to be able to think of situations where I’d recommend it, and if the answer is “I cannot think of a question where the answer is to buy that car” then it’s a dud. But in the case of the RC F, I can think of reasons.

If you want a fairly versatile big sports car that’s also something of a luxury cruiser then I’d take a close look at the RC F, particularly if you’re a fan of big V8 engines, cars that nobody recognises, or the styling which is pretty distinctive. I enjoyed driving it as a commuter, at speed in the country and on longer cruising trips, and you can even put things in the boot and smallish people in the rear seats. I don’t love the RC F, but I don’t mind it at all.

Lexus RC F and RC 350 pricing

All prices exclude on-road costs.

Model

Grade

Price

RC F

$138,240

RC F

Carbon

$158,837

RC 350

Luxury

$68,390

RC 350

F Sport

$77,240

RC 350

Sports Luxury

$88,280

Further reading

Click any image to start the 2017 Lexus RC F gallery:


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!