Which to choose – Toyota 86 vs Lexus RC350
Both coupes, both “Toyotas”, both rear-drive. Which one when?
The Toyota 86 and its twin, the Subaru BRZ exploded onto the sportscar scene just three years ago. Rear-drive in a world of front-drivers, sharp handling that matches anything up to triple its price, bucking the fast-car trend with a tune and design for fun not speed, all wrapped in a cute coupe body yet able to take two (small) passengers in the rear – the “Toybaru” twins had it all. The knockout blow was a driveaway price starting from a scarcely credible $33k driveaway for the GT manual.
As a result, Subaru sold out of its web-only BRZ almost instantly, and for many months you couldn’t buy a Toybaru for love nor money. Before and after the launch journalists rushed to pile praise on the twins, so much so Toyota had plans to advertise the car but simply didn’t bother, such was the demand.
Now in 2015 we have another rear-drive coupe, from Toyota’s luxury arm Lexus.
Did you even know that? Perhaps not. There are no queues in showrooms. No waitlist. No hype. No forums breathlessly staggering under the weight of “when do you get yours” posts, no legions of owners refreshing their screens showing delivery dates. Not even any Lexus RC owners clubs that I can see. In short, no love, but does that mean no point? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
But first, let’s recap the range. The Toyota 86 is available in GT and GTS spec, and there’s just one spec of BRZ. All three have the option of manual or automatic. The chassis, engine and transmission are identical across all three variants, and there’s minor differences in brakes and suspension. Essentially, the differences are trim not dynamics.
The RC is available as the RC350 in Sport, Luxury or Luxury Sport as a 3.5L V6. Above that there’s the RC F and RC F Carbon with a V8. All are 8-speed automatics. Higher-spec models have adpative suspension, torque vectoring rear differentials, better brakes, more driving modes. I could explain the range in detail, but I don’t possess the wordy skills to do so and keep you reading or awake.
86 GTS vs RC350 Luxury
We’ve reviewed the RC F, but for the purposes of comparison let’s discuss the Toyota 86 GTS auto vs the Lexus RC350 Luxury, the base model (although pictured is the GT poverty pack). Here’s the stats:
|Toyota 86 GTS auto||Lexus RC350 Luxury||Difference|
|Engine||2L 4-cylinder boxer||3.5L V6|
|Power||147kW @ 7000rpm||233kW @ 6400rpm||-86|
|Torque||205Nm @ 6400rpm||378Nm @ 4800rpm||-173|
|Kerb weight (kg)||1298||1680||-382|
|Power/weight (kW per kg)||8.8||11.4||-2.6|
|Speed in 2nd||95km/h||98km/h|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||7.1||9.4||-2.3|
|Fuel consumption (urban)||10.4||13.1||-2.7|
|Fuel consumption (cruise)||6.3||7.2||-0.9|
|Fuel tank size||50||66||-16|
|Range based on cruise (km)||794||917||-123|
|Fuel type||98RON (recc, 95 ok)||95RON|
|Turning circle (m)||11.4||10.4||1|
|Rear differential||Torsen LSD||Open|
|Cost (approx driveaway)||$ 39,000||$ 73,000||-$ 34,000|
It’s apparent the RC350 is bigger, heavier, accelerates quicker and is more expensive. That money doesn’t just go into more sheet metal but an array of luxury features such as…well, hmm, that’s interesting.
I started to go through the RC spec list in expectation of pasting line after line of essential gizmo into this article, but quickly realised to my surprise the GTS has most of the features on the RC 350 Luxury.
Both have split aircon, pushbutton start, Bluetooth, satnav, reversing camera, power windows, heated seats and cruise control. You have to look hard for the differences, but they do exist.
The RC has power operated tilt/reach steering wheel, power seats (but no memory at the base grade), seat cooling, steering wheel buttons, a better sound system, one-touch rear entry, a 40/60 rear seat fold-down split (86/BRZ is single fold-down), and many more readouts on the display. But for all that, there’s no big-ticket difference at the Luxury level – no AEB, no active cruise control, no tyre pressure monitoring. You must buy the higher-spec RC350 models for such things, the F Sport and Sports Luxury.
Yet there are differences that don’t show up in spec sheets. Just one glance inside confirms there is no question the RC is the more luxurious vehicle even if it doesn’t approach European levels of style and elegance. The trim, the stiching, the ambience is a step above the bare plastic and plain yet functional GTS. Even the owner’s manual is more comprehensive and better written. The boot lid opens right up on press of the key not just unlocks, and there’s front parking sensors. Little things like all add up.
But it must be said some of the RC350’s extra gear is stereotypically Japanse pointless gadgetry, like the touchpad to operate the infortainment unit, and the finger-slide heat/cool control, made because they could not because they should.
And as a Lexus owner you can expect better treatment than a Toyota owner, whose dealers are not renowned the world over for customer care. Lexus provide loan cars with every service for example, and the warranty is 4 years 100,000km vs Toyota’s 3 years 100,000km.
So much for the interior, and now for the mechanicals. The RC has four modes – Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus. You can switch the stability control to on, sport, or off. It gets more complicated as you move further up the trim levels.
The 86 is more basic. It’s permanently in sport mode, like a small dog that never stops bouncing. You want a quicker throttle response, you press your foot to the floor faster, simples.
There are several stability/traction control modes but realistically there’s on, sport and off. The 86 also has a Torsen limited-slip differential, in contrast to the RC’s open rear. This is important for drifting and traction out of corners. In the Lexus range you need to move up to the top-end RC F to get an decent rear diff, and that alone tells you something about the RC series. The 86 also has a handbrake so you can do handbrake turns. The RC’s parkbrake is foot operated, which is not only useless for stunt driving but is also irritating. It is clear Lexus do not envisage RC350 drivers turning up at their local motorkhana. One suspects one does not cut skids in an RC.
The driving plays out much as you’d expect. The 86 is by far the more engaging and involving drive, with its lightning fast steering, superb agility and fun-tuned suspension. The RC is quicker due to its power, but designed more as a grand tourer and it carries another 400kg+ of weight for which you pay due penalty on every change of direction. The RC is easier to drive, with its V6 is willing and grunty, yet lacks the urgent immediacy of the 86’s boxer engine. Simply, the 86 sets a driving enjoyment bar up there with Cayman, and such stratopheric heights are too much for more touring oriented cars such as the RC which is more fast car than fun car.
I’ve not driven an RC on track, but have extensive experience with the 86 in grassroot motosports. Based on knowledge of other cars I am very confident that while slower the 86 would be by far the more enjoyable drive, but given a set of decent tyres would probably match or improve upon the RC350’s laptimes.
It is also worth nothing that the aftermarket industry has embraced the 86 with a passion not seen in recent times, so you can truly make the car your very own. Bodykits, wheels, interior trim, steering wheels, spoilers, brakes, engine upgrades, various ricer hardparking kits, tail lights…you name it, someone has done it for the 86. The RC? Well, not so much.
A consideration should you wish to tour – the 86 requests 98RON but can live on 95, where the RC350’s standard diet is 95. The Toybaru takes the same wheels front and rear, and can accept a full-sized spare wheel. The base-model RC350 Luxury is unique in the range because it has the same sized wheels front and rear (235/45/18). All RC350s have space-saver spares, the V8 F models get repair kits. Fuel consumption when in cruise mode is fairly close, but most cases the RC350’s 66L tank would see you further between fills than the more efficient but smaller-tanked 86 with its 50L of fuel storage.
So, which to choose when?
Every time I write one of these comparos someone pipes up to say nobody would ever consider the two cars in question. Frankly, that’s wrong as it is quite amazing what people cross-shop, and especially so when it comes to cars like these which are emotional, want-it decisions.
The Lexus RC350 Luxury is nominally around $73k driveaway, a price I’m sure that could be bargained down – and there’s plenty of 86s that owe their owners more than 70 large. While many 86 owners have their cars under finance, others have come out of Porsches or expensive vehicles and own them outright, so they’re buying the car they want which just happens to be one they can easily afford. Never make the mistake that rich people buy the most expensive car they can, because the clever ones know the best cars aren’t always the most expensive.
So it’s entirely possible a buyer would consider the RC350 against the 86. And it’s actually an easy choice to make, assuming you don’t mind the styling of either.
The RC350 is quicker than the 86, but less enjoyable. It is considerably more luxurious, and more spacious, particuarly in the rear seats and the boot. It rides more softly and has a more purposeful, meatier engine note. I’d happily drive the RC350 around Australia, whereas such distances in the 86 would be a chore.
If you like the idea of a coupe for its looks and want a practical, comfortable sports tourer or daily driver then the RC is for you, at least when considered against the 86 or BRZ.
If on the other hand you are into driving for the sake of driving then the 86 will deliver you a rewarding depth of driving thrill the RC350 cannot hope to achieve. Smiles or serious, take your pick.
This is the top-spec RC F V8 with a modified BRZ.
And a second opinion from Juliette Remfrey:
After a drive, I can confirm the RC350 is a comfortable daily driver. Seats are great, some of the interior design is a bit questionable but better than the RC F colour scheme wise, less clashes. Looks aren’t to my liking and it’s quite large (with more storage and passenger room than an 86/BRZ as a result) but the average Joe would enjoy it as luxury cruiser. I struggled to understand or appreciate the RC F at it’s price point, this car has ~100kw less but that doesn’t detract in any way from the average suburban driving experience, I’d suggest that it’s better at that than the RC F. It doesn’t make the sounds that the RC F does nor rip off your face when power kicks in. The power delivery is much better. Not a bad car.
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