The 2017 Lexus RC signals the return of the luxury coupe

The 2017 Lexus RC 200t.
The 2017 Lexus RC 200t. –Image provided by Lexus

Lexus has a weird history with coupes. In the 1990s, the Japanese luxury brand offered the amazing SC 300 and SC 400. It was a low-slung coupe with style for miles, but was replaced by the sleepy SC430, which was the last production car on the market to offer a cassette tape player.

Then Lexus offered a convertible version of the compact IS. The IS 250 C and IS 350 C featured a long trunk with many competing angles. And appearance with the top up was far from elegant. That’s all changed with the 2017 Lexus RC.

The RC features shorter wheelbase but a longer overall length than the current IS sedan. It also boasts the large hourglass Lexus grille and unique two-piece floating headlights. We had our test model outfitted with the F Sport package, which adds an even more aggressive grille, 19-inch alloy wheels, and an adaptive suspension.

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On the quiet, sensible Lexus ES sedan, the hourglass grille is preposterous. Like a suburban dad donning skinny jeans and growing out a hipster beard, it’s not fooling anyone. But the aggressive Lexus F Sport’s styling language plays best on cars that can back it up — like a rear-drive luxury coupe. On the other hand, the rear bumper slats are there regardless of the model selected. It is perfect for the racy F Sport, but a little tacky for the more reserved base model.

The styling of the F Sport is bolstered by the fantastic paint job. It is called “Infrared,” and looks like it came right off a Lexus concept cars. Lexus also offers the RC in a bright orange, but with Infrared, the car’s hue is loud enough to match the grille without being sophomoric. In my week with the RC, I received more “nice car” comments than any other car I’ve driven in recent memory.

The Lexus RC interior features a center console that flows up into the dash like the minimalist cockpit of a future Learjet. The digital instrument panel features a tactile bezel that moves to present different information. You can cycle through that information with the buttons on the right side of the multifunction steering wheel.

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The center console’s leather lid flows seamlessly into the touch-sensitive pad for the Lexus Remote Touch infotainment controller. Lexus does not offer a touch screen. You must control it with the track pad, which lets you operate a free-flowing cursor that automatically “snaps” to icons on the vivid Lexus Enform screen in the center of the dash. It takes some getting used to, but is actually slightly easier than other luxury systems like Mercedes-Benz COMAND or Acura’s frightful dual-screen setup.

The back seats are slightly cramped, but that is to be expected with a coupe. What wasn’t expected was the wait time to get in and out of the rear buckets. The setback of power seats is it moves at a lethargic pace. If you are tiny enough to climb out simply by flipping the seat forward, that’s great, but larger adults will have to wait for it to make its way forward.

There are three engine options on the RC. The base model is called the RC Turbo, or RC 200t. As the name suggests, it features a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It sends 241 horsepower to the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Our test model was the RC 300, and here is where the naming conventions get a little convoluted. The RC 300 features a 3.5-liter V6, making 255 horsepower. It send through a six-speed automatic to all-wheel drive.

The range-topping model is the RC 350. It also features a 3.5-liter V6, but tuned to 306 horsepower, and an eight-speed automatic to the rear wheels or available all-wheels drive. That gear adds weight, and the RC 300 returns 19 miles per gallon in the city, and 26 miles per gallon on the highway.

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Next to the shifter is the Drive Mode Selector, with Eco, Normal, and Sport+ drive modes. Each has a unique setting for throttle response, steering, shift mapping, and suspension feel. In Sport+, the RC 300 has energetic acceleration, and solid cornering abilities. It’s not BMW M4-level taught, but with the press of a button, you can make your daily commute far more enjoyable.

In all modes, the RC strikes the perfect blend of soaking up all the bumps and potholes in the road, but exhibits minimal body lean. It will stay firmly planted as you accelerate your way through a highway onramp.

A base 2017 Lexus RC Turbo starts at $40,155. The RC 300 starts at $42,770. Our RC 300 F Sport, with options like navigation and Mark Levinson Premium Sound System clocked in at $55,478. The premium paint was a $595 option and well worth it.

By their very nature, coupes are exclusive. They may sell in far less numbers than the red-hot crossover market, but that only serves to make these two-doors that much more special. With Infiniti and BMW softening the edges of its performance coupes, the 2017 Lexus RC lineup stands as a sporty offering, with style that punches well above its weight.

 

THE CAR: 2017 Lexus RC

THE BASICS: Price: $40,155 As tested: $55,478. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 19/26. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 19.7 milers per gallon. 3.5L V6, 6-AT, All-Wheel Drive. Body: Two-Door Luxury Coupe.

THE SPECIFICS: Horsepower: 255. Overall length: 184.8 inches. Wheelbase 107.5 inches. Height: 55.1 inches. Width: 81.5 in. Curb weight: 3,891 pounds.

THE GOOD: Space age exterior, flight deck for a cockpit, balance of sport and comfort

THE BAD: Crammed back seat, thirsty V6, infotainment learning curve

THE BOTTOM LINE: Performance, style, and reliability, all in one package

ALSO CONSIDER: Cadillac ATS Coupe, Infiniti Q60, BMW M4, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe.

 

George Kennedy is a freelance automotive journalist and automotive expert. You can reach him at George.h.kennedy.iii@gmail.com and on Twitter.