When I spoke to Toyota performance boss Tetsuya Tada at the launch of the 2020 Toyota Supra this summer, I had to ask him the obvious: why not use a Toyota platform and engine for the Supra? Why go with BMW guts for such an important car? Why not—to put it simply—do it yourselves? I wanted to hear his answer, but in the back of my mind, I was thinking about the Lexus RC F.
After all, the RC F seems impressive on paper, with a 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 sending 472 horsepower to the rear wheels. It’s even spicier in the form of the lighter, upgraded, carbon fiber-filled RC F Track Edition. Why, I wondered, couldn’t something like that be the new Supra?
Aside from his answers about cost savings in a market unfriendly to sports cars and the desire for a turbocharged inline-six engine, Tada told me he and his team wanted to make a real sports car. That’s why they went to BMW. And after driving the RC F Track Edition, I get it.
The RC F isn’t like that. It’s too big, it’s too heavy and it can’t back up those aggro looks and all that carbon fiber with the performance you’d expect from a car like this. The smaller, lighter Supra has an urgency, a playfulness, a sense of speed that the sedan-based RC F does not.
That doesn’t mean this Lexus is a bad car, however. It may not drive as hard as it looks like it can, and even the Track Edition doesn’t put it on par with the most potent AMGs and M-cars, but it’s got enough charm that it manages to be memorable long after you put it away.
(Full Disclosure: Lexus loaned me an RC F Track Edition for an extended weekend with a full tank of gas.)
The RC F Track Edition was unveiled at this year’s Detroit Auto Show to further juice up the RC coupe, which is nearing the end of its model run. Opting for the Track Edition shaves off 180 pounds of weight thanks to a carbon fiber roof and hood, a carbon fiber rear spoiler, a titanium exhaust, new lightweight BBS wheels and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes.
The weight gets cut down to about 3,780 pounds, an improvement but not dramatic enough to change the RC F’s reputation for being a bit of a porker.
Visually, it’s a lot to take in. I rolled my eyes when I saw the RC F Track Edition when I picked it up from a Manhattan parking garage. I was making a drive down to Washington D.C. for a weekend to see some old friends who are about to have a baby, and I quickly wondered if I had chosen poorly for a road trip car.
So many of these “track special” cars get upgrades—a stiffer suspension, grippy brakes, sharper tuning and so on—that make them less than ideal for long-distance driving.
Also, just… look at it. It’s a lot! Lexus’ Predator grille is polarizing enough, but the RC F Track Edition adds heaps of carbon fiber and a spoiler straight out of a mid-2000s SEMA show.
If you drive one, expect lots of effusive thumbs-up from dudes in Scions and an equal number of disdainful looks from women. You better have a sense of humor if you’re going to buy this car. It’s quite whimsical. Check under the hood and see the blue-tinted exhaust manifold if you don’t believe me.
But it turns out I didn’t need to worry about it being too hardcore for distance driving. Despite its weaponized looks, the RC F Track Edition is kind of a sweetheart. It’s got a great ride quality, it’s quick without being overwhelming, the seats are surprisingly plush and the most thunderous noises are only available when you really work for them.
Primarily, the star of The RC F Show is still the 5.0-liter V8. It’s a delightful engine, a welcome standout in a world where forced induction is increasingly the norm. You don’t get that immediate, down-low torque that we’ve become accustomed to in just about every engine nowadays, but you get a clear, solid baritone and the joy of winding it out into its peak RPM range.
Although it sounds quite similar to the Ford Mustang’s V8 (no surprise, given their identical size), at 395 lb-ft of torque it’s actually down compared to the pony car, and most of the spice lives in the middle and upper part of the powerband. Peak torque is at 4,800 RPM and peak power is way up at 7,100 RPM. It speaks to the unique character of the car, and for those of us who like high-revving NA motors, myself included, it’s a special treat. The reward for wringing out that power is a lovely soundtrack from the V8 and that titanium exhaust. It’s not ear-splitting like an F-Type SVR, but is quite a joy to take in.
The primary tradeoff is that it’s just never tear-your-face-off fast, even if the zero to 60 mph run happens in a hair under 60 mph. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t slow, and if you work it you can blitz most other cars you’re likely to encounter on the road. But I often wondered how much quicker I’d lose my license in a comparably priced AMG coupe instead.
You manage that power through an eight-speed Aisin automatic paddle-shift gearbox, the sole transmission option here. As far as conventional torque converter automatics go, it’s fine, but it definitely lacks the immediacy and smoothness of the near-perfect ZF 8HP gearbox, the current gold standard. It gets into the upper gears too easily and too often; when I switched to manual shift mode I found myself constantly kicking it down further than I thought I’d have to.
It is, however, pretty fun in the corners. Believe it or not, the RC F can really take care of itself on a winding back road despite its heft. The steering suffers from an annoying vagueness, but it is responsive to inputs, and the rest of the car feels neutral, buttoned-down and quick to turn in. It’s stable and predictable, hard to get out of hand, a willing partner in shenanigans. No torque-vectoring here, in case you’re curious; just a regular Torsen limited-slip differential.
As un-sexy as this is, I think my favorite thing about the RC F was actually the ride quality. See, living in New York has made me averse, in some ways, to those aforementioned M-cars and AMGs. It’s hard to want to be in a car when you know every inevitable pothole is about to dish out some punishment to your spine. But even in Track Edition guise, the RC F manages to be, well, a Lexus; it handles bad roads extremely well and never beats you up. That’s appealing for a car so fun, even if it’s not the fastest coupe on the road.
Though it’s big—almost 400 pounds heavier, 13 inches longer and with a 10-inch longer wheelbase than the Supra you see here—it never felt unwieldy to drive. Remember, this coupe is derived from the GS and IS sedans, not some small sports car. But it’s a perfectly fine size for everyday driving. You’re probably only going to want to put smaller people or children in those back seats, though.
That comfort extends into the cabin, which I really liked. It has racing-inspired bucket seats, but they’re pretty wide and accommodating, never hurting my back on the stints to and from D.C. The LFA-inspired digital gauge cluster is a pleasure to use, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob feel great and the button layout is all incredibly clear.
Lexus’ trackpad-based infotainment system is… frustrating to use, but it ended up not being a deal-killer for me. Give me a straightforward touch screen any day if you must have such a system. Or a combination of several input options, the way BMW does these days. Still, for a car that’s been on the market as long as the RC has, it still feels pretty modern and usable inside.
I sadly did not get some track time in the Track Edition car. But given its weight and chill demeanor, I can’t imagine it’s the best six-figure weapon for setting lap records. What you get here isn’t something like a 911 GT3 RS or a Mustang Shelby GT500 (even though the latter’s actually heavier, if you can believe it.) This RC F variant a sharper, literally louder version of a fast and fun Lexus that’s generally pretty laid back and boasts a cool engine.
It’s also why this car, and its underpinnings, never had what it took to make the legit sports car the Supra team wanted. That isn’t a bad thing, and for the right person, the RC F Track Edition is worthwhile simply because it’s something different. I was actually sad when I gave it back, and that doesn’t happen to me often anymore.
If it’s for you, make sure your bank account is up for it. The starting price is $97,825 some 30 grand over a base RC F. Our tester crested the $102,000 mark, a lot to ask for something that just isn’t able to run with the likes of the BMW M4 CS. It moves just fine. “But for $102,000,” as my wife put it, “I want it to move a lot more.”
The RC F is really compelling on the used market. Have you seen how cheap these things are? Some great examples are out there, if you can live without the Track Edition upgrades, for $35,000 to $45,000, on average. Considering these Lexuses are almost certainly less likely to give you trouble long term than some used high-test German car, and that they’re kind of different, they’re absolutely worth looking at.
But if you decide all that carbon fiber is something you can’t live without, I think you’ll find ways to overlook the RC F Track Edition’s flaws and learn to embrace what it does well. Who needs turbos anyway?