In the past, if you were in the market for a two-door compact luxury coupe, the chances are you’d be looking at something German. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, especially since BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz all have a long, proud, and richly deserved reputation for excellence in this area of the market. However, Lexus has been putting a cat among the German pigeons lately with its excellent RC lineup.
The 2019 Lexus RC is the latest version of a car that’s only been around since late 2014. The RC does comfort and excitement just as well as any of its German equivalents and some would say even better than a few of them. Cars like this are not practical family vehicles, so the Lexus puts the focus on attributes like design, performance, handling, and interior comfort and quality.
Lexus has definitely managed to establish a design theme all of its own lately, one that runs through its entire model lineup. A big part of that style is the large spindle grille that the RC now wears with some pride (although it’s not universally loved by car enthusiasts). Even so, with the revised headlights this year’s facelift has ushered in, it really does start to make a lot of sense.
The overall silhouette is a bit more rounded and stumpy than some of the RC’s rivals. The shape is along similar lines of an Audi TT or a Nissan 370Z, but it’s more attractive and more distinctive than either of those. In another universe, the RC would be quite the show-stopper in the Lexus lineup, but it actually looks relatively subtle now alongside the futuristic flagship Lexus LC 500 we have now.
If you’re not familiar with the Lexus naming structure, don’t bother looking at the model names to try deducing which engine comes standard with which model. You see, the RC 300 can have either an inline-four cylinder or a V-6 under the hood, depending on whether it’s a rear- or all-wheel drive model. Rear-drive RC 300 and RC 300 F Sport models come standard with a 2.0-liter turbo four, developing 241 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. The power is then sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
With the RC300 AWD and RC 300 AWD F-Sport models, the standard powerplant is a 3.5-liter V-6 which then puts 260 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque at the RC’s disposal. The power is then sent to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
The most powerful version of the Lexus RC is the RC 350, which once again comes in rear and all-wheel drive versions. In both cases, the 3.5-liter V-6 produces 311 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque, but rear-drive models use the eight-speed auto while AWD versions use the six-speed automatic transmission.
The V-6 models perform better and sound better than the inline-four, but whether the difference is big enough for you to pay the extra and take the hit on fuel economy is a matter worth considering. Base models with the inline-four get to 60 mph from a standing start in 7.3 seconds, which isn’t bad. Go up to the RC 300 AWD with the V-6 and you can knock a second off that time with rear-drive, and a further half-second with all-wheel drive.
The quickest versions of the RC are therefore the RC350 V-6 models with rear-wheel drive, which can manage 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Adding the extra traction of all-wheel drive slows the RC 350 a little to a 0-60mph time of 6.0 seconds.
As part of this year’s refreshing of the RC, Lexus has given the coupe new springs and dampers, adjusted the ECU tuning of the turbocharged engine, and even tweaked the software of the power steering system. Basically, Lexus has gone and improved the handling and engine performance of a car that already handled very well and offered excellent performance to start with. Making a good car even better? Who could possibly complain about that?
How important fuel economy is to buyers of a car like this is questionable, but it could influence your decision between a four-cylinder or a V-6. The inline-four is unsurprisingly the most frugal option, with the EPA rating it at 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. The highway rating takes quite a knock by moving to the V-6, with the RC 300 AWD returning figures of 18/24/21 mpg.
The more powerful V-6 in the RC 350 rear-wheel drive model is actually a little better than the less-powerful unit with ratings of 20/28/23 mpg, but adding all-wheel drive is rated exactly the same as the 260-hp RC 300 AWD.
There are probably three things people think of when it comes to Lexus, which are reliability, quality, and luxury. If that’s stereotyping, the 2019 Lexus RC only reinforces the stereotype. While the interior does technically have four seats, only the two in the front are worthy of being called seats. The two in the back are okay for a couple of bags of groceries, but little else. This isn’t an overtly practical car. But then again, it’s not designed to be.
Standard models have interiors to be proud of, and the quality of the design, build, and materials used is plain to see. Move up to an F Sport model and things get even better with supportive leather bucket seats that can also be heated and cooled. The infotainment system controller, the audio controls, and one or two examples of cheap plastics are minor negatives that can be pointed out, but they don’t do anything to spoil the overall picture.
Features and Equipment
There’s no such thing as a Lexus that’s lacking standard features and equipment, and the RC doesn’t let the side down. Standard features include: a full suite of active safety tech, synthetic leather upholstery, automatic climate control, LED headlights and taillights, heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming. This year, the Enform infotainment system adds Apple CarPlay and even Amazon Echo support, a 7.0-inch screen is standard, and models with navigation get upgraded to a 10.25-inch display.
- Sumptuous interior
- Stunning styling
- Excellent handling and performance
- Exceptional build quality
- Can be thirsty for gas
- Turbo-four lacks excitement
- No manual transmission option
- Below-par infotainment
The Last Word
Just for a change, this is a car where we would suggest going above the entry trim levels to get the best value for money. Entry RC 300 models have a starting MSRP of $41,145, but for just $44,075 you can get an RC 350 RWD, which is the fastest RC without going beyond the standard range to the RC F performance model. And compared to some notable German rivals, at an MSRP of $50,790 the RC 350 F-Sport AWD looks like a really good bet. You can get more power and performance for this amount of money (or even a little less), but this is a genuine luxury car that delivers on every level without asking you to remortgage the house to pay for it.