DRIVEN: Lexus RC F

Three-thousand two hundred… three-thousand four… three-thousand six… BAM!

You put your foot down. The revs rise. Everything is normal as the dial sweeps round clockwise, until it gets close to 4,000rpm. Then the Lexus RC F forgets Japanese discretion and screams with joy in the Spanish evening sky, eight cylinders drumming as fast as your heart beats.

Drum again, Yukihiko-san.

In a world where engines are downsizing and turbos are added in multiples, the RC F comes with a relatively old-fashioned 5.0-litre V8 lump up front, but there’s good reason for that. Ask chief engineer YukihikoYaguchi why and you get a simple response: “I love cars!”

Or, to put it bluntly, he is a fan of the classic, the pure sports car. And since a turbo engine has no place in a traditional sports car, the F gets a lump of V8 metal that breathes noisily through its induction system, unhindered by a turbo.

So the RC F must be a proper sports car then? Certainly there’s a punch from low revs that sees you pressed firmly in your seat, but the power just continues with a linearity you just can’t find in something that’s assisted by a turbocharger.

Let the revs climb to 3,600rpm and 5.0-litre engine loses its muted discretion as titanium valves open in the exhaust allowing near-uninhibited flow from engine to exhaust tip, which means you get a bellowing roar that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. It encourages you to use all 477PS such is the utter dominance of the sound, and it gets better as the revs rise. Only once you hit 7,300rpm does the fun stop as the limiter kicks in.

All that power and noise goes to the rear wheels, four-wheel drive not even an option on this car as that would dilute the pure driving experience. However, the rear axle contains a torque vectoring differential, able to move power between the driven wheels up to a thousand times a second, electronic actuators together with a planet wheel making the hulk of metal easier to handle than you might have assumed.

That assumption is borne from the fact that the RC F weighs close to a not inconsiderable 1.9 tonnes, something that isn’t ideal for the racetrack. However, as I point the long bonnet towards the pit exit at Ascari I find there’s a lot of work to do before we can maximise the performance.

The torque vectoring differential modes include standard, slalom and track, while there are four ESP modes on offer and a further four settings for the steering and dynamic controls. That’s 48 combinations, but Sport S+, slalom and Expert makes the most sense on the circuit.

Keeping the F in the right one of eight gears means you stay in a sweet spot between 5 and 7,000 revs, never letting the V8 fall in to its ‘economical’ Atkinson cycle. Gears are changed using de rigueur steering wheel mounted paddles, exhaust valves opening to release more of the noise as you do, although they’re not the fastest of shifts. That’s forgiven when you realise how hard the TVD is working.

The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres eventually start giving up, but before the car starts the inevitable understeer more power is placed on the outside rear wheel, releasing the front axle and letting the car hug the inside of the corner, balanced beautifully as you go round.

The systems, while lacking the purity you might want on track, make even an average driver feel like Superman. Physics means nothing, you feel invincible, able to make the car do whatever you wish it to do. It makes you look good.

Away from the circuit, the F turns in to a classic GT. Comfortable air-conditioned seats, heated steering wheel, plenty of toys to play with, and an automatic gearbox that can slotted in to eco-mode leaves you with a relaxed cruiser. Gone is the noise, but gone too is the definition. There’s no longer any character, just a soft mile-muncher that doesn’t please but also doesn’t offend.

In that regard it’s typical of Japanese saloons, and that might put off some buyers who expect a little more drama, a little more involvement. That’s all very definitely there, but it takes the pressing of a number of buttons to bring out the character of the car. That, and an empty race track.

Then you begin to appreciate the antisocial 5.0-litre V8 engine, the sheer bulk of the car, and the paradoxically pure driving sensation.

In many ways the RC F is an out-of-date dinosaur, sticking a couple of fingers up at the environmental concerns of the world, and this is probably the last generation of motoring where such misbehaving will be tolerated. However, the fact that Yukihiko-san and his team has produced such a machine makes me happy.

Very happy indeed.

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Guest Wednesday, 21 August 2019

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