Lexus RC-F coupe replaces sterile with virile

If there is a criticism to be made of Lexus vehicles - and there aren't many - perhaps it is that they tend to be a bit sterile.

So plush, so posh, so perfectly refined that the driving experience can be a bit other-worldly. A bit short on soul.

Well, I'm happy to say Lexus has finally got down and dirty.

The Japanese luxury brand's new RC-F coupe has trampled all over that squeaky-clean persona with a car that's as engaging, alluring and downright angry as anything you might find bearing a German or Italian badge.

Sterile no more. Think virile instead. It's the infectious Lexus.

The infectious Lexus

The RC-F is officially the third member of a fairly exclusive club - Lexus' so-called F-performance brand. The F signifies the company's spiritual connection to the famous Fuji Speedway near Tokyo.

The first model to wear that badge was the IS-F - essentially an IS sedan given the hot-rod treatment with a V8 engine, sporty body kit and upgraded brakes and suspension. It launched in Australia in 2008 and helped give the company a new halo model.

It was followed by the $750,000-plus LF-A supercar - an engineering masterpiece featuring a Formula One-style V10 engine and lightweight construction.

That car recently ceased production, but its heritage is very much alive in the RC-F - which looks much like the LF-A and benefits from much of that car's development. No surprise, then, that the RC-F not only looks the part, but feels it as well.

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It is fast, fearsome and fabulous.

Fast and fearsome

The RC-F is not just a tricked-up version of the slinky RC coupe, but a genuine performance machine in its own right. The V8 engine is roughly the same as that in the IS-F - albeit substantially upgraded to produce 351 kilowatts and 530Nm - but the two cars could hardly be more different.

It sits on the same platform as the more sedate (and more affordable) RC coupe launched earlier this year, although the RC-F is slightly longer and wider, thanks to its aerodynamic body kit, and slightly lower, thanks to its sporty suspension.

At almost $145,000 on the road, it also costs about twice as much as the RC350 - so it's a machine for true performance enthusiasts. Bear in mind, though, that it's at least $30,000 cheaper than equivalent performance machines like BMW's M4, Mercedes-Benz's C63 AMG coupe and Audi's RS5.

Inside, it's instantly recognisable as a Lexus but still has its very own distinct personality. The wrap-around sports seats (a brilliant red leather in our test machine), the chunky sports steering wheel and the fighter-jet style layout of the cockpit brings a real sense of occasion to driving the RC-F.

The instrument panel is a work of art. It's a virtual display - using video graphics instead of the old needles and dials - dominated by a circular tachometer and smaller speedometer, set off to the side. The fact the speedo is designated all the way up to 340km/h is a hint at this car's intent.

The dark side beckons

In a way, it even reminded me a bit of the Nissan GT-R. There's an edge, a rawness and a sense of menace about the RC-F that we've never before experienced from a Lexus. Yes, it can be dialled back to behave in a civilised, polite manner - but the temptation is to take it to the dark side.

There are four performance modes available to the driver - Normal, Sport and the intoxicating Sport Plus.

There's also an Eco mode (as if).

Selecting Sports Plus mode sharpens suspension and throttle response as well as getting more urgency from the eight-speed Direct Shift transmission.

The RC-F still enjoys most of the luxuries typical of this brand - heated and chilled leather seats, the slightly fiddly trackpad-style cabin management system with satellite navigation and audio commands plus the clever Enform live updates, as well as a mighty 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.

But to be honest, most of the time you'll prefer to listen to the music emitting from the quad exhaust pipes at the rear.

Chiselled and sharpened

External styling is aggressive to say the least. The lithe lines of the RC have been chiselled and sharpened at almost every turn - those smooth curves accentuated by breather gills behind the front wheel arches and a big vent in the centre of the bonnet.

The aero kit makes the car look even lower and leaner, and the hydraulically-controlled rear spoiler rises from the tail of the car at the push of a button or automatically when you exceed 80km/h.

The RC-F can fit four adults, although those designated for the back seat had better be flexible. 

Somewhat surprisingly, the RC-F even boasts a useful, practical boot. That will be welcomed by most buyers. After all, being wild is one thing. But there's no need to be downright uncivilised.

Lexus RC-F coupe

HOW BIG? Plenty of space for two people in the wonderfully bolstered, heated and internally cooled leather sports seats. But getting in and out of the two rear pews is a feat of acrobatics.

HOW FAST? Lexus says its 351 kilowatts will get it to the speed limit in a blurry 4.5 seconds. That's not quite a benchmark in this high-performance segment, but it's impressive nonetheless.

HOW THIRSTY? Not as bad as you might expect for a car with this performance potential. Combined average is 10.9L/100km, although the eight-speed auto will get you well down into single figures on the open road. Expect mid-teens in city traffic.

HOW MUCH? Substantially more affordable than its European rivals - although with a starting price of $144,500 (plus on-road costs) it's hardly cheap. Adding the carbon pack lessens the weight but takes a larger bite from your wallet.

AAP