Lexus RC coupe preview: Sporty, sexy, high-tech and high-performance

2015 Lexus RC F coupe

2015 Lexus RC F coupe

The winds of change have been wafting over Lexus over the past seven years and a fresh gust will soon arrive.  Ready for its debut are the RC sports coupes, and they will be available in two levels of excitement, the hot RC 350  and the scalding, track-ready RC F.

The mission for these coupes is very clear. Add some excitement to the brand, Bring in new, younger buyers.  Throw down the gauntlet against the premium sport/luxury entries from Germany: BMW M4, Audi RS and Mercedes-Benz AMG.

When Lexus first burst onto the automotive scene 25 years ago, its luxury vehicles were an immediate hit —  safe, solid,  exceptionally reliable, comfortable and relatively inexpensive compared to the competition. As a result, the upscale division of Japanese manufacturer Toyota earned a top-flight reputation for quality and an extremely loyal customer base that it retains to this day. Nevertheless, in recent years Lexus has not matched the sales growth of its prime German competitors.

Lexus appears to have identified its problem primarily as a lack of excitement. The “relentless pursuit of perfection” had produced a conservative line-up of vehicles that simply did not stir the souls of driving enthusiasts.

So, all the way back in 2007, the carmaker began adding some spice to the mix with the IS F sedan. It features a 416-horsepower V-8 engine and a track-tuned chassis. Then came the $375,000 LFA supercar powered by 552-horsepower V-10 engine. Only 500 were built.

Lexus RC-F instruments

Lexus RC-F instruments

Now come the coupes, which Lexus hopes will be halo cars to help elevate the entire brand to new levels of interest among younger affluent buyers.  Their aggressive designs, accentuated by a huge spindle grille and bold colors, should be enough to start turning heads.

You should begin to see the RC 350 on the road in late November or early December and the RC F on road and track in early 2015.

 Beneath the sheet metal, the vehicles’ architecture is a specially tailored blend of several Lexus chassis. The front end is based on the Lexus GS sedan, the rear is based on the IS sport sedan and the center is based on the IS convertible.

Both versions of the coupe were introduced to journalists recently in a day of driving that took them from White Plains, N.Y., to the Monticello Motor Club in Monticello, N.Y., for some hot laps around its challenging road-racing course.

Let’s first take a closer look at the more mainstream Lexus RC 350, which will come to showrooms with a base price of $42,790 and hopefully generate at least 15,000 sales a year. It will be available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. In its most aggressive form it is known as the RC 350 F Sport.

The 3.5-liter V-6 engine generates 305 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque.  The rear-wheel-drive model is teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission  that can be adjusted for normal or sporty-driving situations or put in manual mode, where the driver can use the paddle shifters to make gear changes in a 10th of a second and enjoy rev-matching downshifts. All-wheel-drive coupes get a 6-speed automatic transmission.