At first blush, the 2015 Lexus RC 350 to be simply a coupe version of the Lexus IS sedan, and there is some justification for that assumption. After all, they’re about the same size and they share the same powertrain, a 3.5-liter V-6 with an eight-speed or six-speed automatic transmission, with a choice of rear o5 all-wheel drive. And of course, it’s a two-door coupe instead of a sedan.
But underneath things are very different. Although the RC and IS share the same basic platform, the front suspension adapted from the Lexus GS. It’s a double wishbone set up, but the RC gets a new suspension upper support, coil spring, damper, stabilizer bar, stabilizer bar bushing and lower number two bushing. But it’s the same. Not.
The rear suspension comes from the new IS–multi-link with a toe control arm—but again with changes made, new rear coil springs, dampers, stabilizer bar, and stabilizer bushings.
The center section of the RC platform comes from the IS convertible, which has extra stiffness to keep the droptop body from wobbling. As a result of the RC’s extra stiff body, Lexus points out, the RC can have significantly stiffer shocks and have larger diameter anti-roll bars front and rear without destroying ride comfort.
The engine in the RC 350 is same as that in the IS 350, a V-6 rated at 306 horsepower and 277 lb.-ft. of torque, about the same as the base V-6 in the 2015 Ford Mustang. The all-aluminum Lexus six has variable valve timing and Toyota’s fuel system that combines port and direct injection, tuned for a broad torque curve. Because Lexus designs in a lot of quiet to their vehicles, and performance fans feel cheated without the Sound of Performance, the RC 350’s V-6 has an “intake sound generator,” an extension of the intake that “pipes” real intake noises to the passenger compartment. It’s real, not artificial, just directed where Lexus wants in…and only then, for quiet cruising.
The rear-wheel drive RC gets an eight-speed automatic. The Sports Program Direct Shift (SPDS) transmission comes directly from the V8-powered Lexus IS F sports sedan. Although a conventional automatic, our experience with the IS F proved it was quick and it should be fully capable of handling the RC 350’s torque. The transmission’s eight ratios were chosen with first gear lower for quicker takeoff, with the rest of the ratios arranged so that eighth is higher than the top gear on Lexus’ six-speed automatic for fewer revs when cruising for improved gas mileage.
On the other hand, the 2015 Lexus RC 350 is available with all-wheel rather than rear-wheel drive—and it’s the drivetrain our test Lexus had. With the all-wheel drive setup, the RC 350 has a six-speed automatic transmission.
The Lexus RC has a twist-knob on the console for what Lexus calls Drive Mode Select which changes the car’s engine response, electric power steering boost, air conditioning and, as with our test RC 350 F Sport, suspension damping. Modes include Normal, Sport S and ECO in the RC 350, while our test F Sport added a Sport S+ mode. The firmness of suspension is most noticeable in the step up from Sport to Sport +, a change that along with the throttle response and transmission responsiveness, transforms the car, even without the Dynamic Handling System—four-wheel steering—of the rear-wheel drive models.
ECO, of course, does what eco modes always do, deadens response and makes the transmission upshift too soon. Perhaps some RC 350 drivers will opt for ECO mode. We didn’t. We’d just as soon keep it in Sport + for all but the roughest road, but the systems defaults to Normal at every restart. Reaching for the start button and then the mode knob became second nature. Then shifting the transmission into manual mode.
The 2015 Lexus RC 350 F Sport is a performance vehicle. It deserves to be driven like one. Stuck in traffic? Automatic mode is acceptable. But otherwise, paddle shift it. A manual gearbox isn’t available. Get as close to is as possible.
The Lexus RC 350 F Sport certainly looks the part, and all parts aid performance. Which means for the enthusiast no rationalizing the scoops, louvers and shapes. The scoops on either side of the Lexus family spindle grille, wide enough at the bottom to make the car look really planted—say it all together—even when it’s sitting still, are functional, feeding cooling air to the front brakes.
Small things make big differences in the Lexus RC 350’s aerodynamics. The underside of the RC 350 is flat for reduced aerodynamic drag, with strategically placed aero fins to reduce turbulence. The body contours also include little—and we mean little—stabilizing fins at the tip of the doorframe molding and the rear lights that help control airflow around the car. The bottom of the RC 350 also curves up at the rear to increase downforce. Even the insides of the wheelwells are shaped to direct airflow to reduce drag.
The interior of the RC borrows from the IS, most noticeably the instrument panel that has a large central virtual tachometer displayed on a circular screen that slides to the right when the drive mode is set to Sport or Sport +. Hammer on the throttle and the edge of the tach turns red.