If you’re looking for a sporty Lexus, the brand’s RC coupe and IS sedan are two of the most popular choices, and they’re both worth considering. But what exactly separates the two cars? Obviously, the 2016 Lexus IS has four doors while the RC has two, but are there any other noteworthy changes beyond their body style? Or is the RC really just an IS coupe?
To help you answer these questions, we’ve created a close comparison to highlight all the key differences between the two sporty Lexus models.
On the outside, the RC and the IS are immediately distinguishable by their body style (the RC is a coupe; the IS is a sedan) and their appearance. The RC offers a bolder, more expressive front end than its IS stablemate, along with more flowing lines typical of a sporty coupe.
But beyond the obvious design differences, the two models share a lot of exterior characteristics, including dimensions: The RC stands at 184.8 inches in length and 72.4 inches in width, compared to 183.7 inches in length and 71.3 inches in width for the IS. The RC’s platform is also based on the IS’s.
From the front seat, the IS and RC look virtually identical. They share a dashboard design, a steering wheel, virtually all switches and an overall look that sets them apart from other Lexus models. Sitting in the driver’s seat of either car, you’d be forgiven for not knowing which one you’re driving without glancing in back.
The big difference between the two models, of course, relates to interior room. While front-seat space is about equal between the IS and the RC, rear-seat space is a different story. The RC offers only two seats compared to the IS’s three, and they’re narrow, small and difficult to access. Spend even a few seconds trying to climb into the RC’s rear seats, and the picture quickly becomes clear: If you want to use your back seats more than a few times while you own your vehicle, you’ll probably want the IS instead of the RC.
The IS and RC offer very similar powertrain choices. Both models come standard with a 241-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged base model (the IS 200t or the RC 200t) that’s only offered with rear-wheel drive. Both models also offer an all-wheel-drive variant (the IS 300 or RC 300) that uses a 255-hp 3.5-liter V6. Next up is a 306-hp 3.5-liter V6 (in the IS 350 or RC 350), which is offered with rear- or all-wheel drive. Both the IS and the RC offer an 8-speed automatic transmission in rear-wheel-drive models and a 6-speed automatic in all-wheel-drive variants.
But there is one powertrain difference between the RC and the IS: the high-performance RC F. That model offers rear-wheel drive, an 8-speed automatic and a raucous 467-hp 5.0-liter V8, which isn’t available in any IS. It also touts an impressive 0-to-60 mile-per-hour time of just 4.7 seconds.
Features & Technology
As you might imagine given their other similarities, the IS and RC offer a wide range of similar equipment and features. Although there are some differences — such as package names, pricing and the occasional standard or optional feature — both vehicles boast virtually all of the same equipment; few features are available on one model that don’t carry over to the other.
In other words, don’t buy the RC expecting to get any unique performance features over the IS or choose the IS because you think you’ll get more luxury equipment and options: The two models are virtually identical when it comes to spec sheets and equipment.
On the road, however, you’ll notice a difference between the IS and the RC. While there’s little difference in curb weight — and thus, acceleration — between the two models, the RC offers a zippier, more secure feeling under hard cornering. That’s no surprise given its coupe architecture. The IS is far from disappointing, but drivers who want to maximize their performance potential will probably prefer the RC to its 4-door sibling.
As for performance, we’re impressed with acceleration from the base-level RC 200t and IS 200t, both of which feel eager and exciting. The all-wheel-drive-only IS 300 and RC 300 are a bit duller, with less enthusiastic powertrains, while the 350 models offer all the power you could need. The RC F is a true monster off the line, touting tremendous acceleration you wouldn’t normally expect from a Lexus.
In government crash testing carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the IS received a perfect 5-star overall score. The RC has not yet been tested. However, the RC earned a coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whereas the IS has not yet been tested by the firm.
As for safety features, these two models are — surprise, surprise! — virtually identical. Both come standard with side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and Lexus’ Enform Safety Connect system with stolen-vehicle tracking. Options include forward-collision warning with automatic braking, rear cross-traffic alert, a blind spot monitoring system and adaptive cruise control. The IS also offers lane-departure warning, but the RC doesn’t. Meanwhile, the RC has a standard backup camera, only an optional feature in the IS.
The 2016 Lexus RC and the 2016 Lexus IS are excellent sport-luxury vehicles with lots of major benefits. But we recommend the IS over the RC for most shoppers. Not only does it offer more practicality, but it touts a base price that’s cheaper by about $2,500. We think you should stick with the IS unless you really, really want the RC’s slightly better handling and handsome coupe design.