If Germany didn’t exist, the 2018 Lexus RC would be a top premium compact coupe. It has many qualities in its favor, such as exemplary build quality, solid reliability and high levels of standard equipment. Even the dealership experience is usually pleasant. And then there are the strong resale values.
Compare the RC with German rivals, though, and the picture becomes less attractive. The European competition seems to have more depth, more maturity, more understanding of what it takes to succeed in this (admittedly small) class.
Lexus has never really produced anything that reaches the sporty level of, say, a BMW. Or anything with the cachet of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe. Perhaps that time will come, but not now and not with the RC.
The RC takes some of its underpinnings from the IS sedan, but behind that distinctive "spindle grille" is a design of its own, signifying that the RC is not merely an IS without the rear passenger doors.
It’s undoubtedly a Lexus, though. There’s an air of refinement that pervades everything from cabin to engine to transmission.
What’s New for 2018?
The erstwhile RC 200t is now renamed the RC 300. The V6 engine gains another five horsepower. A 10.3-inch display joins the options list. F Sport versions can now be had in Flare Yellow. The Scout GPS Link app (which provides navigation, traffic updates and various other handy functions) is free for three years. Wi-Fi with connection for up to five devices is standard with one year of free 4GB trial. And the Lexus Safety System Plus (featuring radar-based adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert and intelligent high beams) becomes standard for the whole range. See the 2018 Lexus RC models for sale near you
What We Like
Typical Lexus high-grade build quality; classy analog clock in the center console; quiet cabin; the ability to enhance a pliant ride with cornering abilities
What We Don’t
The way the center screen is set so far back and down that the bottom row of information is likely to be obscured by the center console’s lip; all-wheel drive hardware means less space in the front footwells; extra weight of all-wheel drive hardware; somewhat anesthetized driving experience
The RC 300 is propelled by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission sends that energy to the rear wheels. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 22 miles per gallon city, 32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined.
The RC 300 AWD has a 3.5-liter V6 developing 260 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Both all-wheel-drive versions of the RC have a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel use for the 300 AWD is estimated at 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined.
That same V6 is tuned for 311 hp and 280 lb-ft in the RC 350. In rear-drive form, consumption is 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined, or 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.
A 5.0-liter V8 dishing out 467 hp and 389 lb-ft of torque puts the rear-drive-only RC F at the top of the range, but this engine needs exercising to make the most of it. It still returns a relatively reasonable 16 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.
Standard Features and Options
The 2018 Lexus RC coupe comes as one basic model, but with different drivetrains.
The RC 300 ($41,635) starts with 18-in alloy wheels, dual polished stainless steel exhaust pipes, selectable driving modes, cruise control, LED lighting, puddle lamps, heated side mirrors, push-button start, climate control, analog clock, 60/40-split rear seats, 7-in infotainment screen, rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, self-dimming rearview mirror, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, intelligent high beams, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, voice controls, 256-watt/10-speaker audio with HD/satellite radio, auxiliary audio input and dual USB ports.
The RC 300 AWD ($44,325) has its own engine, all-wheel drive and heated front seats.
The RC 350 ($44,565) has its dedicated engine tune and offers the option of all-wheel drive with heated front seats.
The RC F ($65,645) is the high-performance variant. It has 19-in alloy wheels, power-adjustable front sport seats (driver: 10-way; passenger: 8-way), bespoke suspension, bigger brakes and a dedicated body kit.
The list of options includes a sunroof, 19-in alloy wheels, triple-beam LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, 10.3-in display, driver’s-side memory settings, park assist and an upgraded audio system.
The F Sport package brings an adaptive variable suspension with a "sport plus" mode (for extra stiffness), sport front seats, aluminum pedals, 19-in alloys, high-friction brake pads, TFT instrumentation, variable gear ratio steering and 4-wheel steering.
The RC F offers a carbon fiber roof option, which reduces weight and lowers the center of gravity.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded the RC its highest accolade: Top Safety Pick Plus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to crash-test the RC.
Hill-start assist is standard throughout the range; blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is optional. Stability control systems in F Sport versions and the RC F allow the driver to set thresholds for those electronic aids.
Behind the Wheel
A rigid body means a finer state of tune for the suspension. Getting the balance between a comfortable ride and not wallowing around corners is hard to achieve, but Lexus does it here. The RC absorbs surface imperfections, yet remains composed on sweeping freeway ramps as well as tighter country corners.
The steering feels substantial and precise, but still lacking in information about how the front tires are behaving. That’s an issue with most electric power steering systems from practically every manufacturer.
The opportunity to get more involved comes with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Gearshift action is so mechanically perfect to be virtually imperceptible — exactly the sort of quality expected from premium cars in general, and Lexus in particular.
Progress is about average for the class. In rear-drive versions of the RC 350, standstill to 60 miles per hour happens in 5.8 seconds before going on to a top speed of 143 mph; all-wheel-drive cars are a tad slower. In a rear-drive F Sport version, whose rear-steer function brings maneuvering benefits at both high and low speeds, the thrill factor goes up a notch or two.
But all-wheel drive and the hardware’s extra weight is a downer. It takes a heavier foot on the gas and more aggressive behavior with the gears to get things moving, which isn’t as much fun as when there’s a degree of effortlessness in an engine.
The front seats are comfortable, with an emphasis on support rather than cushioning — an attribute that becomes more apparent in the sport seats of the F Sport trim.
Think of the RC as a 2-plus-2 rather than a proper 4-seater. The rear seats are OK for kids, but no adult will want to spend much time back there. Trunk space is 10.4 cu ft., sufficient for a pair of golf bags.
The RC F is seriously quick. Standstill to 60 mph zips by in 4.4 seconds and top speed is 170 mph. It bristles with driver aids like a limited-slip differential and (optional) torque vectoring. The result is virtually foolproof progress, bringing an ability to control the car at speeds many would find scary.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Audi A5/S5 — A new generation derived from the fresh A4. Offers 252 hp in regular form, 354 hp as an S5. Superb, classy and quite spacious for a compact coupe.
2018 BMW 440i — The big player in this class and absolutely worth test driving to experience its poise and pace, plus the fact that not many other manufacturers can make a car this thrilling.
2018 Infiniti Q60 — An accomplished machine. There’s a quick 400-hp version. But avoid the numbing steer-by-wire option.
2018 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe — Available as a regular C300 right up to an AMG C63. The middle-ground AMG C43 really hits an especially sweet spot.
Used Porsche Cayman — Find out how a compact coupe can really drive.
Unless you live in the snow belt, choose a rear-drive version for some semblance of sportiness. The RC 350 has a decent amount of power, especially in a compact coupe. Audiophiles should also check out the optional 17-speaker/835-watt Mark Levinson surround-sound system.